Small Museum, Big Memories

Fairfax shows off its baseball history with a new museum

Staff photo by Jeremy Behnke The Fairfax Baseball Museum (left, brown shed) sits outside Memorial Park in Fairfax. The plan is to open the museum this July once construction inside is complete.

FAIRFAX — Jim Weinzetl says he’s always been a fan of baseball, especially in his hometown of Fairfax. However, he thought that he could do more for the history of the game in his town.

Late last summer, he came up with a plan to show off the town’s baseball history. It wouldn’t be easy to do since there was 125 years worth of photos, stories and memorabilia to go along with it.

He teamed up with Steve Palmer, a longtime Fairfax Standard newspaper man to begin working on the Fairfax Baseball Museum, which sits inside a small shed located at Memorial Park in Fairfax. Because they’ve had problems getting a carpenter to help out with the project, the project has been delayed. They’re hoping to have it finished by the end of July, where a dedication ceremony will take place along with a celebration for Gary Hess, who was recently inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.

By no means was the project easy. But Weinzetl thought it needed to be done so that future generations can look back and enjoy the history of baseball in Fairfax.

“I love Fairfax, I grew up here and I love baseball,” Weinzetl said. “I just thought it was a crying shame that there was nothing recorded about this terrific history.”

Staff photo by Jeremy Behnke Jim Prax (left) and Jim Weinzetl show a few of the items that will be on display at the Fairfax Baseball Museum.

A plan in place

Weinzetl’s plan for the museum actually happened by accident. He went to an auction in South Dakota several years ago and found some old baseball equipment, which included old gloves and catcher’s masks. He returned to Fairfax with some interesting memorabilia, except there was one small problem.

“I thought that was cool for Fairfax, so I bought them and I brought them here and I was going to donate them,” Weinzetl said. “I met Jim [Prax, a member of the Fairfax Baseball Association and groundskeeper at Memorial Park in Fairfax] and he said that’s terrific but there’s no place to put that.”

From there, the wheels were in motion. The town, which prides itself on its baseball history, had no where to show it off. Weinzetl knew that needed to change.

“When they remodeled the liquor store, they took out the baseball history cabinet,” Weinzetl said. “So, we’ve got this 125-year history and no place to show it off. There was discussion about putting this up in the depot museum, but I didn’t think that would work. When people come to a ball game, they can want to see it. We thought about putting it in the grandstand, but there’s no room.”

Submitted photo A photo of the 1942 Fairfax Cardinals, the town’s only state championship team.

Weinzetl and Palmer decided to use an old octagon shed that was just outside of the park to display the history. It’s not a large structure by any means, but that was fine with Weinzetl.

“What’s important to me is, I don’t care that it’s small,” Weinzetl said. “I want the history of baseball in Fairfax documented, visible so that people get a sense of what happened over the years.”

The shed was made possible thanks to a donation by Ronald “Rolo” Pfaff. And Weinzetl got a lot of help from his daughter, Chris Eleanor Chase. She helped with pictures for the museum and she teamed up with Palmer and Weinzetl to make the final selections. Weinzetl said that this project would not have been possible without her help.

Palmer and Weinzetl decided what will be on display in the museum and it took a long time of careful planning. Weinzetl said that Palmer, who worked in the newspaper industry for many years, including 27 years at the Fairfax Standard, was in charge of a lot of the work that will be on display. Inside of the museum, there are eight walls and each wall will have an era of baseball memories specific to the town. The walls will be in a chronological order, starting from the early years when it started in town in 1892. The first display will be to the left when you immediately walk in and the visitors will go clockwise inside the museum as the years progress.

Some of the many objects on display include pictures from the many eras. Also included will be baseballs, bats, jerseys, gloves and many other objects from the past.

Weinzetl said that he and Palmer spent plenty of time planning how the panels would be displayed once they’re in the museum.

“I bought nine bins and we took all the materials from each era and put them in the bins,” Weinzetl said. “We made mock ups, four-feet tall and we put different pictures on and moved them around and picked out the best stuff. It’s designed so that in future years, they can take out something and put something new in.”

One of the panels will display famous players who played in the stadium, including Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a female athlete in the 1930s who competed in basketball, track and field and golf and even pitched at Memorial Park. They will also display pictures from Twins Night, when former Twins players would come to town to sign autographs and even played in an exhibition game. That event saw the likes of Bert Blyleven, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Terry Steinbach, and Juan Berenguer, to name a few.

