A field for the futureUrbank has a new field after rallying behind an effort to sustain its baseball tradition.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
A rich tradition of Urbank baseball started a new chapter on June 24 after an entire community got behind an effort to remake an aging field.
Baseball is a part of the fabric of a lot of small towns and it’s no different in Urbank. The town is home to the Urbank summer recreation teams, the Parkers Prairie Babe Ruth and Legion teams, the Bombers amateur team and the Goldtimers.
“There is a long tradition of Urbank baseball,” president of the Urbank Lions Club Carla Bettin said. “It started in the early 1900s and last year they did a reunion of all the Bombers baseball teams. I think that really rejuvenated the spirits of Urbank baseball. I think people just don’t want to see it die.”
That’s what might have happened if not for a renovation of a field that Bettin said would have been unplayable in five years if not improved. The current field in Urbank was built in 1978 and was dedicated as Wendelin Koep Sr. Stadium in 1985.
Since then, it has seen its fair share of wear and tear. Left field had sunk more than four feet from level with the rest of the playing field. Mold and rotted boards had taken its toll in the dugouts. The outfield fencing, which was only four feet high, had chicken wire over the top section from the dugouts to the outfield.
“Looking at it from sitting in the grandstand, you wouldn’t have realized how bad things were,” Bettin said. “By really taking a look at the field, you realized it was probably five years away from being unplayable.”
The initial renovations on the field started in 2010 when money was raised to level the infield after areas around first and second base had sunk. Community support began to take off from there.
What started as a slight renovation turned into a $190,000 project to overhaul the entire field. Almost $85,000 in cash donations have already been raised. The project also received a $10,000 grant from the Fields for Kids program through the Minnesota Twins Community Fund. The group is still seeking about $15,000 to complete the fundraising for this phase of the renovation.
In-kind donations have been instrumental in getting the project completed. Local companies stepped up, donating 96 loads of fill for left field. A new well was put in, an irrigation system installed in the infield and outfield and the entire project was hydro-seeded just for the cost of putting in the outfield irrigation system.
Concrete was donated for the flooring of the dugouts. A masonry company also donated their time to put up the base of the dugouts.
“We were very fortunate to get these in-kind donations,” Bettin said. “It was one thing to the next. We renovated the whole park.”
Demolition started at the end of last August and the field has taken on an entirely new look since then. A grass infield with an irrigation system will assist with the long-term maintenance. The backstop, which was originally 22 feet behind home plate, has been moved back to meet the requirements of being at least 50 feet away.
Fences have been increased to six feet high and a warning track was installed to increase player safety. Right field, which was 280 feet down the line and angled around a cattle pasture, has been increased to 305 feet with the angle taken out.
A batter’s eye was also put in behind the centerfield wall. The only thing left to complete is some work on the grandstands and netting that needs to be put up around the visitor’s bullpen and batting cage area.
It was a project that took a lot of work from a lot of people to get to this point. The field was lined with volunteers in the weeks leading up to its debut at Urbank Dairy Days.
“Talking to one of the baseball players, he said, ‘I just can’t believe so many people want to help us out,’ ” Bettin said. “It really is that overwhelming feeling of everybody coming together.”
The community got a chance to see all that work come to fruition when the field was rededicated in Wendelin Koep Sr.’s honor on June 24. The longtime Bombers manager passed away a few years ago and is Urbank’s only Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
After the dedication, donors and volunteers were recognized on the field before it was finally time to play baseball. The Goldtimers took on Nisswa in the first of three games that day. Ken Benzinger threw out the ceremonial first pitch as the oldest living member of the Bombers at age 82.
The Bombers took on Long Prairie in game two. Harold Thoennes, who played primarily for the team from 1960-1974, threw out the first pitch to his grandson and current Bomber Mark Koep.
The Parkers Prairie Legion team then hosted Osakis as Phil Koep threw the final ceremonial first pitch to his nephew and current Bomber, Mike Lorine. The Koep family is the only four-generation family in Bombers’ history.
All three Urbank-Parkers Prairie teams won that day to cap off the occasion. What mattered most though was what that day signified; most notably, the fact that a community had guaranteed that an already rich baseball history would have a chance to grow into the future.
“Overwhelming,” Bettin said of the field opening. “We have been working on this for 10 months and to have so many people come out to show their support and share the day with us was truly overwhelming.”