Joe Grose was waiting for us in the concession stand as we descended the hill from the parking lot. “You finally made it to Waterville,” he said as he produced two black and orange team koozies, “Can I buy you guys a beer? We have Bush Light, or Bush Light.”
William J. Grose park (affectionately referred to as “The Willy) is named for Joe’s dad, a member of the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame and founder of the 13-60 league that the Indians play in. Joe played for Waterville, then managed the team before resigning himself to the luxuries of running the day-to-day operations of the club and field, along with his wife Michele. Their two boys, Nolan and Dalton play for the team in the summers.
Joe’s pride in the ballpark is palpable as he gives us the nickel tour, showing us where the good views are (top of the hill, along the 1B line, where the locals watch from their parked cars), telling us about how far the park has come from its humble origins as a cow pasture, and detailing the hard work he and local volunteers put into making The Willy the jewel that it is. When I tell him how much I love the look of parks with grass baselines he is almost apologetic as he reveals that it’s easier for him to maintain that way. Looking out at the immaculately kept grass and sharp infield edges, thinking of the hours committed to this effort, I decide that I can permit him this “shortcut.” There’s a lot of pride taken in Grose Park, and the results are undeniable.
Joe excuses himself before game time to head up to the pressbox, inviting us to make ourselves at home, which was easy to do amid the friendly group of Waterville fans in attendance that evening, eager to say hello and share stories of the park’s history. Several folks took pleasure in telling us about the lights, which had not existed at the field until 2004, when they were lit up for the first time after being purchased from the town of Lake Lillian for $1, then transported, installed, and wired by a collective of volunteers and support from local businesses.
The Willy sits at the bottom of a hill along Highway 60, on the south edge of town. From its street-level parking lot, a short sloping pathway leads to the grandstand and concession/pressbox building. A sign at the parking entrance warns against carry-in coolers, sledding, and snowmobiling. The park’s grandstand is a modest but deliberate structure, with a green aluminum roof and rows of wooden benches atop a tiered concrete slab. A bronze plaque dedicated to the park’s late namesake juts into the shelter right behind home plate, atop a shelved portion of the Willy’s charming brick backstop.
Under the lights and the twilight sky, the Willy is just as enchanting, the surrounding hills and conifers creating the feel of an amphitheater as the Indians slugged it out with the visiting Le Sueur Braves. As I photographed the game from the 3B fence line, a head popped out of the dugout. “You need a beer? My dad’s working the concession stand. Tell him it’s on me.”
Michele Grose asked me if we’d brought any of our TBT t-shirts along. When I confirmed that we had, she sheepishly indicated that she wanted a pair, but did not have cash on hand. “Would you take a check from the Groses?” she asked.
Of course I did. I can’t imagine anyone in the Minnesota baseball world that wouldn’t.