Guest Commentary: Minnesota’s Treasure – The City’s Team Baseball – Austin Daily Herald

By Don Leathers

Minnesota is well known nationally for two very important sports venues. And, it’s not the Gophers, Twins, Wild, Timberwolves, Lynx, Saints, United FC or even the Vikings.

Instead, notable team sports are the Minnesota Class 2A Boys’ Hockey Tournament and the Amateur Baseball Leagues (City Team), made up of young (and mature) men’s teams from Rochester to Owatonna passing through Austin and small towns in central Minnesota such as Arlington, Cold Spring, Green Isle, Milroy, Plato, Hamburg, Fairfax and Luxembourg to name a few. Have you ever heard of them? On the Highway 212 corridor west of the Twin Cities, city team baseball is king.

It’s not uncommon for a small town like Union Hill in Le Sueur County, which has a population of 952, to have its own baseball team and a quaint ballpark. The park is complemented by the tall-spired St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church across the street and the Union Hill Bar & Grill nestled prominently beside it. The city serves its residents quite well. Honestly, what more could you ask for in life?

I can’t go on without mentioning my favorite baseball town at 212, Sacred Heart. What blue-blooded baseball fan couldn’t support a team with such a hallowed name? The local priest is reported to cast the first pitch every spring after marinating it in holy water for a fortnight or more. In addition, the priest would exercise his confessional duty for a few hours after each loss of domicile. For some reason, pitchers seem to be his most loyal patrons. That’s what I heard, anyway.

The city’s Class B and C teams are replete with folklore about players, managers, and referees who are often considered by fans to be a bit larger than life. Dolan, Brazil, Herd, Wohler, Dankowitch, Zwach, Serratore and Mauer are household names that have filled city teams for generations. These family teams energized city team baseball for decades.

One of my favorite baseball names of all time is Larson. Specifically, Clinton “Tink” Larson from nearby Waseca. A true craftsman, Tink. Head coach, manager, player, head fielder, chief statistician, rules pundit, third base coach, part-time psychologist and all-around “Rah Hah Guy” for the Waseca Braves. Man, could Tink hit a fungo! Do you think that’s how he got that nickname? Like so many others involved in sports in small-town Minnesota, Tink would (still to this day) do anything to promote the city’s baseball team. A consensus member of the Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.

Stories and anecdotes about the city’s team rivalries abound here in Minnesota. These are things that local legends are made of. The riff between the two Milroy teams is so heated that they refuse to play against each other. The average Milroy fan must be claustrophobic as the town of 188 has two separate baseball diamonds. One in town; outing in the country. Austin and Rochester players continue to relish their head-to-head encounters to brag multiple times each summer.

Now stop for a moment and consider the two words “Town Team”. They suggest independence, home, territory, territorial rights, and in most cases, simple friendly competition. These lighthearted tensions take place every summer in the balk parks of Minnesota, usually with a satisfying conclusion. Post-game gatherings between the teams for a can or two of Bud Light in the parking lot with a discussion of key afternoon plays exemplify the unique camaraderie between most City team players opponent.

The city’s tag team competition dates back to the 1950s and continues to be popular statewide 70 years later. A driver may be greeted by a sign at the city limits reading “Green Isle Irish: 2003 Class C State Champions. Our own Austin Greyhounds had several outstanding seasons and highly successful state tournaments in the 2000s. Several great players contributed to the team’s success.

Beautiful, iconic baseball stadiums dot the Minnesota landscape. My favorite is the newly built Milroy Irish house, set in the middle of a cornfield, with a mini-jumbo tron ​​beyond the right field fence, and several other fan-friendly amenities. players. Green Isle, Sacred Heart, Arlington and Fairfax also present attractive venues for weekday and Sunday afternoon games. Marcusen Park in Austin is another memorable ballpark with a long history of community involvement and tradition.

Regardless of the terrain, local men and women, young and old, work tirelessly to keep the fields sufficiently watered, mowed, lined and manicured, and the concession stands continue to produce Monster hot dogs, cheeseburgers and burgers, seeds, popcorn, cracker jack, cheese nachos, nutty treats, fountain drinks and slush, plus a wide array of other ball park delights . With such an All American menu, who would a fan even want the game to end?

The atmosphere is akin to attending the much-loved Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul in late summer. Livestock shows, midway rides, and an endless supply of great “fair food” are all key attractions that draw people to The Great Minnesota Get Together. Have you ever enjoyed a pup pronto…uh…or, I mean, a halfway corn dog? Mustard or ketchup? Ketchup or ketchup? Talk about rivalries of unparalleled proportions! Minnesotans like the occasional good-natured argument.

Late July and August is the time of the city’s tag team tournament when hundreds of baseball faithfuls begin to prepare for the final push to the Labor Day weekend championship series. It’s a frenzy of activity as Class A, B and C teams compete for their respective crowns at select venues in cities across the state.

This is a big deal for host cities who are often on a ten-year waiting list for their moment in the spotlight to finally arrive. The wait can be excruciating. When the time finally arrives, all of these baseball-loving volunteers are more than ready to brighten up the park and get everything ready for the home plate umpire’s declaration, “Play ball!”

With this fascination with the city baseball team in our state, I would like to commend the writings of Minnesota baseball author Bill Meissner. His works include the memoirs ‘Circling Toward Home’ and the baseball novels ‘Hitting the Wind’ and ‘Spirits in the Grass’, the latter of which won Meissner the Midwest Book Award. For me, his books are a trip down memory lane to Minnesota Nice.

A former professor of creative writing at Minnesota State, St. Cloud, Meissner has also written works of poetry and a collection of short stories. His writing is engaging, insightful, light and, at times, poetic. His books are recommended reading for fans who avoid the pervasive corporate imprint that infects today’s version of professional sports.

What’s the popular phrase we’ve all heard related to American sports? “For the love of the game.” A centuries-old call for a pure, honest and more innocent approach to competition and life. In these times more than ever, this is the kind of perspective needed in our ever-changing world. Meissner connects his reader to a unique set of timeless values.

It is this meaning that Bill Meissner brings to his fiction and his subjects. I urge you to give one of his books a read. I think you’ll be glad you did.

“Play ball!”

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