McFeely blog: Long before Newman Outdoor Field, Fargo had Barnett Field to house its minor-league baseball team

Ballpark stood on north side of town for nearly 30 years on the current site of Fargo North High School

Barnett Field aerial Digitalballparks.jpg
A photo from the Digital Ballparks website of Barnett Field in Fargo. Photograph by Wendy Pastore ©

FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks are in the midst of their 26th season in Newman Outdoor Field, a fine minor-league and college ballpark on the North Dakota State University campus about 25 blocks from the corner of Broadway and 19th Ave. N.

The stadium opened to much fanfare in June of 1996, as it marked the return of minor-league baseball to Fargo.

The RedHawks played their first couple of home series at Jack Williams Stadium, the wonderful American Legion ballpark tucked next to the Red River, before moving to Newman for a June 21 game.

Barnett Field aerial looking west Cal Olson.jpg
An aerial view of Barnett Field looking southwest by Forum photographer Cal Olson. The photo was taken in the 1950s. Dacotah Field is near the top center of the photo and the large open space to the right (north) of that is where the Fargodome sits today at the corner of 19th Avenue North and University Drive. NDSU archives


But Newman Outdoor Field wasn't the first ballpark dedicated to a minor-league club in Fargo. That honor belonged to Barnett Field, a stadium that also opened to much fanfare when it was dedicated in 1937.

It was in north Fargo, with its centerfield fence located at the southwest corner of Broadway and 19th Ave. N. The stadium stood on the present location of Fargo North High School.

'The finest baseball grounds'

Barnett Field was built during the Great Depression as a home for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, a Class D minor-league team that played in the original Northern League.

The Twins spent their first four seasons playing their home games in Moorhead, at a small ballpark with a dirt infield that sat at the current site of D-S Beverages on 2nd Ave. N. (just north of the Burger Time located on 1st Ave. N.). A dedicated group of Fargo baseball and business boosters lobbied for a park to be built in their town, using "free labor" made available by the federal Works Progress Administration put in place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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Barnett Field in Fargo, likely looking from the top of the grandstand to the northeast. This photo was taken in the 1930s, not long after the ballpark was built. The centerfield fence is at the corner of what is now Broadway and 19th Ave. N. The left-field wall borders 19th Ave. and the right-field wall runs along Broadway. NDSU archives

"We believe that Fargo is entitled to and should have one of the finest baseball grounds and athletic fields in the northwest," said the president of the group advocating for Barnett Field, according to a story in the March 8, 1936, edition of the Fargo Forum. "We have had several baseball grounds here. Many of these have been pushed out of the picture because the city grew out and around them and the property became too valuable for the purpose."

The group selected a five-acre site on the northeast corner of what was then the Fargo fairgrounds. It purchased the tract for $1,500, which was later deeded to the Fargo Park Board.


The labor was provided by the federal government, but the group needed $8,000 for lumber, cement and hardware to build the grandstand and fences. Pledges by 21 Fargo businessmen covered that cost and a later fund drive raised another $4,000 to wipe out the park's debt.

Construction began in March 1936.

"Present plans call for seating capacity of 3,500 in the grand stand, 500 in box seats with bleacher capacity that eventually will be 2,000 or more, although all of the bleachers may not be built at once," according to the Fargo Forum.

The first ballgame played in Barnett Field came on Aug. 29, 1936, when 600 fans turned out to see Wausau, Wis., defeat the Twins 5-1. It was the first organized baseball game to played in Fargo since 1922.

A much bigger crowd estimated at 2,000 showed up Sept. 29 to watch an exhibition game featuring 17-year-old big-league pitching sensation Bob Feller, who had just completed his first year in the majors pitching for the Cleveland Indians.

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The grandstand of Barnett Field in Fargo. The photo was taken during the dedication of the field in July 1937, when an estimated crowd of 4,000 showed up to see the Fargo-Moorhead Twins beat the Winnipeg Maroons. NDSU archives

Barnett Field was named after Fargo attorney William H. Barnett, who was known by the nickname "Judge" by all who knew him. Judge Barnett came to Fargo, then in the Dakota Territory, shortly after completing law school at the University of Wisconsin in 1880. He never left, becoming a community and baseball booster (he also loved horse racing and prize fighting). He was an assistant state's attorney, state's attorney, police magistrate and U.S. district attorney while in Fargo.


Barnett died in 1943 at age 86.

Maris, Dizzy, Mudcat, Pepitone and Gravino

Barnett Field was dedicated July 29, 1937, "with all the hoopla of a national holiday," longtime Forum sports editor Ed Kolpack wrote in a 1987 story about the ballpark.

A parade started on lower Broadway and ended at the entrance to the ballpark. Police, firefighters, Boy Scouts, Elks, Eagles, American Legionnaires, National Guardsmen and ballplayers from both the Twins and their opponent, the Winnipeg Maroons, took part. Gov. Bill Langer was among the politicians making speeches. A crowd estimated at 4,000, with fans spilling onto the outfield, saw the Twins beat Winnipeg 5-2.

