FOND FAREWELL: Kreger steps down from MBA board after 15 years

By Nick Gerhardt

ScoreMonster Contributor

news@mnbaseball.org

Joe Kreger has dedicated most of his life to amateur baseball, serving in nearly every role imaginable but he’s prepared to serve in a different way outside of baseball.

Kreger announced he’s stepping down as vice president of the Minnesota Baseball Association after serving on the board for 15 years in order to pursue a seat on the Sibley County Board of Commissioners.

Kreger is synonymous with Green Isle and Green Isle Irish baseball since he started playing for the team in 1968. Kreger got his start in amateur baseball as a batboy with Arlington but a strong Arlington lineup, coming off a 1967 state championship, made getting playing time difficult. Plus, a girl from Green Isle had grabbed Kreger’s attention. 

Kreger met Jean Brazil, whose family had a big imprint on Green Isle baseball. Three of her brothers played and one of her seven sisters married Don Sauter, a Green Isle ballplayer.

Shortly after he started playing with Green Isle, Kreger recruited the Hartmann brothers Dave and Mike to play with Green Isle before they both played with Arlington. Together they helped lead Green Isle to its first state tournament appearance in 1972. While the Hartmanns found a spot with Arlington, Kreger remained in Green Isle to help build one of the most successful clubs in the state.

Green Isle went on to 23 more state tournament appearances and a Class C state title in 2003 with Kreger managing the team from 1981 to 2005.

“If it wasn’t for Joe Kreger Green Isle baseball wouldn’t be where it’s at now,” said Dave Hartmann, who grew up with Kreger after the Hartmanns moved to Arlington. “He seemed to be the guy who was the fundraising arm. Whenever they needed some sponsorships, Joe was always out there trying to generate some funds.”

In addition to managing and playing, Kreger has helped lead many of the activities of the Green Isle Irish. 

“He’s very important in the year-to-year running of the Green Isle baseball club,” said Joe Shimota, who has known Kreger for more than 50 years and serves as the public address announcer at Irish games. “He does a lot of the ground work, does a lot of the fundraising, finds players for Green Isle. He’s pretty hands-on yet.”

Kreger faced the challenge of finding players for Green Isle, competing for players with Arlington and Gaylord, all of which draw upon the Sibley East school district for players. Kreger had to get resourceful, maybe to the chagrin of others in the Crow River Valley League at times, but it kept the Irish competitive and even afloat in lean years.

“You’re trying to support three town teams with one team,” said Hartmann, who also served on the MBA board for 15 years. “I think that’s been a challenge. As a result of that, Green Isle had to go other places to get players. That was always creating a little bit of a rift with some of the people on the board and players in and around the Crow River League. They didn’t like the fact that Green Isle was taking other players from other teams. They ran a good program and had a nice facility.”

Kreger went on to serve as a league officer of the CRVL, president and secretary, before he sought a spot on the state board. He didn’t win election the first couple of tries for the state board, much like other members before him, and once he did gain a spot on the board in 2007 he remained the newest member for the next seven years.

The state board has undergone vast changes in the past five years with the introduction of four new members following the resignation of former president John Richter and secretary/treasurer Dave Hartmann in 2020, the death of president Fred Roufs in 2021 and the resignation of Mike Barry in 2018.

“He was a good resource for me and he still will be,” MBA President Mark Forsman said. “He remembers everything. When you get on the board it takes a little while to grow into it. He’s really figured that out. He’s been our advocate.”

Kreger ascended to vice president of the board following Roufs’ death as Forsman gained the presidency. 

Behind the scenes, Kreger tried to change the perception of the board to managers, league officers and players.

“These are just dedicated baseball people and they’re trying to make the game better,” Kreger said. “The board is adaptable to doing things differently.”

Adaptability is one thing that stands out to Shimota when he thinks about Kreger and their friendship through the years.

“I believe unlike some people, he has changed with the times,” Shimota said. “Joe has adapted to the younger mentality and he’s become a lot more tolerant. He is willing to listen to another person’s point of view.” 

USHERING UMPIRES

As a longtime umpire at the college, amateur and high school level, Kreger took on the role of assigning umpires to state tournament games. A year before Kreger joined the board, the MBA started assigning umpires for the state tournament by having umpires submit applications. 

“When we did the committees, I said put me in charge of something I know about,” Kreger said.

The role of assigning umpires requires nuisance and know-how, both of which Kreger showed with aplomb. 

“Joe knew a lot of the people and saw how umpires performed and how good they were in terms of their strike zone and control of the game,” Hartmann said. “Joe was a natural to go into that and he did a great job of organizing that.”

COMMUNITY RESOURCE

Not only has Kreger meant a lot to the baseball community in Green Isle, he’s meant a lot to the community as a whole. He served as a volunteer firefighter, Lion’s Club member and on the Green Isle city council for several years before becoming the city’s mayor in 2016 where he continues to serve. After six years as mayor he has his eyes for bigger things as a county commissioner. He’s running unopposed for the district’s commissioner.

In 2009, the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him and received the 2020 Terry Ryan Play Ball! Minnesota award from the Minnesota Twins for his dedication to baseball.

Kreger does much of his work quietly and often behind the scenes as he’s developed relationships through the years, much like when he helped facilitate bringing lights to The Yard in Green Isle.

Kreger became acquainted with Dick Ames, the founder of Ames Construction and University of Minnesota booster. Ames, a Jordan native, owned land around Green Isle at one time and helped get lights for the park through his University of Minnesota connections after Kreger mentioned the desire to add lights to the field. The University of Minnesota just happened to have lights available after renovations to the softball field and those old lights made their way to Green Isle.

NEVER FAR FROM THE PARK

Though Kreger will step away from his role with the MBA, he’ll still be at the park, around amateur baseball and helping coach the Sibley East High School baseball team. You can still catch him doing maintenance work at The Yard and leading the effort on the next improvement as Green Isle prepares to host the 2024 state tournament with Jordan and Belle Plaine. 

Green Isle previously hosted state tournament games in 2007 as an emergency site after rain came in at the Hamburg and Norwood sites. Ten years later, Green Isle, Norwood and Hamburg became the first hosts to have all three sites divide up games equally instead of having two primary sites and a third site. Green Isle got the Class C state title game and one of the most memorable state championship victories after Kimball’s Scott Marquardt hit a walk-off two-run home run to beat Lake Henry.

“I just enjoy all the people I’ve met,” Kreger said. “They all have a common interest, they all love townball.”

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