FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: Lensing chronicles Stearns County League and more for 40-plus years

Herman Lensing holds a copy of his amateur baseball season preview issue.

By Nick Gerhardt

For more than 40 years teams across the Stearns County League have waited to see a cloud of dust emerge from the road after their Sunday games. That trail of gravel and dirt has meant one thing — Herman Lensing’s arrival.

Since 1981 or so, Lensing has chronicled Stearns County League games as he copied the scorebooks from each game every Sunday. He’d stop at each of the four parks when the league had eight teams. His arrival meant teams got the scoop from Lensing on what happened across the league before they’d hear about it on the radio. Lensing later wrote his game stories for the Melrose Beacon.

“You’d always hope he’d stop at your park last so you could get the scores from all the games,” Lake Henry’s Tom Ludwig said. “Herman always had some insight that didn’t show up in the box score. He is kind of a walking encyclopedia.”

And if you don’t see Lensing on his way to the park, he’s easy to spot once there. Look toward the dugout and you’ll find him with his khaki-colored hat, camera dangling from his neck and scorebook firmly in hand. Like any good reporter, he’s sure to get both sides of the story by switching dugouts during the game, though he might just do that to catch up with everyone at the park.   

“Whenever he’s in the dugout he always has some good insight and stories that the younger guys haven’t heard,” Ludwig said.

Lensing’s still at it, attending as many games as he can in a day, though it’s tougher since the Stearns County League has expanded to 10 teams. 

“No two teams are more than 40 minutes apart,” Lensing said. “I usually hit all four games on Sunday. Once it expanded to 10 it got harder.”

As much as amateur teams look forward to getting on the field in the spring, they look forward to his sprawling season preview edition of the league. He’s put together the season preview edition every year since 1991 and he publishes a special edition ahead of the region playoffs every year. 

The 2023 amateur baseball preview issue spanned 24 pages and included coverage of the Victory League and the Resorters League, complete with previews of each team. The edition includes stats from the previous season, which Lensing meticulously maintains each year on his blog, Mid Minnesota Amateur Baseball. The blog includes recaps of every league game across the three leagues and he continues his coverage throughout the state tournament every year. 

“Our teams just look forward to it every year,” Ludwig said. “The guys tear into it and go through it page by page and look for their stats.”

It’s not surprising that Lensing became one of three recipients of the inaugural Glenn Carlson Distinguished Service Award in 2021 from the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. 

“It’s just amazing that a guy would take that time and go ballpark to ballpark,” St. Martin manager Carl Lieser said. “The commitment he had to it was just unbelievable.”

“I can’t imagine all the late-night hours sitting behind a typewriter and computer,” said KASM Radio’s Randy Rothstein, a 2022 Glenn Carlson Distinguished Service Award winner for his years of broadcasting Stearns County League and amateur baseball games.

Former Melrose School District Superintendent Don Andersen, Meire Grove’s Al Luetmer, an inaugural Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Famer, and Spring Hill’s Randy Schoenberg led an effort to put Lensing into the Hall of Fame.

“The thing developed from a standpoint that Herman should be in the Hall of Fame because of his dedication and the time he spent,” Andersen said. “We just said Herman’s got to be in there.”

The trio had the honor to announce the award to Lensing when they traveled to Sauk Centre and visited Lensing at the newspaper office.

“We felt pretty good about it,” Andersen said. “We felt it was a real compliment to our communities that Herman was selected. We like to think that the Stearns County League is the heart and soul of Minnesota townball.”  

Lensing credits the managers who have helped him through the years by filling out informational forms he sends out each season and sending stats that he can publish.

Baseball’s baked into the Lensing family. Herman’s father played for years in the Stearns County League, as well as his brothers Ray, Mike and Dave. Growing up in Greenwald, Herman decided to attend Crosier Seminary High School in Onamia, graduating in 1973. He went on to attend Marquette University and graduated with a journalism degree before returning home. While at home he discovered a report on a game his father played in and it set him on a course of documenting games himself.

Lensing started as a freelancer for the Melrose newspaper, writing about Stearns County League games throughout the season and it grew from there. A few years into it he took a full-time job with the Melrose Beacon and his coverage area expanded to include the Victory League and the Resorters League. Soon he saw himself attending around 40 games a year and later hopped on KASM radio to talk about the Stearns County League.

“We’ve had Herman on the radio show on Fridays for ‘On the Ball,’ talking about matchups,” Rothstein said. “He’s very entertaining, dry sense of humor, you kind of look at him and you might get a little smirk out of him.”

Lensing has a library of stories to tell after covering the Stearns County League for four decades. They range from the anecdotal to a rattling off of unusual statistics. 

“Every time you run into him, he’s always got a story about something amazing that happened five, 10, 25 years ago,” said Spring Hill’s Gordon Barten, who happens to be Herman’s cousin.

Lensing will launch into stories about regional playoff heroics, like the home run Pat Illies hit for Elrosa to lead the Saints to an unexpected victory. Or he’ll tell the story of the time his brother Ray played third base for the first time in an all-star game. Lake Henry pitcher Lynn Hemmesch told him to just stand at third base, saying, “I won’t let him hit it to you.”

“Pat was one of the few people I saw when he became a legend,” Lensing said.

Another favorite Lensing story involves Father Aaron Nett. Nett stood in his dugout while an opposing hitter struck out on a called third strike. As the hitter walked away from the plate, he lamented, “Jesus Christ, how could he call that a strike?”. Nett quickly quipped, “Well, Jesus didn’t swing at the first two.”  

Lensing also likes the history of the game. After he returned home from college, he had eye surgery, which kept him from going outside and unable to work on the family dairy farm. He used the time to visit the Stearns County Historical Society going through the newspaper archives to dig up old box scores that he’s filed away in his memory. 

Lensing still covers Melrose high school sports for what’s now The Star Post after the Melrose Beacon and Albany Enterprise merged as one paper in 2020.  

“I don’t know if the man has considered anything else because he loves it so much,” Rothstein said. “Life-long dedication to following the game. Not only writing about it, being a fan, going into the dugouts, being a friend of the players. His writing has always been so positive.”

Check out additional content below: