By Nick Gerhardt
These days Tink Larson can enjoy the view out his window a little more.
Larson, who lives across the street from the park, is beginning to see reconstruction work to the park, which was destroyed in a fire April 6, 2016.
“It sure is nice to be able to look over there and see them work,” said Larson, who can view the field from his nearby home.
It’s an encouraging sign for a town in need of one. Not only has Waseca seen the loss of one of the most iconic ballparks in the state, it’s dealt with major flooding and the announcement that its biggest employers, Quad Graphics, is shutting down its printing plant at the end of the year meaning the potential loss of 335 jobs.
The construction project has given the town something to look forward to enjoying once it’s completed. The reopening is still scheduled for April 12 when the Waseca High School baseball team will open the season.
But it’s been a slow start to get the construction going, though. The official groundbreaking took place Aug. 9 with Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter on hand. The Twins donated $100,000 to the nearly $2 million rebuild of the ballpark, which used to feature old seats from Met Stadium. The new park will have seats from the old Metrodome.
The original grandstand was built in 1938 and was one of the first things to standout for drivers passing through town on Hwy. 13. Those in town for a game got to see the totality of Larson’s 50 years of toil to keep the field in pristine condition.
As of the first full week of November, Larson expected concrete footings to get poured and once they’re in, work on the concession stand and restrooms can begin, he said.
The project is about two to three months behind, Larson said. Though that’s not entirely bad news. The campaign received $375,000 from the state legislature, which meant the construction project had to be rebid, Larson said. Survey work had to be done again once underground obstacles like a sewer line and cable were discovered, Larson said. The sewer line was thought to be out of use at the time but that wasn’t the case and needed to be replaced due to age, Larson said.
The outpouring of support has made things easier to keep the project moving. The project features a 200-seat grandstand with a press box, welcome plaza, concession stand and open sightlines. It will also be ADA compliant.
The effort to rebuild the park included raising $1 million in cash. On top of the money the Twins donated, the campaign received a $50,000 grant from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. Donors at the $50,000 to $99,000 level include: the Northwoods League Foundation, Paul and Sue Rosenau -- a Waseca couple who won a $180.1 million Powerball jackpot in 2008 and the Pohlad Family Foundation. The campaign website tflcampaign.com lists every donor of any amount and it’s a long list.
Larson, who came to Waseca in 1967, is largely responsible for maintaining the original field, which was nearly torn down in 1971. The city named the field after him in 1994. He raised money for stadium lights and a scoreboard. He also bought an infield sprinkler system and mower. One of his mowers was lost in the fire.
The city of Waseca received $800,000 in insurance money from the fire but even that wasn’t easy. Originally the city was only to receive $300,000 because the park was considered a grandstand. But the park was later classified as a stadium, which led to an increase of $500,000.
Larson said seeing the park in flames was the second worst day of his life. He lost his first wife, Sharon, in 2014. Sharon spent 40 years working in the concession stand and one of the items firefighters did recover was a picture of her that was kept in the concession stand.
Waseca police suspect arson as the cause of the fire, though no suspects have been identified.
“I was totally devastated when I looked out the window and saw that fully engulfed in flames,” Tink said. “I’m starting to feel much better.”
Tink has reasons to feel better. He returned from Phoenix in October with two trophies. His St. Paul Saints Men’s Senior Baseball League team in the 70-plus division won a national title and he came home with a new bride. Larson married Judy Heckroth on home plate at the tournament in a ceremony officiated by his teammate Bob Sherwin. Larson and Heckroth hadn’t planned on getting married but things started to fall in place as the Saints kept winning in the tournament. Heckroth, who lost her husband a few years ago, suggested they go to Las Vegas to get married but found out through talking with the wives of other players on the team that Sherwin is an ordained minister. It was like it was meant to be.
“I won two championships that day,” Larson said.