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John O'Donnell Stadium

Then: A look at Modern Woodmen Park back in the 1970s when it was known as John O’Donnell Stadium minus sky boxes and amusement rides. (Quad-City Times file photo)

Rivals ranged from Kokomo to Keokuk, and minor-league baseball was a different game when the first Midwest League contest was played in Davenport 50 years ago this week.

The only rival of today's Quad-Cities River Bandits that competed in the same league with the 1960 Quad-City Braves is the neighboring Clinton franchise, which has been in existence since 1954.

"So much of this business has changed in a half-century, but the core is the same. Baseball and family entertainment still are at the root of what our clubs are about," said Midwest League president George Spelius, in his 24th season as the head of a league that has grown from eight teams in 1960 to 16 teams this year.

Professional baseball traces its origins in the Quad-Cities region to 1879, but Davenport found itself without a minor-league team when the Davenport Sox, a Three-I League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, moved to Lincoln, Neb., after the 1958 season.

Local businessman Hugo "Hooks" Kohn started a drive to return a team to Davenport's riverfront baseball stadium, and months later, the Quad-City Baseball Fans Association was formed.

The group raised funds, volunteered time and was successful in its attempt to "keep the lights burning" at what was then known as Municipal Stadium.

Kohn convinced a co-worker at a downtown office building, Doris Krucker, to assist him as the secretary of the organization. She recalled that 13 people braved a snowstorm on the night of the group's first meeting.

"People wanted baseball," Krucker said. "We collected $1 from everybody in attendance, and that $13 was our start."

Kohn found a willing parent club in the Milwaukee Braves, and on May 3, 1960, the Quad-City Braves made their home debut, winning a 5-4 game against the Clinton C-Sox in front of a crowd of 2,614.

The game was preceded by a short ceremony that included comments by Kohn, Midwest League president Dutch Hoffmann of Belleville, Ill., and Roland Hemond, the assistant farm director for Milwaukee whose move to California three years later began a 17-year relationship between the Quad-Cities and the Angels organization.

"It was quite a night for the local opener," Davenport Morning Democrat Sports Editor John O'Donnell wrote in the following day's paper. "The weatherman cooperated and the crowd spent its share of money on tickets, hot dogs and soft drinks. The Quad-Cities is playing ball again."

Minor-league sports franchises have come and gone in the local market since that day, and Midwest League baseball in places like Dubuque, Waterloo and Decatur are distant memories, but baseball has endured in the Quad-Cities for five full decades.

"I think the relationship with Major League Baseball creates a solid development situation between the major and minor leagues," River Bandits general manager Kirk Goodman said. "We need each other and in markets where support is good, where fans come out and businesses partner with the team, that creates stability."

Spelius said solid ownership then leads to long-term viability.

"When franchises are well operated - and I feel we have that situation in our league now - it provides communities with good, affordable entertainment," Spelius said. "It used to be just baseball, but there is so much more to it now with giveaways, the entertainment acts like The Chicken and BirdZerk! and those types of things. Well-run clubs tend to last."

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