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Obituary: Baseball figure Ronald (Rocky) Nelson dead at 51

  • Article by: Ron Haggstrom
  • Star Tribune
  • July 25, 2002 - 11:00 PM

Nobody ever had to explain to Ronald (Rocky) Nelson that baseball is America's greatest pastime. He was at the top rung of the sport on the state amateur level.

Nelson, the president of the Minnesota Baseball Foundation and owner of Ball Diamond Newspaper, died July 19 of cancer. The Mound native was 51.

"Everybody had the same impression of Rocky -- a passion for baseball and kids," said Rick Vail of Burnsville, who was associated with Nelson through sports for more than 20 years. "He just had a love for the game."

Nelson took his fervor for the sport to a new level last spring when he moved his second Rocky Nelson Diamond Classic high school baseball tournament into the Metrodome.

"He was a dreamer," Vail said. "He had ideas he wanted to see [come to life]. He wouldn't take no for an answer. He would just keep going until it would get done."

Kim Eul, director of Minnesota baseball tournaments, helped Nelson organize the event after his cancer was diagnosed in February.

"That tourney was huge for him," Eul said. "He wanted to be able to give high school kids the chance to be seen by scouts and college coaches."

That wouldn't have been possible without Nelson's financial aid.

"He took money from his retirement [$5,000] and put it into the tournament," Eul said. "He didn't have the money to be doing that."

The 11-team field was going to be pared to eight teams next spring. He was finalizing next year's tournament, pitting four of the state's top teams against four out-of-state teams.

"Up until two weeks ago he was calling me to talk about next year's tournament," Eul said. "He'd already scheduled Minnesota's teams for the tournament and had a couple out-of-state teams lined up.

"We're going to try and continue the tournament in the name of the foundation and have his name on it."

Nelson played youth baseball in Richfield before his family moved to Bangkok, Thailand, before his sophomore year in high school. Upon his return to Minnesota, he organized countless youth tournaments, including a 32-team VFW tournament in which a kid named Joe Mauer grabbed the spotlight. The Cretin-Derham Hall graduate went on to become the No. 1 pick in last year's baseball draft.

"Rocky would do anything for a kid to play baseball," Eul said. "He is Minnesota baseball."

He is survived by his wife, Claudia; two sons, Calvin and Chad; a daughter, Angela Knebel; his father, Lloyd Nelson; two brothers, Geoff and Scott, and a sister, Kristine Blanchard.

A memorial service was held Thursday at Bethel United Methodist Church in Mound.

-- Ron Haggstrom is at rchaggstrom@startribune.com.

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