Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.

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New Ulm set to celebrate its ballpark once again

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 17, 2014 - 9:54 PM

The great Minnesota baseball town of New Ulm will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Johnson Park, a marvelous WPA project, on Saturday.

The festivities will start with the rival town teams, the Brewers and Kaiserhoff, playing at noon. This will be followed by a banquet at 5 p.m. at the city's historic Turner Hall.

I've been doing this so long that here's a slightly edited version of an opus I wrote for the Star Tribune on Johnson Park's 50th anniversary in June 1989:

NEW ULM -- Herb Schaper has spent hundreds of hours organizing the research for the baseball reunion that will be held this weekend at Johnson Park.

"We decided to do it this year because it is the 50th anniversary of the ballpark and the New Ulm Baseball Association," he said. "Now, we've discovered a note that says the first baseball game was played between the railroad workers and the townspeople in 1889. So, I guess this is also the centennial for baseball in New Ulm."

The reunion will celebrate New Ulm's American Legion, VFW, midget teams and high school teams, and then the town teams from the Western Minny and Tomahawk Leagues on Sunday.

In the spirit of the occasion, one of Schaper's suggestions was that this city of 13,500 officially make peace with Bob Bullock, a former umpire. "Bob is in his 90s now," Schaper said. "It has been more than 40 years since he made the call. I think it is time for New Ulm to forgive him."

Schaper said this to a group having breakfast at the Ulmer Cafe. The group included Henry Nicklasson, Otis Loose and Duke Eichten. They are three of the illustrious players from the glory years of town team baseball. This period lasted from 1939 through 1954 in New Ulm, and covered roughly the same years throughout Smalltown, Minnesota.

Yes, it was a long time ago, but Nicklasson, Loose and Eichten were not quick to embrace Schaper's proposal of public forgiveness for Bullock.

"We were playing a tournament game in North Mankato," Nicklasson said. "What year was it, Otey? I'd say '47. A guy hit a little roller in front of the plate. He ran five feet out of the base line. Bullock called him safe and a run scored. We must've argued for 10 minutes. That run wound up beating us. After that, Bullock needed an escort out of town almost every time he came to New Ulm to umpire."

The fellows at the table laughed.

"I ran a shoe store," Eichten said. "Bullock put out this little newspaper for umpires, and he'd sell ads for it. The next time he came in my store trying to sell an ad I chased him out. I don't know of many New Ulm merchants who bought ads from Bob after that call."

Eichten was one of the workers who dug the postholes for New Ulm's new ballpark in 1939. It was named for Fred Johnson, a local historian, and squeezed into a plot of land with a rise in left field, a retired city pumphouse in center and a dropoff behind the fence in the cozy right field corner.

"It used to be 375 feet to left field and the outfielder had to learn how to catch the ball going uphill," Schaper said. "In 1958, we had the state amateur tournament here and that's when they built the inner fence. Now, when someone downtown is talking about a home run Tom Steinbach hit the night before, the first question you ask is, `Both fences?' "

New Ulm is a German town - so much so that, for years, when a certain Legion coach wanted a player to bunt, he would simply yell at him to do so in German. "The high school football team used to call its signals in German," Loose said.

It all went together - Schell's, knockwurst, steamy Sunday afternoons and a passion for baseball. Schaper said there are two particular eras when baseball has dominated the city: the Western Minny days, and the revival ignited by the Steinbach clan, Tim, Terry and Tom [in the 1970s].

"I remember hearing about those kids when they were in teeball," Nicklasson said.

Tom and Terry - along with Doug Palmer, Jeff Schugel, Randy Stuckey, Jeff Keckeisen - led New Ulm to the American Legion World Series in 1978. Terry is the All-Star catcher of the Oakland Athletics. Tom is the manager-outfielder-pitcher for Kaiserhoff, one of New Ulm's two town teams. The other club goes by New Ulm's traditional nickname of Brewers.

"Tom hit a couple of home runs here the other night," Schaper said. "I guess one of 'em was out there by the pumphouse."

The breakfast group had moved from Ulmer's to the ballpark. It is a splendidly manicured place covered by a grass carpeting that is thick and rich. It is here that Nicklasson, Loose and Eichten - and Stan Wilfahrt, Wally Ebert, Bruts Welsch, Ronnie Spelbrink, Huntley Prahl, Stan Manderfeld, Leo Leininger and Jack Pollei - represented New Ulm in "The Game" on an August night in 1948.

