(Photo by The Free Press, Mankato, MN)
-- by Louie Opatz, MBA freelance writer
Two days before Christmas, in the middle of the season of giving, Waseca baseball legend Tink Larson sent out a heartfelt plea asking for the support of Minnesota baseball fans across the state and country.
"I am not normally in the habit of begging for money," Larson said at the beginning of his Dec. 23 email, "but this time I am."
Larson was announcing the formation of the Tink Larson Field Capital Campaign, which aims to raise $1,000,000 by March 1 to rebuild Tink Larson Field. The grandstand burned down on April 6, 2016, just days before the beginning of the high school baseball season.
Within one week of sending his appeal for support, Larson was pleased with the level of feedback from potential donors and supporters.
"The response is there," Larson said, "and people have been stepping up, and taking notice, and making donations and asking questions."
Larson said that he's already heard from Waseca baseball supporters far and wide who want to help restore the field that bears his name.
"It is rewarding to know that there are a number of people out there that do have an interest in baseball, especially Waseca baseball," Larson said. "(People) are definitely interested in getting a grandstand built, and one that will be a quality grandstand that will last for generations and will provide the same memories and enjoyment that past generations had."
The original grandstand at 7th Ave. NE in the heart of Waseca was built in 1938 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. The field was renovated in 1971 and rechristened Tink Larson Field in 1994 after the its longtime caretaker, who has coached at all age levels and managed the field, day in and day out, for more than five decades.
The Tink Larson Field Capital Campaign committee is led by Duane Rathmann, a Waseca citizen and longtime supporter of the city's baseball programs.
Rathmann knows just how integral Tink Larson Field has been to the city — not just as an athletic venue, but as a place for the citizens of Waseca to come together.
"I think that, like a number of people who have talked to me, it's about more than baseball," Rathmann said. "It's really a community gathering place in many ways."
In the summer months, Tink Larson Field is a hub of activity — especially on weekends, when players and fans congregate from sunup to sundown, Rathmann said.
"Most weekends there are three games a day on that field," Rathmann said. "When you look at when the players arrive, it's basically 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. most weekends that that field is busy."
The capital campaign is working closely with the Waseca City Council, which turned over fundraising efforts to the TLF Campaign but will continue to be involved in all other facets, like accepting bids for the job and choosing a final grandstand design, according to Larson.
Upon completion of the stadium — which the committee hopes will be in time for the 2018 baseball season, Rathmann said — the city of Waseca will receive $800,000 from the insurance company in addition to the $1,000,000 that the committee is hoping to raise via donation.
The former grandstand was more than just a set of metal bleachers: the destroyed facility comprised home and away clubhouses, locker rooms and amenities for fans. Larson and the TLF Campaign hope to restore the new facility to the glory of its predecessor.
"We don't like to call it a grandstand," Larson said. "When people think of a grandstand they think of just some bleachers sitting there. This is more of a stadium."
The TLF Campaign website (TLFCampaign.com) features several artist renderings of the ultimate stadium design, but Larson and Rathmann said that they are waiting on updated, slightly modified renderings that will be posted to the website in early 2017.
"We would really want a shovel in the ground the first week of August (of 2017)," Rathmann said. "That's our goal. We're hoping that a lot of the construction can be done this fall."
Larson knows that months of work lie ahead, but the Waseca legend remains hopeful that Tink Larson Field supporters will rally to complete the project.
"We've got a very tough task ahead of us and we hope that we can get the support that is needed to get this rebuilt," Larson said. "We thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for their interest and concerns and contributions."
Rathmann knows that the committee's work won't be complete until they've helped rebuild a vital Waseca institution.
"It’s about replacing this icon," Rathmann said. "1938 was the build date of the initial structure: it served this town for 78 years. Bottom line, we’re hoping to put a facility there that serves this town for another 78 years."
To donate to the Tink Larson Field Campaign, visit TLFCampaign.com and click on the "DONATE NOW" button to donate via credit card or PayPal or click "PLEDGE NOW" and write a check payable to "Best of Waseca/TLF" and send it to BEST of Waseca County, Attn: TLF Campaign, 508 South State Street, Waseca, MN 56093.
If you would like paper copies of the brochure or pledge form, you can download them from TLFCampaign.com or email Contact@TLFCampaign.com to request high-quality forms printed with envelopes pre-addressed for payment. Donors will be recognized on the "DONOR WALL" Tab on the website. The website is also soliciting testimonials from those who would like to describe what Tink Larson Field has meant to them.
Tax-deductible pledges and payments are needed by March 1, 2017. For more information, email Contact@TLFCampaign.com or call Duane Rathmann at 507-461-2392.