Cologne is a town of about 2,200 people, founded in 1881 and located just southwest of the Twin Cities metro. They love their amateur baseball. The Hollanders, a moniker giving a nod to Cologne's Holland and German heritage that's still strong in the Carver County city, pride themselves on having the "best cheese curds in baseball."
The curds are the brainchild of manager Craig Pexa, who doubles as coach and chef in "The Shack," which is the team's concession stand. He played for the Hollanders in the 1970s.
"About 13 or 14 years ago when we did our concession stand and brought the cheese curds in, for two years I developed it. All the sudden it stuck and it’s been really good for us. It is a big thing for us, I think they are the best cheese curds in baseball," Pexa said.
FOX 9 is broadcasting live from Fritz Field from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday as the Hollanders host the Plato Blue Jays at 7:30 p.m. in a battle of Crow River Valley League teams. The Hollanders feature a roster of players from 11 different Minnesota towns. They include Cologne, Mayer, Chaska, Chanhassen, Hamburg, Buffalo, Green Isle, Minnetonka, Norwood-Young America, LeSueur and Eden Prairie.
The Hollanders have been to two State Amateur Baseball Tournaments. The first was in 1972, and most recently, in 2019. They have yet to win a state championship.
The 1972 team was honored at Wednesday night’s game. The goal of any amateur baseball team any year in Minnesota is to play in the state tournament.
"It was unbelievable. We started out average, but then we won like 15 out of the last 17 and we had a couple college kids that made a big difference for us. That team was two outs, nobody on, all the sudden we scored two runs," Pexa said of the 2017 team. The opportunity was if we had guys in scoring position, guys won those games. It was fun, it was something I’ll never forget."
As with any amateur baseball team, Cologne is dependent on its community. They worked to improve the ballpark starting in 1989, and have since brought in seats from County Stadium, the former home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Fritz family has three generations with the Cologne baseball team, and the ballpark is named after Robert Fritz, who ran the team in the 1970s.
Pexa said the Hollanders are all about their community.
"We get people that come here, young, old to watch this team, and they talk about they can’t wait for the next baseball game. It’s important, we grew this program," Pexa said. "Anything that comes out of The Shack goes right back into it. That’s how we are, we really have something that people want to come and watch."
As part of Wednesday night's festivities, the Hollanders passed buckets around to fans for donations to Special Olympics Minnesota, eventually presenting a check for $2,500. As for the game, the BlueJays scored three runs in the fourth on a RBI double and two-run homer to take a 3-0 lead. The Hollanders answered with a run-scoring hit in the bottom frame to get within 3-1.
Plato got the 7-1 win behind starting pitcher Drew Hedtke. The MSU-Mankato freshman tossed a complete game with 18 strikeouts.
Next up on the 2022 FOX 9 Town Ball Tour is Veseli on May 25, followed by Plato on June 1, and then Watertown on June 8.
You can find the full Town Ball Tour schedule here.