NEW ULM - In November, the Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA), the governing body of amateur baseball in Minnesota, gave its blessing to a proposed merger between Winthrop and Fairfax in the River Valley League.
The proposed merger between the two towns would be contingent on the baseball boards of both teams approving it and the approval of the River Valley League.
Wednesday night, the first hurdle was cleared when the Fairfax Baseball Association (FBA) gave its blessing to the merger that will see Memorial Park in Fairfax being the home field.
"All we did (Wednesday) was vote on it," said Keith Buboltz, the manager of the Fairfax Cardinals baseball team. "The Winthrop board has not voted on it yet and the league has to approve of it also."
Dana Melius of Winthrop, who initially approached the MBA with the request for the proposed merger at its November meeting, reinforced the fact that the Winthrop Baseball Association needs to give its blessing to the proposed merger.
"And the River Valley League will have to approve in (in January)," Melius said. "Then it will go back to the MBA. I do not see it being a problem."
Melius had made the proposed merger request to the MBA because of the lack of numbers for Winthrop and also the concern about numbers for the Cardinals' baseball team.
Melius said the merger, which would put an end to the Winthrop Eagles amateur baseball team, is one that is sad for the city.
"I do not think that it is ever a good move to lose a town team," he said. "But the reality is that we have not had a lot of community support. We do not have much of a fan base and we do not have a large, active board and we do not have a lot of resources that other towns have access to. You are constantly trying to find money for equipment repair."
Melius said that Gibbon, a town less than 10 miles to the west, has raised $40,000 of private money to put up an electronic scoreboard.
"Winthrop has never been a huge baseball town and we have never had the luxury of that fan base and interest that other communities have," Melius said.
Melius said that Fairfax's numbers are also dwindling, "But this is one way to preserve at least one team."
Buboltz said that the hardest thing about keeping three teams going in a small radius is the demographics.
"The GFW school system (which Fairfax, Gibbon and Winthrop are all a part of) is graduating 80 kids, and to support three town teams is not easy," Buboltz said. "We only had 15 players to begin with and Winthrop had maybe the same amount. When the season starts, we will probably have around 20 players with the two teams (combined)."
Buboltz did say that the Cardinals have good, overall support.
Buboltz said that Gibbon, which has between 20-25 players on its roster, apparently did not want to be part of the proposed merger.
State Board did what was best for baseball
Fred Roufs, Vice-President of the MBA, said that they took a look at small town baseball and how small towns are having a hard time keeping their teams going.
"There are a lot of smaller towns that are running out of players," he said. "And the situation with Gibbon, Fairfax and Winthrop, there is one high school there funding three teams. The reality of it was we (the MBA) did not want to see Winthrop fold and the kids scatter and not have any ties with teams to play with. So what we did was give them a one-year option. They have this year to merge with Fairfax."
"Both teams are in the same league and our decision was based on the approval of both baseball boards and the league," added Roufs. "The intent of our rule is to promote amateur baseball, especially in the small towns. We felt that we had to go against our rule book in this particular case... We did not want to have both teams not have enough players and then they both had to fold."
Roufs said that geographically it made sense to merge with Gibbon.
"But there were some things holding them back there," he said. "Winthrop and Fairfax are in the River Valley League and Gibbon is in the Tomahawk East League, so that takes more approval. And Gibbon is just starting to get things going. It is a big deal when you come to their park. They did not want to take the risk of not having that be a good mesh."