While Weinzetl didn’t get too specific on everything going in the museum, he wanted to make sure that it will be a memorable experience for those who tour it.

“I wanted impact stuff, not a lot of copy,” he said. “I want them to say ‘oh, I didn’t know that.'”

Steve Palmer

Weinzetl credits Palmer as the person who did most of the work for the museum and Palmer has quite an impressive resume when it comes to local baseball. He was the Sports Editor at the West Central Tribune in Willmar from 1973-78 and he helped restart the Willmar Rails amateur baseball team in 1975. He later covered the Olympic games in Montreal in 1976 and he became the assistant sports editor at the Hollywood Sun in Hollywood, Florida in 1978.

He spent 27 years at the Fairfax Standard. His roles there included the Publisher, Editor, sportswriter and photographer. He covered more than 700 Fairfax Cardinal baseball games.

He later wrote the book “Summer Diamonds”, which was a Fairfax baseball history book published in 1996. Palmer served on the committee to help Gary Hess get elected to the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame this year and he played a major role in writing and designing exhibits for the Fairfax Baseball Museum.

Gary Hess

When people think of baseball in Fairfax, Hess is one of the first names that goes along with it. A 2018 Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Hess managed the Fairfax Cardinals amateur baseball team from 1987-2006. He played for the Cardinals from 1974-1980 and he also served as an assistant coach the Fairfax American Legion baseball team.

He is the all-time winningest manager for the Cardinals, and he’s credited with maintaining a strong amateur baseball program and youth programs in Fairfax. He was also a 20-year Fairfax Baseball Association member and he helped run the state tournament in 2000.

Hess also helped raise more than $93,000 for baseball in the community, and proceeds benefitted the Dana Kiecker Scholarship Fund, the Bert Blyleven Fund, the Terry Steinbach Fund, American Legion Baseball, GFW Baseball and Fairfax Youth Baseball. He also helped organize the Minnesota Twins Nights in Fairfax, putting the town on the Minnesota Baseball map for one night each summer.

Memorial Park

Built in 1946, Memorial Park is the home of baseball in Fairfax. Baseball fans all over Minnesota call it one of the best amateur parks in the state. Prax has been a groundskeeper for 38 years and he’s kept the field in top shape. He has put in countless hours to make the field stand out and the field was named as one of the 10 best in the state of Minnesota in 1996, thanks in large part to Prax and Hess and their efforts. It was a co-host host for the state tournament in 2000.

The ultimate Fairfax baseball roster

• Dana Kiecker — The most famous name in Fairfax baseball history, Kiecker played for the Boston Red Sox from 1990-91 and posted a 10-12 record in the big leagues. He currently is a radio analyst for the St. Paul Saints.

• Gary Hess — The longtime manager of the Cardinals’ amateur baseball team, Hess was recently inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.

• Ray “Swede” Dickmeyer — Played for many years in the 1920s and barnstormed with Babe Ruth.

• Louie Seesz Sr. — Played many years, managed the team that won the state tourney in 1942.

• Lars Frank — Twenty-year star in 1920s and 30s.

• Bruce Frank — A star hitter who could have played pro, according to Weinzetl.

• Joe Murnan — Voted the “Player of the Century”.

• Ole Gjerdahl — Played in 1930s. Hit three home runs on a Sunday afternoon and was killed in a truck accident the next morning.

• Bob Johnson — Western Minny star who played second base for the Cardinals.

• Moe Moran — Western Minny star shortstop who teamed up with Bob Johnson.

• Jim Kiecker — Prolific hitter and pitcher in 1960s, 70s.

• Jeff Deming — He’s the all-time leading home run hitter for the Fairfax Cardinals.

The Fairfax Baseball Museum will display many topics in the town’s baseball history. These topics include:

1. The Early Years.

2. The Terrific 1930s/1942 State Class A champs.

3. The 1950s: The Fab Four.

4. The 1960s and 1970s: The 21-inning longest game.

5. 1980s and 1990s: Five State Tournament Appearances and The Mightiest Team

of all.

6. Fairfax Co-hosts 2000 “New Millennium” Mn. Class C State Tournament.

7. From Fairfax To Fenway and The Story of Memorial Park.

8. Those Who Loved and Played The Game.

9. The Promotions: Several Twins Fun Nights Held At Memorial Park.