The town of Dassel is a sort of hiccup one would typically pass by while taking US 12 west to Willmar and points beyond, or when paying a visit to neighboring Darwin’s curious Twine Ball roadside attraction. I know, as I’d done so myself numerous times in my early years in Minnesota. Any outfielder with a decent arm could likely hurl a ball on one hop from the city of 1,500’s eastern border on the shores of Spring Lake to highway 15 on its western edge. In the blink of an eye, even after slowing down to residential speeds, countless motorists pass right through the town of Dassel, wholly unaware of the gem that it hides just up 2nd Street.
During the course of the 2016 amateur state tournament’s three-weekend run, I had the good fortune of visiting Dassel’s Saints’ Field a total of four times, and the classically adorned, charming little ballpark functioned masterfully as a showcase for all that is great about town ball in Minnesota.
On the tournament’s opening weekend, we passed through Dassel in the late morning, headed to Litchfield, where we would begin the day’s baseball adventure. Returning for the scheduled 5pm game between the Montgomery Mallards and predictably nicknamed St. Martin Martins. As was the case up the road, signs of overnight and morning showers were apparent, with puddles lining the roadsides and small pools of standing water still visible at we approached the park’s unmistakable gates. From the red, white, and blue bunting to the rough brickwork and signature clock face, Saints Field bears all the hallmarks of a classic baseball yard.
Our arrival coincided with that of Montgomery’s enthusiastic fan base, filing out of their chartered bus, dressed in their lush shade of green that mimicked the steel roofs of Dassel’s ballpark structures. As they paraded into the stadium, the grandstand showed an exact, precise split between those dressed in Martin royal (first base side) and those in Mallard green (third), divided only by a center aisle.
A well-played game by both clubs, the event featured one of the most memorable moments of the season, when a stiff downpour erupted in the middle of the game, amid bright sunshine. It lasted only about an inning, but created some great visuals.
The rain soon cleared, leaving a clear blue sky over the park for the remainder of the contest. Two runs by St. Martin in the top of the 7th. inning would put them on top for good, and a 4-3 victory would end Montgomery’s tournament ambitions.
The evening’s nightcap would feature the Maple Lake Lakers handily defeating the St. Peter Saints beneath the enchanting lights of Dassel Saints Field.
We returned the following weekend to see the Plato Bluejays defend their state championship against the Fergus Falls Hurricanes. The Jays showed the fans that day how they had won the previous year’s title, flexing their muscles in a 12-1, 7-inning defeat of the ‘Canes.
Perhaps the more compelling matchup of the day was DP vs. the Superdog, Dassel’s signature concession food item of the tournament. Easily over a foot long, and covered in every kind of topping and condiment one could imagine, the immense dog proved a challenge for the Minneapolis resident, but he would rise to the occasion, sending the entire, monstrous sausage treat to a gurgling intestinal grave.
The tournament’s final weekend would finally bring bright skies, sunshine, and dry fields as the Moorhead Brewers faced the Chaska Cubs in a Sunday afternoon Class B quarterfinal game.
With the superdog supply expended, the boys did battle with Dassel’s new invention “Super Fries,” while the Cubs and Brewers duked it out.
As the sun once again surrendered to incoming clouds, Moorhead put the Cubs away 5-1, advancing to face Shakopee later that night for the right to challenge Miesville in the state title game(s) on Labor Day afternoon in Hutchinson.
Labor Day’s Class C state final game would pit the Sobieski Skis against the Raymond Rockets, and Saints Field was a madhouse. Field staff brought in giant shoehorns to pack incoming fans into the yard as seats filled and sightlines disappeared. All Dassel’s great seating areas—the grandstand, first base deck and beer rail, freestanding bleachers, and picnic areas were all filled with spectators, some standing on whatever they could to see above the frantic crowd. Only the MBA elites, on their elevated deck beside left field, seemed comfortable as the game progressed. If not for the steep roof, fans might have climbed atop the green warehouse building alongside the park for a premium view. Despite 16 Sobieski hits and three Raymond errors, the Rockets would ride a 5th inning grand slam to a 5-3 win, celebration their first state championship with a traditional mid-field pig pile.
The State Tournament is quite a spectacle to behold for any fan of America’s Passtime, and scenery and atmosphere provided by the remarkable parks in Dassel, Hutchinson, and Litchfield were absolutely perfect environments for the event. Despite recurrent weather challenges, the outstanding grounds crews, volunteers, and organizers delivered an outstanding fan experience throughout the three-weekend showcase of Minnesota’s great baseball tradition. I’m thrilled I could be a part of it, even if only as a spectator.
Full gallery available here.