We are often asked by customers outside of the state of Minnesota why we so often emphasize, support, and promote amateur baseball in Minnesota. The answer is simple: though Minnesota is often recognized as the State of Hockey, it has a baseball tradition unrivaled anywhere in the United States. It’s a tradition we at Meridian are proud to say we wholeheartedly took part in for nine years, and one that is very near and dear to our hearts.
But don’t take our word for it. Taking in a Minnesota Townball game is one of the one hundred things any self-respecting American sports fan must do before they die, according to ESPN (See #40). The network also eloquently captures the unique nature of baseball in this state – through the lens of Sleepy Eye and Stark, MN, the respective homes of the Sleepy Eye Indians and Stark Longhorns. Wikipedia even has a page largely devoted to Minnesota amateur baseball.
With traditions like this, it is unsurprising that amateur baseball in Minnesota has been around for well over 100 years, surviving two World Wars and a Great Depression. And through it all the players have never gone on strike or tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (though it should be noted that many did leave to serve our country). Books detail the rich history of teams across the state, from times long past all the way to the current era. Today, some 300 teams with names like Buttermakers, Blue Ox, and Orphans make up the summer nine in towns across the state. It’s such a summer tradition that when the Minnesota Twins built Target Field, they felt obliged to tip their hat by way of the Townball Tavern, where the walls are adorned with photos of ballparks across the state, and the state tournament champion’s from the prior year have their jerseys decorating the walls.
Teams generally consist of former high school, college, and even professional ballplayers. Wood bats (of course) are used, and teams play anywhere from 15 to 50+ games in a summer. Better yet, players play for the love of the game, often rushing home from the 9-to-5, excited just to forget about the complications of everyday life and be a kid again. If you happen to be driving through rural Minnesota on a summer night, you’ll see the lights on in any number of small towns across the state where ballparks are carved out of the corn, and all the locals have congregated. Former players, friends and family take in the game with camaraderie, a beer, and a hotdog. And all the while the next generation of players hone their skills with a game of hotbox beyond the baselines…before running the bases after the game of course.
The quality of play is bettered only by the quality of the ballparks. Towns with a church, a bar and a Rockwell-esque field dot the landscape. Since players are not paid, teams and communities reinvest their gate proceeds, concession revenue, and advertising money back into the park. And every year, two communities obtain the right to host the annual summer dance from the state’s amateur baseball governing body, the MBA. Having myself been on a team’s board and a co-chair of a state tournament hosting committee, I can confidently say from experience that hosting a tournament is not simply a one year process. Communities spend years planning, fundraising, and getting their fingers dirty turning the local park into a palace for the summer classic. It’s a fantastic showcase for proud baseball communities, and a testament to what baseball means to Minnesotans.
The work of this year’s two primary host communities will be on full display the next three weekends in Cold Spring, and Watkins, MN; two towns with phenomenal baseball traditions. And judging from the work they’ve put in (see here, and here), they will not disappoint! I’d encourage everyone, including those who have not experienced amateur baseball in Minnesota, to check #40 off your sports bucket list sometime over the next three weekends in Cold Spring and Watkins.
We hope to see you there!