WASECA – Clinton “Tink” Larson was standing behind the grandstand at Tink Larson Field here Thursday afternoon. To be more precise, he was standing behind the charred ruins of the wooden grandstand, which was engulfed by fire Wednesday night.
Since sunrise people had been slowly driving past the historic ballpark, which was built as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s. The fire not only destroyed the grandstand but also turned everything stored under the bleachers into ashes: uniforms, baseballs, all manner of mementos, even the equipment Larson has used to mow the grass and groom the field for decades.
Having just completed an interview with a Twin Cities TV station, Larson, 74, was chatting with me when a pickup pulled up to the curb. The driver leaned over toward the open passenger-side window and had this conversation with Tink…
Driver: “Do you need field equipment? Or a scraper, whatever? To get a game going next week? Let me know, I’ll open the door and you can have it. Whatever you need. Just holler if you need anything.”
Tink: “Thanks, big fella.”
Driver: “This just stinks.”
Tink: “It sure does.”
Driver: “Life’s not fair, my boy.”
Tink: “First Sharon and now this.”
Driver: “You take care of yourself.”
Sharon was Tink’s wife, who died suddenly two years ago. And it’s not a stretch to equate the loss of Tink’s spouse with the loss of his ballpark, where Sharon was a fixture in the concession stand for 44 years and where the Larsons’ children and grandchildren spent countless hours.
Tink looked over the charred wreckage and said, “I had about four sets of jerseys in there, baseballs in there. I had spikes and gloves and everything else in there. You don’t expect it’s going to burn down.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. A company has been hired to demolish what’s left of the grandstand and haul away the remains; that could happen in the next day or two. Then a temporary backstop fence will be rigged up so the Waseca High School Bluejays can get back to playing on their home field.
The Bluejays were scheduled to open the season Friday at home against Mankato East. That game was moved to Mankato, and a Monday home game with Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton also has been changed to a road game.
“It definitely is devastating,” said Waseca athletic director Joe Hedervare. “With all the history and all the effort Tink put into the facility, it was a beautiful place to play baseball.”
Tink Larson Field and Tink Larson himself are both icons. The graduate of Kasson-Mantorville High School and Minnesota State Mankato was hired as a teacher and baseball coach in Waseca in 1967. During his career with high school, American Legion, VFW and town-team baseball, Larson coached in more than 4,500 games. He’s now a volunteer assistant coach at nearby Minnesota State Mankato.
Larson is a member of 11 Halls of Fame, including the MSHSL and the American Baseball Coaches Association. The Waseca ballpark was named in his honor in 1994.
Tink lives across the street from the ballpark; many foul balls have flown over the third-base fence and landed in his front yard. He was home Wednesday night when the fire broke out.
“My nephew said, ‘Is there something going on at the ballpark? Is there a fire over at the grandstand?’ I looked out the window, and jeepers.”
The ballpark is owned by the City of Waseca, so insurance is expected to cover a portion of the expenses in rebuilding the grandstand. Once temporary fencing is installed behind home plate, a rebuilding project will be put together.
“We’ll have to come up with a permanent plan as to what we’re going to do as far as rebuilding and all that,” Tink said. “That will be a big project.”
Some things simply can’t be replaced, such as several rows of seats that came from Met Stadium, the Twins’ original home in Bloomington.
“The history will be gone and all the memories of all the guys who played here over the years, that will all be gone,” Larson said. “There aren’t many grandstands that have two clubhouses and a locker room and a concession stand and two storage areas. This is a big building.”
The Minnesota State Mankato baseball team will play four games this weekend at University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. That’s a one-way bus ride of nearly eight hours, which Larson said should give him time to start replying to all the emails and text messages he has received in the wake of the fire.
“It’s amazing, all the support that’s coming in,” he said. “Tons of people have said, ‘Let us know how we can help.’ ”
Hedervare said, “It hurts right now. But there’s not a single person in our community who doesn’t believe Tink Larson Field will be back better than ever.”
When Tink walked across the street from his house to the ballfield Thursday morning, one of the local residents was there waiting for him; he had been there since 6:30 a.m.
“He said, ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of cars that were driving by,’ ” Tink said with a quiet chuckle. “The fire chief said, ‘If we would have charged five dollars for every car that drove by, we could rebuild this thing.’ ”
--An account has been set up at Roundbank in Waseca for donations to help rebuild Tink Larson Field. Donations can be sent to Roundbank, 200 2nd St NE, Waseca, MN 56093
--To see photos from Tink Larson Field, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 604
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 9,315