COLD SPRING, MINN. – The “Day at the Park’’ fundraiser for Cold Spring baseball started with the Silver Springers, the 35-and-older state champions, taking on the Richmond Royals from the Stearns County League.
Dave Hinkemeyer, 51, was on the mound for Cold Spring’s senior team, throwing to his longtime catcher, Rod Schafer, 53.
Hinkemeyer was asked: “How many games have you thrown to Schafer?’’
He thought and said: “Rod started here in 1986. So, almost 30 years … 300, I’d guess.’’
Hinkemeyer used his variety of off-speed pitches to hold off several threats by the Richmond youngsters and came away with a 1-0 shutout in the seven-inning game.
When the game was over, Hinkemeyer, Schafer and other Silver Springers celebrated by raking the area around home plate, the pitcher’s mound and the bases.
“That’s the way it’s done at this ballpark,’’ said Bill Huls, the manager of the Silver Springers. “If you play a game or have a practice here, you work the field afterwards, to have it ready for the next team that’s going to use it.’’
The postgame reinforcements working the field included Jace Griffin, 7, the son of Ben Griffin, a Cold Spring slugger of note and still the designated hitter for the Springers, the defending Class B state champions.
“Can’t get him to sweep the sidewalk at home, but he loves raking the field,’’ said Griffin, as Jace wrestled with a large, wooden rake.
After 15 minutes of this activity, the field was ready for the Rockies, Cold Spring’s Class C amateur team, to take on New Munich. And then it would be the Springers, Cold Spring’s longstanding town team, against Lake Henry.
It wound up being a Cold Spring sweep of the Stearns County League, with the Rockies beating New Munich 1-0 in 13 innings and the Springers beating Lake Henry 4-0.
“We used to call this Springer Field, but then the Rockies started, and the Silver Springers, the high school, the Legion and the VFW teams all play here,’’ Huls said. “Now, it’s just the Cold Spring ballpark.’’
Huls paused and added: “I’m prejudiced, of course, but I don’t think there’s a better town-ball park in Minnesota.’’
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A sportswriter was working for the St. Cloud Times in the summer of 1967 when he made his first visit to the Cold Spring ballpark. The Attucks-Brooks Legion team from St. Paul was in town to play Cold Spring Post 455.
The field was a glistening green that night. The ivy covering the outfield fence was in bloom. And the ballpark was overflowing to see this big-city team featuring the already-renowned Winfield brothers, Dave and Steve.
The first reaction was: “Cold Spring is quite a baseball town.’’
Nearly a half-century later, that hasn’t changed.
“The crowds for the Springers aren’t what they used to be, with people having so much to do,’’ Huls said. “The interest in playing baseball is great. Our kids programs are going as strong as ever.’’
Dana Hinkemeyer, Dave’s wife, was in attendance for her husband’s shutout. Her sons, Zach and Nate, would be playing for the Springers in the nightcap. In between, her brother-in-law, Chris Hinkemeyer, was the sole umpire for the Rockies-New Munich game.
“I would fill in a calendar at the start of every baseball season with the games,’’ Dana said. “One summer, when Nate and Zach were playing with three teams, and Dave with a couple, there were two solid months filled in. June and July … there wasn’t a day without a game, and often there were two or three.’’
What is the source of Cold Springers’ remarkable passion for playing baseball?
Bill Huls, a baseball coaching legend at Rocori High School, said:
“I think it comes from having this ballpark right in the middle of town. The younger kids ride their bikes over here in the summer and set up games in the outfield, trying to hit home runs.’’
Back in 2001, the Springers powered their way out of the losers’ bracket to win a second consecutive Class B title and their seventh overall. Josh Loesch and Co. put on such a thunderous display with those aluminum weapons that it might have helped convince the state amateur baseball board to approve a return to wooden bats.
The Springers have remained a power in ever-dwindling Class B, although it took a dozen years — until last Labor Day — to get an eighth state title.
The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Tournament started in 1924. Cold Spring was in the first one, and the Springers have made a total of 51 appearances.
On this Saturday, a “Day at the Park,’’ there were more people downtown drinking beer at the Third Street Brewery’s tap house than at the ballpark for the tripleheader.
So, yeah, the crowds aren’t what they used to be, not nearly the numbers that came to see the Winfield brothers way back when, but the grass still glistens, the ivy still blooms and Cold Spring lads remain addicted to playing baseball … even into their 50s.
When was your last shutout, Dave Hinkemeyer was asked?
He thought and said: “I can’t remember.’’
Dana, his baseball bride, looked over and said: “The last time you pitched … last week against Edina’s over-35 team.’’