EVANSVILLE, Indiana — Major League Baseball is looking to come to Evansville.
It is intended to schedule a regular season game at historic Bosse Field, the third oldest ballpark still in regular use for professional baseball, surpassed only by Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. It would be the first MLB game ever played in Indiana.
The catch? It will be at least a year before it becomes a reality.
“We are very pleased that Major League Baseball is considering Evansville for a special event game,” said Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. “We were working toward a date — we thought we had one for 2023 — but over the past week, that date will not happen due to MLB’s changing schedules.
“The good news is that MLB is still very interested in Evansville. They love Bosse Field and are really trying to figure out how to fit us into their special events schedule.”
Winnecke met with the Courier & Press Wednesday morning along with Evansville School Corp. Superintendent David Smith and Evansville Otters owner Bill Bussing.
MLB officials have visited the city twice in the past year since the city first took their seat with a written letter last August. There was hope of a regular-season game next summer, but MLB has too many international commitments to make it work. Next year is the World Baseball Classic, while two more games are planned out of the country.
“For me, that doesn’t mean hitting pause. That gives us some breathing room so things aren’t so crowded,” Smith said.
They noted they were given a date in May for a game next summer — long rumored to be between the New York Yankees and the Miami Marlins, a fitting matchup given the address 23 Don Mattingly Way. But that was ultimately scrapped.
The concept of coming to Evansville stems from MLB’s Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa, which will host a second game near the iconic film location later this month. Evansville is one of a few communities being considered for these types of games in the future.
Bosse Field is, of course, where A League of Their Own was filmed in the early 1990s, when stars like Tom Hanks and Madonna were summering in town. The city believes a game based on the film would be a hit because it could serve as an opportunity to honor women in baseball. A presentation entitled “Why Evansville?” was even put together. because that’s a question MLB had internally.
“It’s the rarest of rare opportunities,” Winnecke said. “There are people involved in discussions who have said that this would have been one of the biggest events the city has ever hosted. That could be up for debate, but the prospect of profiling Evansville and our region for a nationally televised event is priceless.”
MLB will require a number of changes to the stadium for this once-in-a-lifetime game to meet its standards. The playing surface needs a complete overhaul and the shelters are restructured to be further away from home plate. Those renovations are estimated at $2.2 million, but Winnecke said they will be privately funded by the local business community.
“We will have no problem raising the necessary funds to make this happen,” he said.
Many of the 5,100 permanent seats will also be replaced this offseason, at a cost of another million dollars. MLB did not require this change, but local officials felt it would improve the overall fan experience considering they were installed in the 1950s. The ballpark has already undergone a $5 million renovation over the past three years.
Meanwhile, MLB would primarily provide additional lighting, seating, and makeshift clubhouses. It covers the cost of temporary repairs in and around the park. There are hopes of having up to 7,000 fans at a special game with temporary additions of seats in the outfield.
There are plans to improve Garvin Park and the area around North Main Street to make it more fan-friendly for what is expected to be a primarily out-of-town audience. MLB was also impressed with the new Deaconess Aquatic Center, which could serve as an area for media and VIP spectators.
Winnecke will be on the phone again next week with MLB’s chief strategy and operating officer to discuss next steps. There is optimism a game could be set for 2024 amid a “full court press” to ensure the city stays on their radar. MLB representatives visited them in November and again in March.
“We equated it with our Super Bowl, so to speak,” said Winnecke. “But unlike most cities, when you get a Super Bowl, you know three, four, five years in advance, and we’d have a matter of months to get a lot of things done. It gives us a little time to step back, catch our breath and do things more consciously.”
Bussing believes this game would have long-term implications for both the park and the Otters, who play in the Frontier League, which recently became an MLB affiliate despite not being affiliated with organizations.
“The Evansville fan will experience this decades after those 18-wheel monstrosities roll off with FOX transmitters,” Bussing said. “From the baseball side, we strive to win baseball and I can’t imagine that won’t help[the Otters]recruit players.”
Bosse Field is a nationally unknown gem. Opened in 1915, it was the world’s first municipal sports stadium. It has a rich heritage, from filming A League of Their Own to hosting Triple-A baseball and later the Otters for the last 27 years. Numerous members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame passed through town early in their careers.
Current MLB All-Stars could one day join this story.
“Some say that Evansville tends to see itself as having an inferiority complex,” Smith said. “I hope people understand that Major League Baseball, who can choose where they want to go, chose Evansville.
“It’s a great honor to be considered, but when you’re actually selected, it’s very special.”