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Babe’s barnstorming

Sleepy Eye celebrates centennial of Babe Ruth’s visit

New York Yankees Bob Meusel, left in overcoat, and Babe Ruth pose at their Oct. 16, 1922 barnstorming appearance at Sleepy Eye Ballpark. Others behind Meusel and Ruth, from left, peeking around Meusel is Len Youngman, who retrieved one of Babe’s homers at the game, John Cutting (between Babe and Bob), Bucksie Wagner (with trumpet), and Ed Berkner. In grandstand, Ray Johnson, third from left, Joe Cassidy, next to grandstand pole. On the far right side of the grandstand is Albert C. “Spin” Schroepfer.

Farming was tough through the 1920s. Farm commodity and land prices fell throughout the decade. Farmers that expanded operations and bought equipment found it hard to pay off debts. Minnesota farmers’ gross cash income fell was cut in half from 1918 to 1922.

After a major league baseball anti-barnstorming rule was overturned in August 1922, several Sleepy Eye businessmen contacted Babe Ruth’s agent, hoping to arrange for him to visit Sleepy Eye in October as part of a 14-game barnstorming tour after the 1922 World Series. An agreement was made for Ruth and another Yankee player, Bob Meusel, to play in Sleepy Eye Oct. 16, 1922.

Ruth played in Minneapolis the day before and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the day after the Sleepy Eye game.

Temporary bleachers were built in Sleepy Eye to accommodate the crowd. Area communities made reservations for blocks of seats at the game, according to the New Ulm Review.

Four New Ulm players — catcher William Born, pitchers Elmer Hamann and Roy Borchert and centerfielder Joe Guenther — played in the game. Also in attendance were New Ulm baseball team manager Elmer Backer, baseball association president J. P. Graff and association secretary Ed J. Berg.

Main Street in Sleepy Eye, circa 1910, about 10 years before Bab Ruth arrived in town.

Many of the players were semipros, according to The Redwood Gazette.

The last names of players on Babe’s team were Northwood, Born and Borchert of New Ulm; Leahy of Mountain Lake, Corcoran, Seaforth; Kramer, Lucan; Christerson, Wabasso; Kilbranner, Tracy; Dickmeyer and Frank, Fairfax; Peterson, St. James; and Cady, Comfrey.

Bob’s team included “Sox” Schueller and Hoffman, Sleepy Eye; Murphy and Russell, Walnut Grove; Pitgras, Woodstock; Brooks and Jeffries, Windom; Black, Springfield; Davis, Madelia; Myers, Slayton; and Meixell, Lake Crystal.

Ruth hit a couple homers in the game. One of the balls was not retrieved, according to game reports.

Sleepy Eye 11-year-old Len Youngman retrieved the other ball of Ruth’s homers, which wound up becoming a legend himself. Ironically, Youngman died at age 107 in northern Minnesota on the 96th anniversary of the game.

The Berg Hotel, downtown Sleepy Eye as it appeared at a gala event. The date was not available.

Youngman gave the ball to his grandson when he was a teenager.

Sleepy Eye baseball players and historical enthusiasts Randy Krzmarzick, the late Dean Brinkman and Scott Surprenant studied the game for years. At a number of anniversaries of the game, they gathered at the Sleepy Eye Ballpark.

A number of years ago, they and others played a Stillwater team in Sleepy Eye on the anniversary of the Ruth game. They hit a “mushball” with long, wooden bats. Fielders did not wear gloves or mitts. A bell was rung on a table near home plate after a run is scored.

Several years ago, before Youngman died, the three Sleepy Eye men visited Youngman in Virginia, Minnesota, after Krzmarzick learned from an email that Youngman was still alive and quite alert and spry.

Youngman said he was playing with his friends behind the outfield fence in the 1922 Ruth game when Ruth hit one out of the park.

Youngman said he didn’t ask for Ruth’s signature, but he managed to crowd into a photo taken of Ruth, Meusel and a number of others at the game.

KARE 11-TV producer Boyd Huppert created a video about the Youngman story called “The Babe, the Boy and the Ball.” He received the 2016 Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for the work.

On Oct. 15, the 100th anniversary of the 1922 event, an outdoor celebration at Sleepy Eye Ballpark, 500 7th Ave. S.W. will be held from 1-4 p.m. All ages are welcome to play catch and take swings on the field where Ruth played at 1 p.m. A plaque dedication ceremony and tribute to event organizer Dean Brinkman begins at 3 p.m.

A ticketed program at Sleepy Eye Brewing, 121 Main St. W. is set for 5-7 p.m. Speakers include Minnesota sports historian, author and Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Timberwolves official scorer Stew Thornley; retired Boston Red Sox pitcher and Fairfax native Dana Kiecker, TV sports producer Pat Fischer and Sleepy Eye baseball historian and columnist Randy Krzmarzick.

The ticketed program includes beer and a “loaded” hot dog bar.

The private event becomes public for more baseball talk at 7 p.m. The brewery will remain open until 11 p.m.

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