The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are the Class-A minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. They are located in Appleton, Wisconsin. For those not familiar with the area, Appleton is about two hours north of Milwaukee and about an hour south of Green Bay.
This is the first season that the T-Rats, as they are affectionately known as, have been an affiliate of the Brewers. Prior to this season, they were apart of the Seattle Mariners organization for the previous 16 seasons.
In a country that has been experiencing the worst financial times in 70 years, the T-Rats teaming up with the Brewers was the perfect marriage. Despite the rough economic times, the team is on pace to shatter their single-season attendance record of 233,797 set in 1996.
I was lucky enough to have recently spent some time in Appleton. I was able to get an up-close view of the ballclub and able to see minor league baseball at its very best.
Although this is the first season they are associated with the Brewers, the city of Appleton is no stranger to baseball. In fact, baseball in Appleton dates back all the way to 1891, when four local businessmen posted a $200 bond to enter Appleton into the six-team Wisconsin State League. Although the league folded at the end of the season, the groundwork was laid in what would become a rich baseball history.
The city would have four more incarnations of baseball before returning permanently in 1958.
The Fox Cities Foxes became an affiliate for the Washington Senators and a member of the Three I League. Two years later, the Foxes became an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, and two years after that joined the Midwest League after the Three I League folded.
In 1966, the Foxes became part of the Chicago White Sox organization, a partnership they kept until 1986. The team became the Appleton Foxes in 1967, a year in which they won their second consecutive Midwest League Championship.
In total, the Foxes won seven league championships in their time associated with the White Sox. The partnership came to an end after the 1986 season. They would join the Kansas City Royals organization in 1987, where they would remain until 1992.
1993 saw yet another shift in affiliation, this time to the Seattle Mariners, where they stayed until 2008. The era with the Mariners saw many future stars come through the system, while big changes took places off the diamond as well.
Future stars Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez played for the Foxes in 1994. This was also the final season the Foxes played their home games at Goodland Field, as well as played under the name of the Appleton Foxes.
The following year, the newly named Wisconsin Timber Rattlers opened up Fox Cities Stadium, a privately financed endeavor that raised seating capacity from approximately 3,500 to over 5,500. The first year in the new ballpark saw attendance skyrocket. 209,159 came out to T-Rat games that season, more than tripling the attendance of any year in the previous five.
The Timber Rattlers found more success as well as becoming a launching pad for several future big leaguers over the next decade. David Arias, now known as David Ortiz, became the driving force for record attendance in 1996.
Gil Meche, Joel Pineiro, J.J. Putz, Shin-Soo Choo, Adam Jones, and Felix Hernandez all spent time in Appleton before becoming stars in the majors. They were only the latest in a long line of big names that called Appleton home at one time or another in their baseball lifetime.
The next chapter for the T-Rats is becoming a part of the Milwaukee Brewers’ family. So far the pairing has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. Former Brewer players and coaches are frequently at the ballpark for autograph sessions to connect with the fans.
Despite being a low-level affiliate of the Brewers, the T-Rats are stocked with young talent that projects to have futures in the majors. According to Brewerfan.net, the team currently has 12 players that have appeared in their top 50 list of best prospects in the Brewers minor league system.
Over the coming months, I hope I can share with you the personalities of the team as well as an inside look at the operations of a minor league baseball team. Baseball has never been stronger than it is today, even in small towns across America, like Appleton, Wisconsin.