College baseball returns to RF, just not the team you think

Fans had to bundle up but stayed dry under the covered grandstand as they watched the UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout baseball teams play a doubleheader in the rain at First National Bank of River Falls Field Saturday, March 27. It was the first college baseball game in River Falls since UW-River Falls suspended its program in 2002. Bob Burrows / Star-Observer

 

RIVER FALLS, Wis.-- For the first time since 2002 a college baseball game was played in River Falls Saturday, March 27. But it had nothing to do with UW-River Falls.

It rained pretty much all day, but UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout had no problem completing both games of their doubleheader thanks to the artificial turf of First National Bank of River Falls Field. The Blue Devils swept the Blugolds, 3-1 and 13-7. Coincidentally, this is the first season for UW-Eau Claire varsity baseball since the program was discontinued in 1995.

UW-River Falls announced it was suspending its baseball program “for the foreseeable future” in March, 2002, along with gymnastics and wrestling. At the time there were hopes the program would be reinstated but those hopes dimmed when the university demolished the baseball field at the Ramer Field Sports Complex the following year.

A group of students have organized a baseball club since 2016, but there are no formal plans to bring varsity baseball back to UWRF at this time.

First National Bank of River Falls Field opened in 2014 after six years of planning and fundraising by the non-profit River Falls Baseball Council. The facility received an upgrade following the 2019 season when the RFBC was able to replace the dirt and sod playing surface with artificial turf, thanks to an $850,000 grant from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association Youth Development Foundation.

Since opening First National Bank of River Falls has hosted around 130 amateur, high school, American Legion and youth baseball games each year. That number was expected to increase significantly last season with the expanded opportunities made possible by the new turf, but everything came to a screeching halt last spring due to the pandemic.

The stadium hosted a limited number of youth and amateur games last summer, but Saturday’s games between UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout were the first of many planned for this year, including the River Falls High School team’s home opener April 29 against Chippewa Falls, and the official Turf Dedication Night when the River Falls Fighting Fish and River Falls Groupers open their respective amateur seasons against each other Saturday, May 8, at 6 p.m.

The earliest day for high school practice in the state is April 19.

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