"We were playing Springfield, of course," Loose said. "The Western Minny had six teams. Fairfax had good clubs with the Mauer boys from St. Paul. Redwood Falls won it one year. Sleepy Eye had a few OK teams, and either St. James or Gibbon were in for a while. But almost every year it came down to Springfield and New Ulm."

In 1948, Springfield and New Ulm went into the last game of the regular season tied for first place. The game was scheduled for 8:15 p.m. New Ulm fans started camping out in front of the ballpark at 4 o'clock. The caravan of cars from Springfield - 28 miles to the west - started to arrive an hour later.

The paid attendance was 3,853, more than double Johnson Park's seating capacity and the largest Western Minny crowd in New Ulm's history.

Loose was a fixture as New Ulm's catcher, from Legion baseball in the mid-'30s and then on to the Brewers. There was an interruption to fly 22 bombing missions over Germany.

In 1948, Loose was in his familiar crouch behind the plate. Nicklasson was playing third, a spot he had occupied for the Brewers since 1941, when he was drafted from Fairfax by New Ulm after it won the league.

"New Ulm won the state championship in '41 and I was the tournament MVP," Nicklasson said. "After that, the New Ulm baseball board went to the school board and told them they thought this Nicklasson was exactly the phys-ed teacher the school needed. That's how I wound up in New Ulm."

Springfield was another town not adverse to hiring a teacher with a talent for playing baseball. The Tigers also had the Babe Ruth of the Western Minny, Bassie Wagner, and a high-priced pitcher from Minneapolis named Hy Vandenberg. In '45, with the war taking its toll on major league rosters, Vandenberg pitched for the Cubs in the World Series. In '46, he was back pitching for Springfield.

On the night of The Game, Springfield started Red Hellendrung, but Vandenberg entered in the sixth as New Ulm was putting together a five-run rally. Springfield scored two runs in the eighth to make it 7-7, and then the Tigers and the Brewers played into the night.

Springfield took a lead in the top of the 15th, but New Ulm scored twice off Vandenberg. Prahl's double brought home Wilfahrt with the winning run. It was nearly 1 a.m.

"There were a lot of husbands in trouble that night," Nicklasson said. "When they got home at 1:30 or 2 in the morning, their wives wanted to know where they had been, and they didn't believe it when the boys said, `At the ballgame.' "


