A History Of Baseball In Burlington

Earlier this off-season, the Oakland A's announced a two-year affiliation agreement with the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. David Malamut brings us the history of professional baseball in Burlington, Iowa.

Burlington, Iowa, is a quiet town in the south eastern part of Iowa along the Mississippi River. The ballpark is built on a bluff on the northwestern edge of town. Baseball has been in Burlington since 1889 in some shape or form.

The first team in pro baseball was the 1889 Burlington Babies of the Central Interstate League. After that there would be no pro ball in town until 1895 when the Colts played in the Western Association. In July of 1917 the team would shut down after a shortage of players because of World War I, and would eventually move to Ottumwa, Iowa.

In 1924 the Burlington Bees would make their debut in the Mississippi Valley League. In 1932 they would become affiliated with a major league team, the Cleveland Indians. The team shut down after that season due to the Great Depression. No baseball would be played in Burlington until 1947 when the Flints joined the Three-I League as an affiliate of the Indians. In 1954 they were once again renamed the Bees.

In 1962 the Bees joined the Midwest League after the Three-I League disbanded. In 1965 they would become league champions as an affiliate of the Kansas City A's. That year they had future big leaguers Sal Bando, Dwain Anderson, Jim Clark, Don O'Riley, Tony Pierce, Bill Schlesinger, Randy Schwartz and Freddie Velazques. The Bees would remain an affiliate of the A's through 1974. Future A's stars such as Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, George Hendrick, Phil Garner and Claudell Washington suited up for the Bees during this time period, as did current A's farm director Keith Lieppman.

On June 8th, 1971, the Bees home since baseball began in Burlington, Community Field, would catch fire. It would take three years of volunteer work to build a new park for the team. The Bees never missed a game though, being able to play elsewhere in the city. Much of the rebuilt Community Field still stands today.

Burlington would win another championship in 1977 while being affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers. The big star of the team was a 20-year-old Paul Molitor who came in towards the end of the season and hit .346 in 64 games. In addition, 1977 Bees Jesus Vega and Willie Mueller later played in the majors.

From 1982 through 1992, the Burlington minor league club -- as was the tradition of most minor league teams during that period -- used the nickname of their parent club. During that time, they played as the Burlington Rangers, Expos, Braves and Astros. On November 2nd, 1992 the organization announced that the Bees nickname was returning to the team.

Burlington did see some future stars during this period. In 1984 they got an 18-year-old Ruben Sierra, who played in 138 games and hit .168. In the same year, they had a 19-year-old Kenny Rodgers, who went 4-7 with a 3.98 ERA in 39 games, only four of which were starts. The 1993 team featured feature big league stars Jose Vidro and Ugueth Urbina as teenagers.

In 1995 the team changed to an affiliation with the Giants, and that year saw Pedro Feliz and Yorvit Torrealba come to Burlington.

The 1999 team won the league championship. This was the first one in 22 years and it was the first year of an affiliation with Chicago White Sox. The 1999 team saw Mark Buehrle pitch in the final month and playoffs. The biggest highlight of the season was in the final game of the division series against the Kane County Cougars in Geneva, Illinois. Eric Battersby hit four homers and drove in six to lead the Bees to a 9-6 win and a berth in the championship series.

The 2001 season marked the beginning of the longest affiliation in Burlington Bee history as they aligned themselves with the Kansas City Royals. It would be a 10-year relationship. The team would get future major league players such as Runelvys Hernandez, Ruben Gotay, Donnie Murphy, Kila Ka'aihue, Mitch Maier and Luke Hochevar during their time with the Royals.

The 2008 season would mark the fourth Midwest League championship for the Bees. The Bees would also make the championship round in 2009.

The biggest news for the franchise came in 2004 when the state of Iowa gave the Bees and Burlington a 'Vision Iowa' grant to update their ballpark and give it a much needed facelift. The park was originally built in 1947 and most of the park had remained the same since it was rebuilt in 1973 due to the fire. After the grant, the ballpark received new concession stands, new dugouts, new offices and new signage along the street. It was a major improvement over what had stood for more than 30 years. It also made it certain that baseball would stay in Burlington for years to come.

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