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An aeriel view of Barnett Field and the Fargo fairgrounds taken by The Forum's photographer Cal Olson in the 1950s. NDSU archives

The Twins played 21 seasons at Barnett Field, with mixed success. They won Northern League titles in 1953, 1954 and 1958 but had plenty of years when they didn't make the playoffs.

The Twins were an affiliated club, meaning they had working agreements with big-league teams to act as a "farm" for young players. The Twins were affiliated with the Cleveland Indians (1934-40, 1953-57), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1947-48) and the New York Yankees (1958-60). The team was a co-op, accepting players from any organization, from 1941-46.

Having agreements with Major League clubs meant Fargo-Moorhead fans were treated to eventual big-leaguers playing for the home team and playing for other Northern League teams that visited Barnett Field. Henry Aaron, for example, played for Eau Claire and hit a couple of home runs out of Barnett Field in 1952.


The biggest name to play for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, of course, was hometown hero Roger Maris. The Fargo Shanley graduate — the school was then located in north Fargo just a few blocks from Barnett Field — played for the Twins in 1953 in his first minor-league season after being signed by the Cleveland Indians.

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A photo taken of Barnett Field in Fargo from the right-field line. This photo is displayed on the Digital Ballparks website. Photograph by Wendy Pastore ©

Pitcher Mudcat Grant, a two-time big-league All-Star, played for the Twins in 1954. Three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner Joe Pepitone played in Fargo-Moorhead in 1959. Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean pitched three innings for the Twins in 1941. Longtime Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim Perry went 15-12 and threw 231 innings for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in 1957.

Perhaps the most popular player in team history, though, never made the Major Leagues.

Frank Gravino, all 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds of him, played three seasons for the Twins from 1952-54. He hit 32, 52 and 56 home runs in those years, often banging baseballs off a house that sat across 19th Ave. from the left-field fence at Barnett Field. Gravino drove in 174 runs in 1953. He was named the Northern League MVP in 1953 and 1954.

Gravino retired from baseball at age 31 after the 1954 season. Cursed by bad eyesight he never made the big leagues, advancing as high as AAA in 1948. He died in 1994 at age 71.


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A photo of the grandstands at Barnett Field in Fargo, taken in the 1950s by Forum photographer Cal Olson. The grandstand was enclosed with netting for the safety of the fans, predating by decades steps taken by baseball clubs. NDSU archives

"For this town, Frank Gravino was Michael Jordan," Mel Heim of West Fargo, a former teammate with the Twins, told The Forum in 1994 after Gravino's death. "He was to Fargo-Moorhead what Michael Jordan is to Chicago. He was unbelievable. On opening day we'd draw 13,000 to 15,000 and I'd say 75 percent of it was attributed to Frank."

Whether the Twins drew that many fans is questionable. The website said the team's biggest attendance year was 1953, when it averaged 1,731 fans for 63 home dates.

A school stands there now

With Maris and Gravino both playing for the Twins and a championship coming at the end of the season, 1953 was a banner year for Barnett Field. The ballpark also hosted the Northern League all-star game that summer and, according to The Forum, it drew a crowd of 13,629. Despite temporary bleachers, several hundred fans had to sit in the outfield.

That season also was a good year for attendance. The team averaged 1,731 fans per game, second in team history to the 1947 club that averaged 1,793. The Twins averaged more than 1,000 fans per game from 1947-54, after which attendance declined.

The team dropped to 58-66 in 1960 and drew a total of 27,443 fans for 62 games. That's an average of 443. According to The Forum, attendance over the last month averaged just 352.

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An aerial photo of Barnett Field in Fargo, looking northwest. The photo was taken in the 1950s by Forum photographer Cal Olson. NDSU archives


It was the last gasp for the club. The team folded after the 1960 season. The final game played at Barnett Field was on Sept. 3, 1960, when Fargo-Moorhead beat Duluth Superior 8-7 in 15 innings.

As Fargo grew, the fairgrounds and Barnett Field became prime territory for development. The Fargo School Board bought the property on which Barnett Field sat and the ballpark was razed in 1963. Fargo North High School was built there and opened in 1966.

There is no marker or memorial at North to commemorate Barnett Field. Principal Andy Dahlen says it's believed home plate sat right about where the school's commons area is now.

There was a push in the 1980s to build a monument to Barnett Field on the North grounds. In 1987, the Fargo Park District and school board suggested a small plaza at the corner of Broadway and 19th Ave. It was also suggested a marker go where Barnett's home plate was located. Cost of the project was estimated at $50,000. One committee member suggested New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and St. Louis Cardinals owner August Busch Jr. be asked to contribute.

The same committee member suggested 19th Avenue North be renamed Barnett Drive.

Nothing came of the plans.

Less than a decade later, the Northern League was reborn and by 1996 Fargo-Moorhead had a new team and a new ballpark.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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