Amateur baseball is pretty unique to Minnesota and Wisconsin which, to some, is quite strange given the relatively short summer playing season. In Minnesota alone there are more than 300 townball …
Amateur baseball is pretty unique to Minnesota and Wisconsin which, to some, is quite strange given the relatively short summer playing season. In Minnesota alone there are more than 300 townball teams in various leagues across the state with the oldest amateur teams dating back to the 1920’s. These teams include the Miesville Mudhens and Hastings Hawks. Both the Hens and the Hawks do the maintenance on their fields and their commitment to their homes has garnered them two of the top three spots for the DuraEdge Field of the Year.
DuraEdge is a manufacturer of engineered infield mixes, the ‘dirt’ that makes up not only Major League Baseball fields, but also the countless fields around the US that kids and adults play on. DuraEdge put out a contest for people to vote on their favorite townball field playing surface in Minnesota. The results show the rich history of many fields and the dedication of countless volunteers over the history of the sport.
Townball has such a cool history when you start digging. Hastings had the Spirals before the Hastings Hawks, and the Spirals had a now famous athlete and coach on the team. Perhaps you know the name Bud Grant? Townball’s widespread rich history is important to understand for this article because Hastings is lucky to have two great facilities for baseball within 15 minutes of town: Miesville’s historic Jack Ruhr Field and Veterans Park right here in Hastings.
To those who are deep dive like baseball fans, Jack Ruhr Field is a mecca of baseball. The setting, essentially in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cornfields, has a bit of the “if you build it, they will come” vibe to it. A covered grandstand, corner to corner sponsor signs, searching the cornfields for home run balls, a dirt parking lot, King’s Burgers across the street, parking in the church lot and a chicken wire backstop, this is a field made of legend. To many, there is no better place to play baseball, mainly because of the history of the field and fanatic support of the local townsfolk.
The Jack was built in 1961 when 25 businesses came together and donated $100 each to build the stadium on five acres of land. This happened because the league stipulated the team would no longer exist unless they built a stadium. Since then, Jack Ruhr Field has been maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers which is why their playing surface has consistently ranked as one of the best in the state.
On the contrary, Veterans Park, built in the early 80’s, has long been looked at as just a city parks ball field in the middle of nowhere. No cool vibe, no corner-to-corner sponsorships, no covered grandstand, and no team of volunteers doing the maintenance, until 2011.
Prior to 2011, playing at Vets was almost considered punishment. The field was minimally maintained by city staff who had dozens of other parks to care for. The playing surface grass was almost hayfield like, a light ground ball would barely make it to the infield dirt. If it was a solid ground ball, it would likely take a horrible hop off the very uneven ground. Edges were overgrown and so much more. The field was the home of the Hawks, and they were happy to have the home, but there was a facet of the team that was missing.
The Hawks board members prior to 2011 did a great job with the team and they truly set up things well for the future. They built the storage shed and the concessions stand, both huge assets to the team. The concessions stand has given the current board the tools they need to take the next step, jumping into the area of field maintenance.
The current board recognized that Vets Park was looked at as sort of a joke of a field for a long time given the neighbors to the south have what they do. A change in that thought process started with four board members: Bruce Karnick, Kathy Karnick, Shawn Matson and Kyle Benson. Kathy ran concessions efficiently and maintained the finances to allow the boys to focus on the field and the team. Matson, Benson and Bruce began to just take over some of the smaller field maintenance from the city proving the team can and will do the right things at the field. Benson’s knowledge around turf management (he works selling seed and fertilizer type products) proved to accelerate the process of healing the field.
Matson and Bruce focused on flattening the field, maintaining the grass properly, including mowing to a more appropriate baseball height and the three worked closely with the City of Hastings Parks Department, Parks Maintenance Supervisor Cory Likes and the new Parks Director Chris Jenkins to build the trust needed to get to where they are today.
The field began to be rolled annually, board members and players bought into the need to do more than just play baseball to be successful and the field became a point of pride for the Hawks. Every other year, local baseball field fanatic Bob Greeley (@Bob_Greeley57 on X) pays a visit to hundreds of townball parks in MN and ranks the top 100. In 2021, Hastings was ranked 94th. That essentially lit a fire under the board to continue the work they were doing to make even more improvements. The current board: Karnick, Matson, Tony Kaiser, Derek Simon, Johnny Stocker, Jordan Jeske, Cole Benson, Cory Wolters and many of the players have taken the field maintenance piece to a whole new level for Vets Park.
The last two years the group has not only mastered the turf maintenance piece for the mowing and flattening, but they have built experience replacing bad turf, measuring and straightening edges and managing the clay surfaces of both the mound and home plate area. The folks at the Parks Department have also been wonderful partners for making things happen, including the repairs of the dugout and placement of multiple pallets of sod.
The work that these volunteers and so many from outside the Hawks organization did in 2022 moved the park to 55th in Greeley’s ranking in 2023 and the belief is, if a ranking were done now, Vets would be top 40.
The work done by both organizations was recently recognized by the voters in the contest put on by DuraEdge. Neither team took home the number one field spot in Minnesota, which went to Watertown with 234 votes. Miesville took second with 202 votes and Hastings third with 123 votes. The results were announced at the final weekend of the state tournament.
With the top three finish, both teams have a lot to be proud of even with their rivalry. To have two fields near each other that are top three is an awesome feat and says a lot about the love of baseball in the region.