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‘Batter Up! Baseball in Brown County’

BCH’s Online exhibit features America’s favorite pastime

Above, crowd at Johnson Park during 1944 state tournament.

The Brown County Museum remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but an extensive digital exhibit

on the 150-year history of Brown County baseball is available on Brown County Historical Society website:

browncountyhistory.mn.org

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Brown County baseball games were sometimes huge events with a number of other features 150 years ago.

Springfield’s first baseball team, undated.

Brown County baseball dates back to July 15, 1871, according to game accounts, when the Iberia Shoo Flys edged the Golden Gate Gophers, 21-15 to decide the county championship.

A large number of people watched the game, in “exceedingly hot” weather, near Skinner’s store in Golden Gate, described as “the lively little village” in the game account by the New Ulm Plaindealer.

After the game came a race between Skinner’s mare and La Framboises’ pony, which finished first. A well-attended dance followed in the evening at Skinner’s residence, according to the story.

The teams were to have played a Fourth of July game, but no record of that game was found, according to the Plaindealer.

Railroads bypassed both towns in the coming decades, causing Golden Gate and Iberia to slowly shrink, The localities now have historical markers to show where they once thrived.

Fred Bruckbauer of Sleepy Eye pitched for the Minnesota Twins briefly despite an injury, on April 25, 1961. He and “Doc” Hamman share the distinction of getting in to pitch one inning and getting nobody out before being pulled, giving them an ERA of infinity.

Baseball rules were a little different in those days. Catching a fly ball on one bounce was called an out. Underhanded pitching was used.

Brown County Historical Society Museum Collections Curator Ryan Harren spent much of 2020 putting together the Brown County baseball history exhibit.

“We wanted it to coincide with the 2020 Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament in New Ulm,” Harren said. “When the tournament was cancelled in New Ulm due to COVID-19, we did it as a digital exhibit and put it on our website so the public could access it.”

Harren said a good share of the exhibit came from 1990s BCHS baseball exhibit. He expanded on the 1990s exhibit using the Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution that is also the world’s largest library with more than 162 million items.

Library of Congress collections include books, sound recordings, motion pictures, photographs, maps, and manuscripts. Visit loc.gov.

Lester “Les Rock” Schwarzrock of Springfield played two games for the Chicago White Sox in September 1936.

Team names were colorful a century ago too.

New Ulm business and professional men played a game on Sunday, July 9, 1899 at the Brown County Fairgrounds. The Leans edged the Fats, 27-20.

The pinnacle of Minnesota amateur baseball was considered to be from 1940 to 1960. The game surged in popularity following World War II.

Comfrey and Leavenworth advanced to the Minnesota Class B state tournament in 1949.

The Helget families of Stark Township formed a team in 1973 and advanced to the state tournament a number of times. At times, the entire Stark starting lineup consisted of Helgets. Dale Helget caught for the Boston Red Sox organization in his younger days.

Elmer “Doc” Hamann played for New Ulm’s first salaried team in 1921. He was recruited by the Cleveland Indians in 1922 and played one game, on Sept. 21 against the Boston Red Sox.

New Ulm’s Terry Steinbach, who caught for Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins, said Vic Helget threw harder than some of the best major league pitchers he caught, according to an ESPN Page 2 feature columnist Jim Caple wrote a few years ago.

Caple covered a Sleepy Eye Indians at Stark game and described what the air smelled like, among other things.

“A refreshing breeze carries the sweet scent of hamburger frying in onions from the nearby concession stand…acres of soybeans, last year it was corn, grow hip-high beyond the outfield fence,” Caple wrote.

He wrote about the lengths Myron Seidl went to as Stark ball park groundskeeper, packing the pitcher’s mound with dirt. Then he wound-up like a pitcher, something he often did as a player, to see how it felt. If it wasn’t right, he drove his pickup to the mound and drove over in just the right places, until it felt right.

New Ulmite Brian Raabe was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1990 and played in the minor league for almost six seasons. He played second and third base for the Twins in September 1995. He later played briefly for the Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies.

The 1977 Stark team included many Helgets.

Raabe played more extensively with the Seibu Lions of Japan.

Jamie Hoffmann signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. After several years in the minor leagues, he joined the Dodgers in May 2009. He later appeared with the Washington Nationals before being traded to the Yankees, then returned to the Dodgers in April 2011.

The 1885 Golden Gate team, front, from left, Abner Cutting, Charles Wering, Charlie Cutting; center, Jack Reed, Bert Brown, Mel Dresser; back, Frank Pullen, Martin Montgomery, William Wering, George Cutting.

The Fats played the Leans on Sunday, July 9, 1899 at the Brown County Fairgrounds. In back, from left, are the Fats: Charles Vogtel, Phil Liesch, William Julius, Dr. O.C. Strickler, umpire C.A. Hagberg, Charles Forster, Henry Behnke, Frank H. Behnke, Louis J. Buegner and Albin Carlson. In front are the Leans (from left) Louis G. Vogel, P.R. McHale, Albert Olson, Einar Hoidale, John H. Siegel, Henry M. Somsen, Joseph Koehler, Henry Kaschau and Ferdinand Crone.

Terry Steinbach of New Ulm had a 14-year career in the Major Leagues. He caught for the Oakland Athletics from 1986 to 1996, when they won the 1989 World Series. He played for the Minnesota Twins from 1996 through 1999.

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