The Millers of New York Mills and their Hi-10 League rivals the Bluffton Braves face off in an Independence Day grudge match each summer at Mills’ storied Russ Jacobson Field, named for their late coach and local baseball legend. The game is well attended, with fans from both towns fully adorned in their team’s attire, joyfully devouring hamburgers and cold beers while enjoying the warmth of baseball on a midsummer evening. Naturally, fireworks follow.

We received an invitation to attend the event from the Millers, with the additional news that the game would be taking on special meaning that year, as Russ Jacobson had passed over the winter, and that the night would be a special tribute to him and the history of the New York Mills baseball. Already planning a northern baseball excursion, it seemed a fitting addition to my trip.

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In planning my outing, I asked Millers manager Josh Hendrickx about available camping in the area, and was informed that the park itself had sites with RV hookups and a pay box. As a simple tent camper, I didn’t need such amenities, but figured that the ballpark would provide perfectly suitable sleeping accommodations. I arrived mid-afternoon from Midway (see Chapter 1) and made my camp beneath a tree in the grassy parking area outside the park to the sounds of the lawmower preparing the outfield. After making payment in the cash box, I left to explore the area a bit and procure a late lunch. Unaware that an American Legion game was to precede the night’s townball festivities, I returned to the surprise of a packed parking lot and my tent surrounded by unfamiliar vehicles. Slipping between a pair of trucks and into my humble shelter as the early game was completing, I overheard the voice of a confused young man, laughing at the idea that someone had erected a small tent in the parking lot. “Yeah,” replied his friend. “I guess it’s some guy who drives around all over the place looking at baseball parks.”

A lovely pregame ceremony honoring the Independence holiday and offering tribute to Russ Jacobson opened the evening, featuring the announcement of both teams’ players and a honor guard presentation. The tremendous respect for Jacobson was palpable during the solemn ceremonies.

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The park was decorated that evening with an assortment of historic Millers artifacts and ephemera, including a collection of very cool vintage jerseys.

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Russ Jacobson Field has a great, classic ballpark resonance. A spacious concrete and wood grandstand encased by a full facing of chain link fence shields fans beneath an elevated press box, a row of picnic tables sitting across the upper grandstand area. Large, traditional steel light towers encircle the grounds to enable night games, and a well-stocked concession stand rests behind the home dugout — a true dugout, mind you, providing more unobstructed views of the game than the more invasive ground-level sorts that have become the norm in many newer parks. The field itself is carefully maintained and moderately spacious for a town park, with respectable gaps, tall fences, and a large modern scoreboard. The thick trees surrounding the park cast long shadows from the late afternoon sun across the infield and into the outfield grass.

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As the sun descended behind the horizon, the bright stadium lights brilliantly illuminated the action, while obscuring the night’s large crowd of rival neighbors in dramatic shadows, intensifying the theatrics of a tight baseball game. Mills would walk away with a victory in the sharply-played struggle.

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As promised, a fine display of fireworks followed the game’s conclusion, with many fans and players from both clubs hanging around and enjoying concessions. I graciously accepted an invitation to join the Millers at the Municipal liquor store/bar for a few cold Grain Belts before retiring back to my cozy quarters for a restful night beneath the shadow of the grandstand, enjoying pleasant dreams of the breakfast I planned to enjoy at the downtown cafe I’d spotted on my walk back.

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Full photo gallery available here.

 

 

 

 

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