GAYLORD, MINN. — Arlington and Gaylord are separated by 8 miles on Hwy. 5. They share Sibley East High School with Green Isle. They also have shared host duties for the 86th state amateur baseball tournament over the past three weekends.
Arlington was experienced at this, holding the tournament in 1976 and then co-hosting with Hamburg in 1983 and with Hutchinson in 1994.
"Gaylord wasn't going to get a state tournament until we had a grandstand," Bill Walsh said. "We got that done in 2002."
The tab was $152,000 for the covered grandstand. The City of Gaylord threw in $20,000, and the rest came through fundraising. Two years later, the state baseball board awarded the 2009 Class B and C tournaments to Arlington and Gaylord.
This was a chance for Gaylord to show off some of the state's finest-manicured grass to fans of the town teams that would play 32 (or 33) games between Aug. 20 and Labor Day on Walsh Field.
Bill is the namesake, having started working on the Gaylord baseball field in 1966 and continuing through this 44th summer with daily shifts of eight to 10 hours in preparation for this state tournament.
Walsh said that his son, Randy, the athletic director at Sibley East, has taken much of the responsibility for the field in recent years. Perhaps, but there's no way Randy could be as wired up as his father about the reviews for the field conditions at Walsh Field.
"The whole goal with this infield is to keep the ball down," Bill said. "You spend all that time working the field to keep the bounces true. You don't want a player to go home and say, 'My state tournament ended because of a bad hop.'"
Bill looked at the field on Saturday and said, "So far, almost all of the bounces have been fair."
Walsh, 74, comes from nearby Henderson. He started playing town-team ball there in 1950. It was also where he first gained experience as an amateur groundskeeper.
"Our field was flooded twice by the Minnesota River," Walsh said. "One spring, the players had to make a field in a new location to play the season."
In 1960, Walsh was hired as a parts manager at Ralph Jones Ford in Gaylord. He worked in "the Ford garage" for 40 years. In 1962, he started playing center field for Gaylord's town team. In 1966, Bill, wife Lorraine and the family moved to Gaylord.
"We had a great team in 1962," he said. "We lost the state title game to Little Falls."
A decade later, Walsh was managing when Gaylord lost the 1972 one-class title to Columbia Heights (a k a, Dick's Place). "We were sailing along until we ran into Jerry Wickman," Bill said. "Boy, could he fire the ball."
Walsh had taken on the duty of maintaining the field for the town, Legion and high school teams. He would work his shift at the Ford garage and spend a couple of hours at the ballpark in the evening, then longer hours on weekends.
"I don't play golf, don't fish, don't go to the lake," he said. "The field was my hobby."
Walsh's three sons helped with the field -- and also played for Gaylord's town team.
In 1993, Gaylord's baseball association and the city showed its appreciation to Bill by renaming the ballpark Walsh Field. It was also a decade of impressive improvements, with a $27,500 scoreboard that was donated, followed by a $77,000 project for new lights and fencing.
The grandstand in 2002 completed Gaylord's transformation to a ballpark to be envied.
"Three years ago, we stripped the grass off the field, scraped it and brought in 29 truckloads of black dirt," Walsh said. "We shaped it to improve drainage. Then, we brought in the grass from a sod farm over by Norwood."
Bill looked at a visitor from the big city and said: "I read about the Twins, and all that sand they put on the new field, and then bringing in the sod from Colorado.
"I suppose they're right -- the sand sucks up water -- but I don't get it. We like rich, black dirt out here in the country. And Minnesota grass works great on top of that."
Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • firstname.lastname@example.org