Baseball is only a game, but to your true fan, a good baseball game is just about the best show on earth. Since 1900, sports fans considered Omaha, Nebraska, to be “a good baseball town”. Acting Mayor Louis Burmester made a public proclamation in 1935, stating that all businesses allow fans to leave work early to attend the Vinton Street Opening Game. Vinton Street Park was the first major ballpark in Omaha. Famous people played in the park, like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Buck Keith, a baseball enthusiast, and William “Pa” Rourke, a former baseball player, were instrumental in bringing organized baseball and a great baseball stadium.
Before 1879, organized professional baseball did not exist in Omaha. The first organized team for the Northwestern League played on May 8, 1879, between Dubuque and Omaha with general admission costing 25 cents. The league dissolved and Omaha became an organized baseball desert. That would change. On November 20, 1899, Thomas J. Hickey came to Omaha to meet baseball enthusiast at the Millard Hotel. He wanted to create a league that included Denver, Des Moines, Sioux City, St. Joseph, Pueblo, and Omaha. Keith, a former local team manager, attended and secured funding from multiple sources for Omaha’s involvement in baseball.
Rourke, a business manager of the Omaha Club, became Keith’s partner. Born in Columbus, Ohio, on August 7, 1864, he began his baseball career with the Muskegon Club of the Northwestern League when he was eighteen years old. He came to Omaha in 1887 and was a scout for the Chicago Cubs. Borrowing $250, he approached Keith who was looking for funding. They pooled their money together to create a team. Hickey held a follow-up meeting on December 4, 1899. From this meeting, they created a reformed Western League.
Keith searched for a place for his team to play. Out of three areas, he chose Vinton Street Park. In February 1900 when Keith signed a contract with the property owner, he said “. . . you can bet it is going to be a dandy–the very best and the finest Omaha has ever had”. Keith had to make changes to the park, like grading the land and fencing it in. He added bleachers and a grandstand with an entrance along 15th and Vinton. It was a success with over 3,000 fans attended a game in 1900.
On February 16, 1901, Rourke made an offer to Keith to buy the team after they disagreed on how to run the ball club. After securing financing, he bought Keith’s share for $500. Rourke overhauled the stadium in 1911 expanding seat capacity to 9,000 while providing a unique “auto yard” where spectators could watch the game from their cars. He sold the team for $100,000 in 1921, ending an era. He moved to Florida, leaving Omaha baseball behind.
Baseball will forever be engaging to its fans. Where baseball teams play becomes a place of treasured memories for fans and players. Buck Keith and Will Rourke brought organized baseball back to Omaha with a suitable playing field. The Vinton Street Park was the first major ballpark. Rosenblatt followed, and now, TD Ameritrade inspires new memories.