Groundskeepers: preserving a Minnesota pastime

Posted on Oct. 29, 2014 by CJ Siewert

* This article was printed in the 2014 state tournament program. 

For many communities in Minnesota, especially the smaller towns, there are typically only a few landmarks they can call truly unique. Most often you will find a church, a cemetery, a bar and a baseball field.

Town team baseball is a Minnesota pastime and the fields its played on pay tribute to that. 

Credit for maintaining these fields goes to the groundskeepers. Many of these men and women are volunteers and simply enjoy the sight of fresh cut grass, freshly painted lines and a perfectly manicured infield.

“Being able to look at the field and see how nice it looks when the grass strips are mowed so neatly in alternate light and dark shades, and the infield is dragged smooth, the lines are freshly painted in the grass,” said Tink Larson, who’s been Waseca’s main groundskeeper since 1968. “I’ve never been paid a penny in over 45 years for working on the field. My wife, Sharon, ran the concession stand for four teams; the amateur, high school, American Legion and VFW teams for over 40 years and over 2,000 games until she passed away this year.”

Other fields have the luxury of a paid groundskeeper to maintain the ballpark, which is the case at Cold Spring. The city of Cold Spring pays one person to mow and groom the field during the summer months with a limit of 39 hours per week.

“That person changes from time to time, but has always been a ‘baseball minded’ individual,” said Dave Hinkemeyer. “For a long time it was Jason Spohn (former player and current coach at SJU). It is currently Zach Hinkemeyer (Springer player).”

The lone groundskeeper is not the only person in charge of maintaining one of the premier fields in the state.

“Each team is required to prepare and ‘fix’ the field before and after any game that they play on it,” Hinkemeyer added. “Peer pressure from each team ensures that they do a good job and keep everything top shelf.”

The idea of “team groundskeeping” is not unique to Cold Spring. Many town teams around the state are in charge of field maintenance. Just go to an amateur game in any park and nine times out of 10 you’ll see players grab rakes to groom home plate and the pitcher’s mound immediately after shaking hands with the other team. This scenario is seen all the time at Maple Lake, last year’s state tournament host.

“Our entire team helps with the field work – some more than others – and no, we do not get paid,” said Chad Raiche, player/manager for the Maple Lake Lakers. “We have a handful of people who are not on the team that spend many hours down there as well. There are a lot of people who are not on the team that deserve a lot of credit for making Irish Stadium what it is today.”

It doesn’t take a genius to maintain a ballpark, but there has to be some level of baseball knowledge and some know-how of what it takes to preserve the best playing surface possible. This knowledge can be handed down from generation to generation, or by learning from professionals. The latter can be said of Marshall’s American Legion Field.

Jeff Mead has been a groundskeeper in Marshall for 32 years and the city’s park supervisor, Preston Stensrud, completed an internship at Boston’s historic Fenway Park.  

“American Legion Field sets the standard for our public and those that visit Marshall as a sign of quality and commitment,” said Harry Weilage, Marshall’s Director of Community Services. “Our public works director said it best when being recruited, “When I saw Marshall’s American Legion Field and how it was taken care of, it was obvious to me that this was a community I wanted to work for.’”

The smell of fresh cut grass – striped to the imagination of the groundskeeper – freshly painted and chalked lines, and the look on the players’ and fans’ faces when they see the field is what keeps these keepers of the grounds doing what they do best – preserving a Minnesota pastime. 

Check out additional content below