The first thing you see are the lights — high atop single poles rising out of this fertile farmland of hay bales and irrigators. In southeastern Minnesota, only 8 miles south of Hastings but seemingly on the outskirts of civilization, lies Miesville, pop. 125. This unassuming hamlet is home to the Mudhens, a townball team known for its “Field of Dreams”-like ballpark. Miesville also enjoys a rich history as a rest stop for horse-and-buggy travelers journeying between Red Wing and Hastings. Today, a pregame stop may include King’s Bar and Grill, home to more than 75 kinds of burgers, or Wiederholt’s, a family-owned, 84-year-old supper club.
You will find Jack Ruhr Field, home of the Mudhens and named after their longtime president who oversaw all five of their state championships. The ballpark is situated between St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery and the Miesville Fire Department. Although you have to park in a dirt lot, it is free to do so, and I smile as I hear one of my favorite sounds of summer: the repeated “pop” of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt (mixed with the crunch of gravel that heralds the arrival of another spectator).
Baseball has been played in Miesville since the 1920s, originally in surrounding farmers’ pastures. The team adopted the “Mudhens” nickname in 1948, some say partially in jest from the Toledo Mudhens, who went on to become a Twins minor league affiliate from 1978 to 1986. The current ballpark opened in 1961 after 25 locals put up $100 each to build it. In 1994, a crowd of more than 1,000 showed up to watch the first night game.
$3 tickets, $1 popcorn
I walk through the ballpark’s garage-door opening to see an older man sitting at a plastic folding table reaching into a metal cash box. The redheaded woman in front of me proudly proclaims, “My boyfriend plays for the Serpents!”, as she hands him a $20 bill.
“Everyone has big bills tonight,” the man says ruefully, and greets me with, “It’ll be three bucks.” I pay, and he hands me an “admit one” red ticket from OfficeMax. I won’t really need it when the game starts, as a casual atmosphere pervades, allowing anyone to walk out and back in at their leisure.
Inside to the left is a picnic area dotted with worn wooden tables, which seems to be a pregame hangout, since it’s hard to see home plate over the Mudhens dugout if you’re sitting there. Seemingly taking a page from the Detroit Tigers’ Old English “D” logo, the Mudhens sport caps with a classic “M.” Tonight they are playing the Lake City Serpents, a Classic Cannon Valley League rival, and I don’t see any programs for sale, maybe because everyone knows everyone.
The Mudhens pitcher is warming up down the left-field line below an American flag waving lazily in the breeze and in front of what looks like a utility shed. “We need more brats!” I hear someone at the concession stand yell before the game even starts. A sign behind the counter reads “No spikes.” This seems appropriate, as I hear the click-clack of metal cleats on cement as the Mudhens catcher walks by.
At $4, the hamburgers and brats cost more than the game admission. Popcorn served in a plain brown paper bag is a steal at $1. Kids are reminded to return all foul balls to the concession stand for “some cash.”
Great evening for baseball
It’s a perfect evening as a scattered crowd of about 100 settles into the tiny park. The main seating is a mix of silver metal and blue bleachers with a few front-row seats stretching from dugout to dugout. As I take my seat, I notice the spectators are really close to the action. I resist the urge to reach through the fence and touch the batter taking practice swings in what passes for the on-deck area.
A giant oversized beer mug, advertising the Bierstube restaurant in Hastings, is prominently displayed on one of the light poles in center field, and the outfield wall is covered with a mix of signs advertising nearby establishments, such as Welch Village ski area and the Hastings Co-op Creamery. A simple scoreboard lies down the left-field line, and the smell of popcorn wafts through the air as I hear the first grunt of the umpire calling a strike.
The crowd is a mix of young and old, free from the Kiss Cam and other between-inning stunts. As the game goes along, the setting sun temporarily causes a challenge for the batters. The announcer has fun with their small-town status; chuckles run through the crowd as he proclaims, “If you’re hungry, remember we have the No. 1 concession stand in all of Miesville.” There is a faint sound of a tractor in the distance as I smell fresh-cut grass. Kids hang out behind the first-base bleachers, waiting for a foul ball. After a few innings they leave to sneak under the cemetery fence and look at the newly placed flowers.
I don’t remember the final score of the game, but maybe that’s not the point. I simply smile as I remember the sights and sounds of this slice of Americana. Play ball, indeed.
Miesville Mudhens' upcoming home games
When: 8 p.m. June 17, 22, 24, 29 & July 1; 2 p.m. June 26 & July 3-4.
Where: Jack Ruhr Field, 14221 240th St. E., Miesville.
Tickets: $3; free 18 & under.
Where to eat in Miesville
King’s Bar and Grill: 14460 240th St. E.; 651-437-1418; kingsplacebar.com.
Wiederholt’s Supper Club: 14535 240th St. E.; 651-437-3528; wiederholtssupperclub.com.