ROCKFORD — Friends of Beyer Stadium, a nonprofit group formed to restore and protect the history of the Rockford baseball field, formally opposes a plan by the Rockford Park District to sell an acre of Beyer Park to the International Women’s Baseball Center.
On Sept. 20, Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine revealed his
organization’s plan to sell property on the north end of Beyer Park to the IWBC to allow them to build a women’s baseball educational center and museum.
The Friends of Beyer board voted unanimously to object to the IWBC plan for several reasons because building would encroach on the front walkway of the park, which is under historical preservation status along with ticket booth. The board also says building any structure on Beyer Park would erase the park’s long history that not only includes the Rockford Peaches but to thousands of Rockford Public Schools athletes that played football and ran track at Beyer.
Officials add that the IWBC already received money from Winnebago County to tear down buildings on property to the west of Beyer Park. That land was where the IWBC originally planned to build its museum and Friends of Beyer continues to wholeheartedly support that plan.
“Any museum built on the north end of Beyer would cover up what used to be the north end
zone of the football field and you’d have to cover what’s left of the track,” said Greg Schwanke, president of the Friends of Beyer. “The Rockford Peaches are just a small part of Beyer’s history. More athletes ran track and played football there than baseball and we want to preserve that history.”
Those athletes include track star Bob Packard, who went from Rockford High School to
the U.S. Olympic team in 1936; Dr. Samuel Behr, a Rockford High School football and track star
who excelled at Wisconsin before coming back to Rockford to serve as the city’s top orthopedic
surgeon; East football star Jerry Stalcup who played in Rose Bowl for Wisconsin and the AFL
and NFL; and West’s Marshall Starks who went from playing at Beyer in Rockford to the New
York Jets in the AFL.
The founders of the Friends of Beyer restored Beyer more than a 10 years ago, taking it from a dilapidated eyesore to a pristine baseball field that draws people from all over the world who want to see where the Peaches played. The group not only restored the field but built a historical walkway all with volunteer help.
Friends of Beyer was developing plans to install a permanent fence around the outfield with
vintage 1940s style advertising, add permanent restrooms and concessions area on property to
the south of the park and irrigation for the field. In addition, Friends of Beyer wanted to restore the old running track, put up goal posts back to where they used to be located and add historical markers remembering all of the great athletes that called Beyer home.
The board is calling on the Rockford Park District to reconsider the plan to sell the property to the IWBC and work instead with the Friends of Beyer to restore the park.