Hess gets the call to the Hall
Longtime Fairfax Cardinals manager inducted into the state amateur baseball Hall of Fame
FAIRFAX — After managing the Redwood Falls amateur baseball team in 1986, Gary Hess was approached by some members of the Fairfax Baseball Association and was asked if he would come manage his hometown team in Fairfax.
Hess couldn’t turn the offer down and his passion for Fairfax baseball is finally being rewarded. Hess will be inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held September 15 in St. Cloud. He becomes the first person from Fairfax to be inducted into the Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I was very surprised and honored, mostly because I’m the first one from Fairfax to ever get in,” Hess said. “Besides being happy and proud of it, I’m happy for the city of Fairfax and the Fairfax Baseball Association.”
Hess knew that a nomination group, led by Fairfax Baseball Board member Jim Weinzetl and his daughter Chris Eleanor Chase, was in place and being submitted to get him into the Hall of Fame.
“The whole committee did a good job of getting it out there, broadcasting and getting pictures out there,” Hess said. “I’m thankful for the whole committee, it was led by Jim mostly and his daughter. It was a good job by the whole staff.”
Hess managed the Cardinals from 1987-2005 and he helped lead the team to six state tournament appearances during that run. Although the Cardinals were a Class C team, they were competitive with the Class B teams such as the New Ulm Kaiserhoff and Mankato Twins to name a few.
Prior to managing the Cardinals, he played for the Cardinals from 1974-1980. He later played for the Redwood Falls Redbirds in 1985 and in 1986, he became the team’s manager. He then became an assistant coach for the Fairfax American Legion Baseball team from 86-87 and he took over as the Cardinals’ manager in 1987.
“When I was in Redwood Falls, we had a very good team and I was there for only one year and they ran into financial difficulties,” Hess said. “I think I laid idle for a year and then I was approached by Steve Linsmeier, Scott Dreier and Brad Augustin came over to Redwood Falls and entertained the idea that I come back and manage in Fairfax. I told them I’d think about it and I think I waited about a day and I called them back and I told them I’d do it. I told them I don’t know how long I’ll be there but I said I’ll do it as long as things are up and everything is progressing.”
For 19 years, Hess was a fixture at Memorial Park in Fairfax. He helped with park maintenance projects and he also was a key figure in bringing the 2000 State Amateur Baseball Tournament to Fairfax, where it was a co-host with Sleepy Eye.
“It was fun, because it was rewarding for the whole town,” Hess said of the state tournament. “You put an additional 1,000, 2,000 people into that ballpark. The small-town baseball atmosphere is really the best atmosphere there is, because the people support it, versus the bigger towns where it’s just another thing going on. But in these smaller towns, like Essig and Sleepy Eye, they put in the time and that’s why people come out.”
Hess also organized the Minnesota Twins Nights, where former players from the Twins such as Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Bert Blyleven, Terry Steinbach and Juan Berenguer showed up to meet fans, sign autographs and even play in an exhibition game. The event drew more than 1,000 baseball fans to Fairfax for one night each summer and Hess helped make it a big event.
“We had two Hall of Famers in that ballpark and Blyleven even played in there,” Hess said. “All the newscasters we had from the metro, I could go on and on about the ex-Twins players that were there and those people came out to see them and shake their hands. It wasn’t just about Fairfax, the whole area came there so that’s what I really fed off of.”
Hess never really looked at managing the Cardinals as a job. In fact, he thought he had it pretty easy.
“It’s probably the best organization and I’m probably a little prejudice in saying this, but it’s probably the easiest town-ball team to manage,” Hess said. “You basically just walk in and make out the lineup and get people in the right positions. Everything else was taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about anything.”
Hess also made sure that baseball remained big in the town. He helped raise more than $93,000 for baseball in Fairfax through special events such as Twins night. The money benefitted scholarship funds, American Legion baseball, Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop baseball and youth baseball in Fairfax.
“It meant a lot, because it meant that we were keeping people coming,” Hess said. “It’s always good to be financially set. All of our work at that ballpark was donated time from people. Of the $93,000, most of that came from the Twins’ Fun Night and we held the state tournament and that was rewarding to us.”
Hess now spends his time watching his grandchildren play baseball and softball and he does a lot of fishing. But he’s always going to be tied into Fairfax baseball and now he’s being recognized for what he brought to the game there.
“When I was around there, we put pride on the field and the people were proud of it,” Hess said. “I was originally from Fairfax and it meant a lot. It was the thing to do if you lived there and everyone was so passionate about it and playing townball. I had kids in sixth and seventh grade were already tugging on my shirt wanting to play and talking to me about playing there someday.”