WASECA (FOX 9) - It takes a community to make amateur baseball thrive in Minnesota every summer. Nowhere is it more evident than in Waseca at Tink Larson Field.
It’s Week 6 of the Fox 9 Town Ball Tour, and it takes us about an hour southwest of the Twin Cities to Waseca, a town of about 9,500. Tink Larson Field is the home of the Waseca Braves Class C amateur team, the Waseca Legion and VFW teams and others. Just outside the heart of town, it’s a gathering place for the community.
That community had to come together two years ago to make sure baseball continued as a staple in in Waseca. It was the early evening on April 6, 2016, and Larson got a call he never thought he would take. He lives across the street from the ballpark named after him, but was coaching baseball elsewhere. The phone rang, and the grandstand that had existed since 1938 was up in flames.
Fire decimated the facility, and Waseca authorities later ruled it arson. Someone intentionally set fire to the ballpark so many called home. Authorities have not found the person or people responsible to this day.
“It was kind of a big shock for everyone. It was such an iconic old structure that nobody wanted to see it go,” said Duane Rathmann, a Waseca community member who spear-headed the 25-person committee to raise money for the new grandstand. “I was here when it was burning, most of the town was here. It was so dry, it went up so fast, there was no saving it.”
Waseca’s baseball teams were without a home, and plans immediately started to figure out how to save it.
Four months later, any plans to rebuild the grandstand had to be put on hold. As many as 13 inches of rain hit the area, flooding homes and delivering another devastating blow to the community.
That’s when Rathmann took action. He led a 25-member committee for fundraising. They got $800,000 from insurance, $100,000 from the Minnesota Twins, $50,000 from the Minnesota Vikings and another $50,000 from the Super Bowl Host Committee. Between that, and donations from more than 500 community members, they raised nearly $2 million.
The Twins also donated 203 seats, from both the Metrodome and Target Field, that are now a fixture in the grandstand. After uncertain times, the baseball tradition in Waseca could continue.
“We’re very grateful to all those people that contributed. That’s another thing about smaller towns, they get behind you and support different things and when a tragedy like this occurs. You get a lot of people that pitch in and help,” Larson said. “It doesn’t make any difference if it’s $20, $2,000 or $20,000, it’s just the idea of them helping out no matter what it is.”
As for the baseball side of it, the Braves play in the Twin Rivers League and host the Wanamingo Jacks in league action Wednesday night. They’re part of an eight-team league.
The Braves have been to the Class C State Tournament 16 times, most recently in 2016. That was the end of getting there three times in a four-year span. They also had state tournament teams in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Waseca won its only state championship in 1957.
Larson said Waseca has had state tournament teams in seven straight decades. He’s been affiliated with baseball in the town at pretty much every level for more than 50 years. It’s a big deal to play baseball at Tink Larson Field.
Larson has had opportunities for other jobs, but never once thought about leaving the field he lives across the street from. It’s his baby.
“The biggest thing about it is all the players that you have, and we’ve had a lot of players over the years that we’ve gotten along with real well. They’ve made it fun,” Larson said. “You become attached to a place after a while, it’s like I got attached to the programs here and then I got attached to the field here. I had a couple chances to go elsewhere and coach, but believe it or not I didn’t want to leave the field and the program so I turned them down. I know that sounds kind of foolish to most people, but it seemed hard for me to think that somebody else would be working on the field here.”