ELROSA, MINN. – There was a sizable crowd outside Shady’s Hometown Tavern in Albany on May 17, demanding that owner Kris Schiffler have the right to open the bar and serve beverages to thirsty Central Minnesotans.
A week later, the scene was repeated, and Channel 11 reporter Lou Raguse was harassed by select attendees for wearing a mask.
On Wednesday, Minnesota bars finally had the go-ahead to serve drinks inside the establishment. A detour was taken on the way to a couple of games that were being played under the auspices of the feisty Stearns County League, in contrast to the state of Minnesota’s instruction not to play.
As of 3:30 p.m. Friday, it can be reported that Schiffler’s rowdy supporters seem to have moved on to other matters, or perhaps they were getting ready to enjoy a glorious weekend on one of the Spunk Lakes — Upper, Middle or Lower.
There were a dozen customers in Shady’s, drinking domestic beers and being thrilled the Stearns County League (SCL) had chosen to go forward without the blessing of the Office of Governor, Timothy James Walz presiding.
Actually, thrilled might be overstating it. “What do you think of the Stearns County League deciding to defy state edicts and play this weekend?” a 50-something customer was asked.
He was puzzled for a moment, then said: “Those little towns are playing this weekend? Glad to hear it. Shutting down everything never made sense here, not like in St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.”
The Minnesota Baseball Association’s seven-person board gave tacit approval for its 275 teams to resume playing on Wednesday night, after Walz again failed to reopen baseball (plus softball, etc.) to playing.
Early Thursday morning, the Stearns County League’s Twitter feed already had posted a full schedule of weekend games — starting Friday with Elrosa playing the Cold Spring Rockies from the Central Valley League, and Greenwald playing at St. Martin in a league game, except …
All these games have been declared to be “exhibitions’’ by MBA board, due to what seems a majority of its teams failing to get permission to play in municipal ballparks in cities choosing to stick to Walz’s coronavirus dictates.
“I run the league’s Twitter account, and we had a schedule figured out earlier in the week,’’ said A.J. Hadley, Elrosa’s manager. “The 10 managers in the our league were exchanging texts and decided we were going to play, no matter what Walz said. We also passed that along to the [MBA] board — that we were going to start playing this weekend.”
Ethan Vogt, ace pitcher and a 19-year player for the Saints, said: “We told the board, ‘We are opening up.’ There was a possibility that could mean our teams would be suspended from sending teams to the state tournament.
“We were willing to accept that tradeoff. We would have had our own ‘state tourney’ with our teams and pulled in excellent crowds.”
David Jonas, a coach and third baseman with the Rockies, is also a cousin to the Schleper clan linked forever to the Farming Flames.
“This has been the greatest early baseball season for weather of all time,” Jonas said. “It was time to play. A night like this … you have to play a ballgame.”
The St. Martin-Greenwald game was starting 90 minutes later, at 8:30 p.m. The late start was a mystery to a visitor stopping at Doochie’s, a St. Martin establishment, a few hours earlier.
Why 8:30? “I assume it’s because the ballpark aims west and the sun would be in the hitters’ eyes,’’ said Patty Salzl, the owner.
Patty also takes care of any questions about her political preference with a giant “Trump 2020” banner that includes a few words of emphasis, and hangs near a wall behind the bar.
The Martins’ pregame was worthy of a league opener. Public address announcer Steve Revermann introduced all players from both teams to the roughly 150 fans.
St. Martin is famous for its tradition of Liesers, although there are only two on the roster these days — pitcher Scott, a former Milwaukee minor leaguer, and shortstop Kyle.
They are badly outnumbered by Schlangens: There are five on the roster, and also four Schlangens among five bat boys.
Weep not for the Liesers’ legacy. Manager Carl Lieser is in his 42nd season with the Martins, 21st as manager, and his wife, Ruth — yup, she’s a Schlangen, and they are all nephews.
The St. Martin ballpark is owned by the city. Lieser went to a city council meeting on Monday night to request permission to play at home if Walz’s no-games order stayed in effect.
“The City Council’s answer was, ‘Let’s play ball,’ ” Lieser said. “It’s been strange today. Forty-two years and I was more nervous than I’ve ever been for an opener. The wait definitely had gotten to me.’’
NOTE: A phone call to Shady’s in Albany around 5:30 p.m. included a great deal of background noise. Apparently, a fair number of last month’s anti-shutdown protesters actually did want a drink.
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