Shoreline parks are special. I love them dearly. From Davenport, Iowa’s Modern Woodmen Park (the jewel of American baseball) to San Francisco‘s telecommunications company-branded palace, to Alexandria, Minnesota’s Knute Nelson Memorial Park, there is something awesome about a body of water providing the backdrop to a ballgame. Despite baseball and water’s contentious existence as mortal enemies, the same leisurely drift of a boat across a lake we cherish mimics so perfectly the subtle pleasure of baseball’s timid pace that the two entities seem made for one another, inseparable regardless. Recall the joy of watching a certain chemically inflated slugger’s monstrous homeruns soaring over the RF wall and splashing into “The Bay,” pursued by treasure hunters in kayaks. The same element that so easily renders baseball impossible can also make its moments unforgettable.
Howard Lake’s Memorial Park, home of the Howard Lake Orphans (and obviously nicknamed “The Orphanage”) sits at the southern end of the town’s namesake, just north of US 12, as the highway bisects the town on its east-west route. The playing field is nestled at the base of a bowl, seemingly right at lake level, separated from an RV park by a narrow drive leading to a boat landing. The park’s bucket seating is built into the slope surrounding the field, creating a sort of outdoor amphitheater effect. Atop the slope, a small but impressive concession stand sells not only beers and ballpark fare, but a fine assortment of Orphans merchandise. A handsome can koozy displaying the Howard Lake mascot left the park with me, as I am incapable of passing up such a collector’s item.
As night descends on the lake, the sparsely illuminated fan areas contrast with the bright lights of the park to create a drive-in movie feel, certainly accentuated by the line of four-wheelers and golf carts atop of the hill, resorters from the neighboring RV park, moths to the flame.
The Orphans gained their unique name during the summer of 1947, when park renovations forced them to play their home games in nearby Cokato. Aside from being endearing, the club’s name is curiously ironic, as they have made a splendid home for themselves in this beautifully simple park on the shore of Howard Lake.
Full photo gallery available here.