2015 Town Ball Year In Review

–by CJ Siewert

Another year has passed and it was another memorable season for Minnesota Amateur Baseball in 2015. Minnetonka, Dundas and Plato were crowned Class A, B and C state champions, respectively, and the rich tradition of town ball continued to thrive as arguably the greatest state-wide amateur baseball organization in the country.

Discussions of the 2015 season started to heat up before temperatures reached above freezing. The State Board called for a special meeting in February to vote on the Class B state tourney format, which in previous years received a bevy of criticism. Team representatives and the Board took a big step forward to improve the brand of “B” baseball after an open, lengthy and ardent discussion, which ended in favor (27-of-28 votes) of a 16-team field with double elimination after the first round.

The following month, it was announced that a new standard had been set in amateur baseball ballpark improvements as the City of New Prague agreed to fund a three-year improvement plan, which totals nearly $960,000. Reconstruction of the park began in August and after three phases will be complete in time for the 2018 state tournament, hosted by New Prague and Shakopee.

During the April State Board meeting, team classification was discussed (as it seemly always is) and it was determined that one Class C team was operating as a Class B team in terms of recruiting new players. The Chanhassen Red Birds of the River Valley League were bumped up the Class B by a unanimous vote, proving to be the only team to be reclassified for the 2015 season.

Ballpark improvements are an on-going subject throughout the state and a few fields were able to make substantial upgrades this year. Milroy’s Irish Yard and the Essig Ballpark lit the rural Minnesota skies in May and June with the installation of their new lights, while the Paynesville baseball complex received a nearly half-million-dollar grant from FEMA to build a community storm shelter, which also serves as an indoor baseball facility. The other half of the $1 million project paid for a new grandstand and numerous other unique features.

As June rolled around, many teams were found participating in various invitational tournaments throughout the state. Green Isle captured the Stearns County Classic title with a 7-1 win over the St. Cloud Beaudreau’s Saints; Elko beat Bloomington 2-1 to win the Budweiser Classic in Elko and New Market; Nisswa topped the Minneapolis Angels 8-2 to win Morris’ Mike Johnson Memorial; Minnetonka won the 37th Annual Dundas Invitational by beating St. Louis Park 6-3; Blaine took the New Prague Tournament crown with a 5-3 win over the Austin Greyhounds; Renner, S.D. won the Belle Plaine Tigertown Classic 5-2 over Blue Earth; East Bethel beat the Minneapolis Cobras 5-4 to claim Quamba’s “Romp in the Swamp”; Maple Lake topped Champlin 15-4 in the Highway 55 Tournament; Savage won the Arlington/Gaylord Miller High Life Invite with a 7-6 victory over Watertown; Eagan beat Metro in the Cannon Falls tourney; the Minneapolis Angels defeated Winsted for the Atwater tourney title; Cold Spring beat Moorhead 8-3 to win the Victoria round robin; Maple Lake won its second invitational championship with a 6-2 win over Buffalo in the Hinckley Invitational; Minnetonka also won its second championship with a 7-0 win over the Austin Greyhounds as the SPAMtown Challenge; Fergus Falls beat Nimrod 6-4 for the Nimrod championship; Waconia defeated Chanhassen 4-2 to win the Green Isle/Hamburg Miller Lite Invitational; Long Prairie beat Warroad 9-5 in the first annual Pine Grove Diamond Classic in Staples; Pipestone topped Raymond 13-3 to win Rosen’s Busch Light Invite; Minnetonka claimed its third tournament title with a 9-1 win over Moorhead at the Jordan/Shakopee Coors Light Classic; and Cold Spring and the Beaudreau’s both went 3-0 at the Cold Spring Nic Bell Classic to cap the summer’s invitational tournaments.

On June 27, six town teams had the great privilege to play at arguably the greatest ballpark in the world for the inaugural Town Ball Classic at Target Field. It was a perfect day under the sun as Faribault beat Chanhassen 9-3 in the first game, the Mankato Twins defeated the Shakopee Indians 3-2 in the second game, and the St. Anthony Hogs topped the Lyon’s Pub Warriors 4-2 in the final game of the day. The event was put together by ESPN 1500 and approximately $40,000 was raised for the Twins Community Fund through ticket sales and other streams of fund raising.

Playoffs began in July for most of the teams in the state and Class A concluded it state tournament in mid August with Minnetonka claiming the title 5-2 over the defending champions St. Paul Capitals. On Labor Day, Dundas completed the clean sweep through the Class B state bracket, capped by an 8-2 win over Moorhead for the championship, while Plato later claimed the Class C title with a convincing 14-6 win over Crow River Valley League-South rival Green Isle. And after serving 30 years on the State Board, Bob Zellmann publicly announced his retirement at the state tournament.

The attendance numbers at this year’s state tourney hosted by Cold Spring and Watkins revealed a slight increase from last year with 13,939 fans. Last year’s tourney in Belle Plaine and Jordan drew 13,321, while the 2013 tourney in Maple Lake and Delano drew 14,161. On the field of play, the Class B teams combined for a .260 batting average and 13 total home runs, while the Class C teams combined for a .247 average with 21 total home runs.

After the season came to a close, the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame inducted five new members as the Class of 2015 – Paul Froncak of Lastrup, Terry Fredrickson of Elko, Robert “Birdie” Geislinger of Watkins, Lamber “Butch” Hennes of Sobieski, and Pat Schneider of St. Joseph.

2015 was certainly a year to remember and we hope that trend continues as the 2016 season quickly approaches. Enjoy the holidays and remember, pitchers and catchers report in February, so we’re not that far away from another great summer of Minnesota amateur baseball.

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