Milton author explores final season of Milwaukee Braves
MILTON--Doug Welch always listened closely when the old-timers talked about the glory days of amateur baseball.
He learned how crowds in the 1950s used to squeeze into the wooden bleachers of ballparks in small towns across Wisconsin.
At the same time, another kind of baseball mania lit up Milwaukee County Stadium. In the spring of 1953, a professional team with a left-handed pitcher named Warren Spahn drew fans from all over the Midwest.
But the love affair eventually cooled. Like the hometown teams, the Milwaukee Braves eventually stopped filling the seats.
The parallel stories have inspired Welch, an avid baseball and softball player his entire life, to pen a novel.
“The Ashippun Trap” explores the glory days of hometown baseball and the one-of-a-kind final season of the Braves.
“The book allowed me to tell two stories that need to be kept alive,” Welch said.
The Milton man wrote the recently published novel for baseball fans. But anyone interested in history will appreciate the details of how two aging players—one with the Braves and the other with an amateur team—consider whether the game is worth playing anymore.
Only a man with a heart for baseball could have done the long hours of research needed to write the historically accurate novel, told through the dialogue of mostly fictional characters.
Welch manages Milton's town ball baseball team, the Milton Junction Pub Raptors.
He also was named Rock River League South Division manager of the year in 2012.
For Welch, reading every issue of the Milwaukee Journal in 1965—the last season for the Braves—gave him insight into what the players and fans were thinking.
“Anyone my age or younger doesn't remember the Braves,” 58-year-old Welch said. “But I believe the team has one of the most unique stories in professional sports history.”
In the beginning, the Braves could do no wrong. Some 2 million fans filled the bleachers five seasons in a row.
In 1957, the team showed its exceptional skill by winning the World Series, beating the New York Yankees four games to three.
But by the early 60s, the team's playing power cooled and so did attendance.
Eventually, an out-of-town interest bought the Braves in 1962 and went looking for bigger crowds in the South.
The new owners jilted Milwaukee fans by moving the team to Atlanta.
“They announced that the team would be gone by the end of the 1964 season,” Welch said. “But a court ruling said the team had to play one more season on its lease in Milwaukee.”
Players, such as slugger Henry “Hank” Aaron, loved Milwaukee, but the fans felt betrayed during the lame duck season. Enthusiastic women with cowbells no longer showed up to cheer the team. Fans began booing the Braves for bad plays, an act that would have gotten them beat up in earlier seasons. At the last game on Sept. 22, 1965, only 12,000 people came to watch them lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Welch describes the details of the historic game in his last chapter.
“I tried to capture a time and an environment when a professional team was going to abandon its city,” Welch said. “When the Brewers showed up six years later, the fans weren't nearly as enthusiastic. People in Wisconsin were jaded at how the Braves ended.”
Welch began researching his book in late 2012 and finished writing it last year. The book was his first major writing project since having a stroke in 2011.
“It is a slow process,” he said, about his recovery. “I don't yet have much use of my left hand, but I keep moving. I challenged myself to start a manuscript to see where it would go.”
Before his book, Welch wrote for and edited newspapers in Southern Wisconsin for more than 30 years. Most recently, he was the editor of his hometown weekly in Milton.
An independent publishing company in Texas, Black Rose Writing, picked up his book.
“This is a chapter of Wisconsin sports that needed to be told,” Welch said. “Maybe if people read it, they will have a new appreciation for the Milwaukee Braves and for how baseball can be important in people's lives.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.