NU City Council balks on baseball tourney
Council rescinds July 7 approval as COVID cases rise
On July 7 the city council approved allowing the New Ulm Baseball Association (NUBA) to use the city’s ballfields for the tournament by a split vote. Councilors Larry Mack and David Christian voted against allowing the tournament. Councilors Charlie Schmitz, Lisa Fischer and Les Schultz approved.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting tournaments poses a potential community health risk, critics of the decision said. The number of COVID cases in Brown County doubled (from 31 on July 6 to 67 on Friday) since the council first voted on the issue. This led to the special council meeting Friday. Council President Charlie Schmitz did not allow public comments during the meeting. The discussion was limited only to the council and was over in 10 minutes.
Schmitz opened the meeting by explaining why the special meeting was called. He said at lot has changed in the weeks since the July 7 decision was made.
“On July 7 we had 31 cases of the coronavirus in Brown County,” Schmitz said. “Today we have 63. It took four months to go from zero to 31 and it took 20 days or less to double that. I think it could be a serious risk to proceed with this tournament.”
Brown County recorded four new cases on Friday, bringing the county total to 67.
Other factors included the recent mask mandate from Gov. Tim Walz and the council receiving a letter signed by 16 physicians from New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) asking to reconsider the tournament. Schmitz said most of the phone calls and emails the council has received were opposed to the tournament. He also acknowledged New Ulm is a community with a high senior population, a demographic at risk to COVID.
Schmitz said he did not take changing a council decision lightly, but based on the spike in numbers in New Ulm, he could not recommend moving forward with the tournament.
Councilor Les Schultz made the initial motion to reconsider the use of Johnson Park and Mueller Park for the State Amateur Baseball Tournament. “I am sad I have to do that,” he said. The motion was seconded by Councilor Lisa Fischer.
Schultz said he agreed with having the tournament on July 7. He believed a good plan was in place, but the COVID cases had spiked too much. Brown County’s COVID numbers are still low compared to other counties, but no wanted it to get worse.
Mack agreed with the reason for rescinding the tournament approval. He was confident the city was creative enough to find a way to support the future tournament. “We will play ball another day,” he said.
Christian said he voted against the tournament last time and was still against it now.
Fischer said she struggled with the decision on July 7 and hoped the COVID numbers would stay down, but could no longer support hosting the tournament.
Schultz thanked NUBA and the Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA) for selecting New Ulm to host the tournament. “We wanted to show off our park and have a successful tournament and I think we would have. This is a sad day and a sad decision, but I think when it comes down to it we have to vote in response to the health of our community.
After formally rescinding the motion to host the tournament, several concerned citizens in the City Hall lobby applauded for the decision.
NUBA President Bob Skillings said he expected the council to rescind their early decision when a special meeting was called. He said it was a blow to the local association, but NUBA understood the concerns of the community.
“We hoped to do a great — normal — tournament,” Skillings said “We hope the state board will come around not hosting a tournament and let us host next year.”
NUBA had originally voiced concerns about this health risk to the MBA in June, but the MBA decided to move forward with the tournament based on governance from the state on playing sports.
MBA stated during the July 7 meeting, the tournament will move forward elsewhere if the city denies use of the fields. MBA has not formally announced if a new host city has been chosen or if the tournaments will continue.
A call to MBA president Fred Roufs following the meeting had not been returned as this issue went to press.