My earliest memories of Tink Larson Field go back to preschool, driving past in our old Rambler, my mom and sister gesturing toward the field and saying, “That’s where you’re going to go to kindergarten!”
They were, of course, referring to the brick building a couple blocks in the background, Hartley Elementary, but I saw only the baseball field and wooden bleacher structure and wondered why in the world anyone would go to school there. I never did, at least not until later years. I went to South Side for kindergarten and at some point realized Community Field is where you play baseball and Hartley is a school. At some much later point I realized both are places of higher learning.
The first game I attended at Community Field was in the late 1960s, when I convinced an adult friend to take me. I became a regular at the park after that, climbing the ladder to put numbers on the outfield scoreboard for a buck a game or shagging foul balls for 50 cents, if you didn't get there early enough.
We also trespassed at the ballpark on a regular basis, day and night, though we never did any damage. If you went to the top of the bleachers in either corner, you could grab the wire, climb on top and play in the press box. It was always a little scary climbing that wire, but that was half the fun.
Practices for our seventh-grade football team were held in the outfield grass. I played baseball games on the field, learned from Larson, and covered countless games for the newspaper.
An American Legion game from the late 1980s comes to mind. Brad Tramp hit a home run that went foul. Monte Dufault, standing on deck, said, “That’s what I’m going to do. Only fair.” Tramp hit a home run on the next pitch. Dufault followed with a home run. The clip of that article later helped me land a job at Sun Newspapers in the Cities.
It was about that time I approached Waseca Mayor Avery “Doc” Hall about changing the name of the ballpark from Community Field to Tink Larson Field. Doc agreed it was a grand idea. We started a petition. It didn’t fly.
They eventually did rename the field in honor of the man who spent decades manicuring it, traveling to the old Met Stadium for bleacher seats and other reclaimable items, and generally turning the place into one of the best ballparks in the state. He and his wife, Sharon, basically raised their kids there, and did a good job of it.
At one time, Larson coached the high school, Legion and VFW baseball teams and ran the park and recreation program. He was also a heck of a ballplayer, hitting home runs and throwing out baserunners as a catcher into his 60s for the Waseca town team.
Wednesday night, along with others, Larson watched with disbelief as the bleachers at his beloved field all but burned to the ground.
The fire, it is said, started in the middle of the bleachers. The state fire marshal was there Thursday investigating. Larson, reached at his home Thursday evening, said he’s hoping for a report Friday, though he knows it won’t really matter.
“It’s gone,” said Larson. “It won’t ever be the same, that’s for sure.”
The bleachers will be rebuilt, of course, but they never can or will be replaced. Laws won’t allow it anymore. Modern bleachers must be constructed of steel, concrete or some other non-flammable substance, not wood.
Like the old hotel on Waseca’s Main St., which burned decades ago, the historic Tink Larson Field bleacher structure is now exactly that — history.