Denver 28 FINAL
Cincinnati 37
Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Carolina 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Denver 82 FINAL
Charlotte 110
Portland 95 FINAL
Houston 110
Utah 97 FINAL
Memphis 91
Toronto 120 FINAL
Chicago 129
Atlanta 105 FINAL
Dallas 102
LA Clippers 118 FINAL
San Antonio 125
Sacramento 70 3rd Qtr 3:13
Golden State 84
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Washington 2
Nashville 5 FINAL
Columbus 1
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL(SO)
Florida 4
Arizona 1 3rd Prd 12:51
Vancouver 6
San Jose 2 3rd Prd 11:25
Anaheim 1
Calgary 1 3rd Prd
Los Angeles 3
Ark-Little Rock 64 FINAL
Bradley 54
Brown 67 FINAL
Central Conn St 55
Stetson 59 FINAL
Florida State 63
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
Northwestern 63
Ohio 49 FINAL
George Washington 77
Southern Utah 61 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 70
Elon 67 FINAL
Kennesaw St 65
Dartmouth 49 FINAL
Penn State 69
Green Bay 70 FINAL
UC Irvine 72
DePaul 68 FINAL
Colorado 82
Lewis & Clark 49 FINAL
Portland 71
SC State 59 FINAL
Abilene Christian 65
Manhattan 71 FINAL
Fordham 57
Truett-McConnell 57 FINAL
Ga Southern 90
Citadel 56 FINAL
Michigan State 82
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Ohio State 93
Gardner-Webb 89 FINAL
Purdue 84
Idaho 68 FINAL
Northern Ky 81
Fairfield 66 FINAL
Albany 77
North Dakota St 61 FINAL
Alcorn State 50
UT Martin 37 FINAL
Butler 64
SE Louisiana 65 FINAL
UCF 70
Oakland 60 FINAL
Clemson 70
Florida A&M 57 FINAL
East Carolina 75
Eastern Ky 66 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 69
IUPU-Ft Wayne 43 FINAL
Illinois State 68
Norfolk State 74 FINAL
James Madison 71
Binghamton 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 69
Towson 56 FINAL
Navy 61
Long Island 73 FINAL
New Hampshire 72
Northern Ill 66 FINAL
Notre Dame 91
William & Mary 62 FINAL
Old Dominion 69
Liberty 47 FINAL
Princeton 65
Delaware 81 FINAL
Robert Morris 84
MD-Eastern Shore 82 FINAL
St Bonaventure 80
Colgate 43 FINAL
Syracuse 78
Kansas 52 FINAL
Temple 77
Mercer 54 FINAL
Tennessee 64
East Tenn St 60 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 84
Va Military 74 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Bucknell 53 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
Alabama A&M 62 FINAL
Western Mich 71
New Orleans 59 FINAL
Indiana 79
Columbia 65 FINAL
Connecticut 80
Long Beach State 49 FINAL
St Johns 66
Wofford 44 FINAL
West Virginia 77
Southern U 66 FINAL
Baylor 70
Chattanooga 83
Char Southern 54 FINAL
Colorado State 75
North Florida 70 FINAL
Iowa 80
NC Central 67 FINAL
Jackson State 64
Rice 72 FINAL
Lamar 79
Central Mich 89 FINAL
McNeese State 56
Coppin State 56 FINAL
Michigan 72
Furman 76 FINAL
Minnesota 86
SE Missouri St 51 FINAL
Ole Miss 82
Weber State 51 FINAL
Oklahoma 85
Grambling St 39 FINAL
TCU 80
Loyola-Chicago 62 FINAL
Texas Tech 44
Incarnate Word 47 FINAL
Tulsa 76
Penn 50 FINAL
Vanderbilt 79
Chicago State 38 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 63
Simpson 62 FINAL
Drake 84
Tenn Tech 81 FINAL
Murray State 83 FINAL
Southern Ill 71
Oral Roberts 45 FINAL
Missouri State 52
Jacksonville St 65 FINAL
Air Force 66
Milwaukee 54 FINAL
Arkansas 84
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
California 56
Coll of Charleston 47 FINAL
LSU 71
North Dakota 54 FINAL
Marquette 67
Northern New Mexico 39 FINAL
New Mexico St 78
UC Santa Barbara 78 FINAL
Oregon 82
Miami-Florida 62 FINAL
Providence 76
Northeastern 68 FINAL
St Marys-CA 72
Kent State 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 78
UC Davis 73 FINAL
Northern Colorado 63
Lewis-Clark State 81 FINAL
Eastern Wash 87
Walla Walla 52 FINAL
Portland State 94
Cal State Fullerton 82
Marshall 55 FINAL
Nevada 83
Boise State 52 2nd Half 6:00
Houston 48
UC Riverside 11 2nd Half 19:32
San Diego St 26
Tulane 27 2nd Half 17:17
Washington 35
Loyola Marymount 25 2nd Half 18:57
Wichita State 42
Nebraska 12/23/14 12:00 AM
Memphis 55
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Holy Cross 78
Temple 59 FINAL
Villanova 64
Georgia Southern 68 FINAL
Southern U 52
Xavier 60 FINAL
Kennesaw St 61
Eastern Michigan 52 FINAL
Michigan 81
Brescia 56 FINAL
Marshall 127
(21) West Virginia 54 FINAL
Ohio State 96
MD-Eastern Shore 78
Cornell 79 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 61
St Bonaventure 70 FINAL
Georgetown 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Northeastern 62
Eastern Washington 67 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 63 FINAL
Texas Southern 69
Butler 72 FINAL
Illinois State 60
UC Davis 59 FINAL
(16) Stanford 71
Washington St 87 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 60
Sacramento St 94 FINAL
San Jose St 97
SIU-Edwardsville 74 FINAL
Oakland 92 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 84
Belmont 43 FINAL
(14) Georgia 62
George Mason 83 FINAL
Longwood 61
Kansas 81 FINAL
Creighton 84
Abilene Christian 53 FINAL
Kansas State 68
UT Martin 65 FINAL
Missouri 74
Hampton 67 FINAL
DePaul 86
Florida State 65 FINAL
Tulane 54
Murray State 44 FINAL
Illinois 64
Fla Gulf Coast 74 FINAL
Arkansas State 68
Utah State 58


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