Balking at state plans to route a new freeway smack through the middle of their classic old ballpark, the Chaska Cubs and the city of Chaska are hoping to block the project by promoting the stadium's historic value.

Chaska Athletic Park, built in 1950 by volunteer labor, stands next to the Minnesota River, surrounded by trees. In classic mid-20th-century style, it still has wooden stands, a wood canopy over the seats, cinder-block dugouts and a natural grass field.

"It's a very special place." said Tracy Swanson, president of the Chaska Historical Society, among the many who are fighting to save the ballpark.

The stadium attracts hundreds of fans to downtown Chaska for each game of the Chaska Cubs, the local town ball team. It also is the home field for high schools, American Legion and Babe Ruth league teams.

"It's been very well-maintained," said Erin Hanafin Berg, a field representative with the Minnesota Preservation Alliance, which recently named the ballpark one of the 10 most endangered sites in the state this year. "The river setting is quite special. You get the very real sense of an historic 1950s ballpark when you visit there.

"There's this period of baseball [the post-World War II period] that is not well-represented ... here in the metro area," Berg said. "This is kind of a unique resource."

Team and Chaska city officials hope the designation will help slow down, alter or perhaps even put a stop to plans by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to build a new river crossing directly through the ballpark's outfield.

"I think it will help us," said Cubs general manager Greg Gestach. "It makes us more focal statewide. I think we'll get more support."

Although the bridge construction might not happen for decades -- it is not yet on MnDOT's 20-year plan -- ballpark supporters think they had better head off the routing now or they'll miss their chance.

"Even though it's a long-term project, we just wanted to be able to advocate on its behalf while there is still time and opportunity to find other alternatives," Berg said.

Right in the way

After years of study and negotiation, MnDOT earlier this year finally selected its preferred route for a new Hwy. 41 river bridge to replace the existing span at Chaska, which is prone to flooding. The ballpark route was chosen over routes that would have passed near Carver's historic downtown or the environmentally sensitive Seminary Fen.

The chosen route would skirt downtown Chaska and cross directly through right field, meaning the end of the ballpark.

As a result, the team and the city took the unusual step of calling on the Preservation Alliance to designate the stadium as an endangered site worthy of saving.

"The honest simplicity of the structure and the real grass infield differentiate Chaska Athletic Park from the gravel-surrounded-by-chain-link-fence fields that serve as ballparks in most communities," the MPA wrote in announcing its 2009 endangered list.

The group notes that it is batting .667, or 2 out of 3, when it comes to saving what it considers endangered sites. Among its successes was saving the Stillwater Lift Bridge.

Not eager for alternative

The team and the city are also unenthusiastic about a MnDOT alternative that would keep the ballpark intact but move the river crossing only about a quarter of a mile away so that it runs around the outfield instead of through it. The resulting traffic noise would be a problem, they say.

"I'm kind of skeptical," said Gestach. "Even if you move outside the ballpark you still have the traffic. With the decibel level so high it would be like being at a racetrack."

The biggest fear that fans, players, city officials and historians have is that in the end the ballpark will be torn down.

"It's very much a community asset," said Swanson. "Baseball has been huge in Chaska since the 1800s. There's always been baseball in Chaska."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280