It’s not quite the same stadium that Louise (Lou) Erickson Sauer recalls from her playing days with the Rockford Peaches women’s baseball team.
Concrete bleachers and locker rooms are long gone. But the broad outline of Rockford’s Charles Beyer Stadium — with a well-groomed baseball diamond and historically accurate backstop — are enough to rekindle memories from her playing days in the 1940s and into the 1950s.
Sauer was among the guests as Beyer Stadium was rededicated in a ceremony that attracted several hundred friends and fans to the nearly century-old Rockford venue located at the intersection of 15th Ave. and Seminary St..
“It’s nice to be back here,” said Sauer, now 86 and living in Wisconsin. “It looks just a little different over there. There’s no bleachers, there’s no dressing room. But we still have the fans.”
The Rockford Peaches were arguably Beyer Stadium’s biggest claim to fame as home field to the All American Girls Professional Baseball League between 1948-54.
The Peaches and AAGPBL were immortalized in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” a fictionalized account of the league that starred Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Geena Davis and was directed by Penny Marshall.
The movie helped rekindle interest in the league and surviving AAGPBL players are active in reunions, tours and talks around the country.
The Peaches won four AAGPBL titles between 1945-50, more than any other team. In a three-year career, Sauer, a right-hander, helped the Peaches win two league championships and was a two-time All-Star.
The Peaches and other AAGPBL players also served as early advocates for women in sports.
“People come up to us and say ‘thank you for doing this and making it possible for girls to get into athletics’, ” Sauer said. “All we had was a half-hour gym class. We opened the doors.”
The league folded in 1954 but Charles Beyer Stadium — named for the longtime football, basketball and track coach at the now-defunct Rockford Central High School — remained an active venue hosting baseball and football games and track meets.
For many years, the lighted stadium served as Rockford’s premier sports venue.
But in succeeding years the facility decayed and the stadium was torn down in 1992 to create athletic fields for nearby Beyer Elementary.
All that remains of the original venue is an brick entryway/ticket booth and crumbling wide stairs took visitors down to the field.
But interest in Beyer Stadium did not fade away.
According to a Rockford Park District timeline, the Rockford Jaycees created a nearly $80,000 endowment fund in 1997 to maintain and enhance Beyer Field. Between 2000-09 interest from the endowment helped fund maintenance projects and repairs.
In 1998, Friends of Beyer Stadium group was formed with the goal of restoring Beyer Park’s baseball field.
By 2010, a new baseball diamond was in place along with a historically accurate backstop and scoreboard and a rededication ceremony was held that year.
Recent projects included installation of outside fencing, historic plaques, new sidewalks and dugouts with artwork saluting thousands of athletes who played there.
“The friends of Beyer Stadium have been have been a tremendous part,” Rockford Park District board member Julie Elliot said. “They’ve aligned themselves with a goal and exceeded it with their passion for the sport of baseball, their love of history and their attention to baseball.”
Beyer Stadium and a field in Kenosha are reported to be the only two remaining stadiums where AAGPBL teams once played. Chicago’s Wrigley Field was also home to spring training at least one season.
The restored Beyer Stadium is now home to the Rockford Starfires women’s baseball team and serves as recreation space for kids at the nearby Charles Beyer Elementary School.
— Rockford park’s rededication just peachy for womens’ baseball pioneers —