Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

February at the ballpark & I’m not talking spring training in Florida February 23, 2018

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ON A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON, sunshine heats the earth, slants shadows upon snow fallen fresh that morning. It is a rare day of respite from a too-cold winter in Minnesota and I am anxious to get outside.



So Randy and I hop in the Chevy and head toward Dundas, just south of Northfield. I want to walk in Memorial Park, home of the Dundas Dukes. Randy pulls the car into the riverside park, loops and stops on a snowy road next to a trail. We exit, tread with caution along a path, diverting off the icy route as needed to avoid slipping.



Passing the abandoned playground, I observe swings hung statue-still.



I note footprints through the snow leading to a Little Free Library. Used even in winter.



A short hike away, I step onto the foot bridge spanning the Cannon River.



I pause midway, focus on ruins of the Archibald Mill,



bridge shadows,



an open spot of water,



the river ribboning white between shoreline trees.



In the simplicity of this place, these scenes, I feel content. I am here with Randy, who appreciates the natural silence as much as me.




Overhead I watch a Delta airliner angling down toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wonder about those aboard. Would they rather be leaving than arriving?



Some 1,700 miles away in the warmth of Ft. Myers, the Minnesota Twins toss and catch balls, swing bats and practice in the sunshine of opening week of spring training. Here in Dundas, opening day is still months away. I imagine the bold orange seats and grandstands filled with spectators, the cracks of bats, the swish of baseballs when the Dukes meet the Hampton Cardinals here on April 29. I can almost hear the conversations and laughter that will soon fill this place.



I head back toward the car, tracking in the footsteps of those who, like me, dream. Of sunny summer days. Of baseball. Of walks in the park. And of rivers that run free of ice, free of snow, free of winter under a Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A fitting quote as we heal from the baseball field shootings June 15, 2017

This plaque marks a baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


THREE YEARS AGO I photographed a plaque at Memorial Park Baseball Field in Dundas. It marks a woodcarving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


Today, the day after the shooting of House Republican leader Steve Scalise, four others and a gunman on a baseball field near our nation’s capitol, these words by John Thorn seem especially fitting. Thorn is the official historian for major league baseball.


My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which sits on my office desk as a constant reminder to hold onto hope. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Now, more than ever, as attacks and tragedies like this continue in the U.S. and throughout the world, we need our spirits replenished, our hope restored, our losses repaired, our journeys blessed.


Batter up for the Faribault Lakers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


We must continue to play ball. Violence can change us. But it cannot steal away the freedom we hold dear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Blessings, beer & baseball in St. Patrick January 18, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a story from summer-time, season inappropriate. But, in the throes of a Minnesota winter, we need reminders that summer will return. In something like four months.

Across the road from the St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church cemetery sits St. Patrick's Tavern.

Across the road from the St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church and cemetery sits St. Patrick’s Tavern.

A BAR AND A CHURCH. It’s not an uncommon pairing in parts of rural Minnesota, in Catholic faith communities especially.

The bar recently changed ownership and became St. Patrick's Tavern.

The bar recently changed ownership and became St. Patrick’s Tavern.

Blessings and beer.

St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township.

St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township.

On a Sunday afternoon drive in the summer of 2015, my husband and I happened upon St. Patrick, an unincorporated burg in Scott County. There, upon a hill, sits St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township. Out the front door and down the hill rests the bar, appropriately named St. Patrick’s Tavern. And on the back side of the hill lies the baseball field, St. Patrick’s Bonin Field. It’s named after Father Leon Bonin, a strong supporter of baseball in St. Patrick.

St. Patrick's Bonin Field

St. Patrick’s Bonin Field

Blessings, beer and baseball. How decidedly rural Minnesotan.


St. Patrick's Tavern in St. Patrick, Minnesota

St. Patrick’s Tavern is located at 24436 Old Highway 13 Blvd. in St. Patrick, Minnesota.

Cruising past St. Patrick's Tavern on a Sunday afternoon.

Cruising past St. Patrick’s Tavern on a Sunday afternoon.

More signage on St. Patrick's Tavern.

More signage on St. Patrick’s Tavern.

TELL ME: Do you know of any similar hamlets that offer blessings, beer and baseball. I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When a non-sports fan (me) takes in a Faribault Lakers baseball game August 2, 2016

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Bell Field in North Alexander Park, Faribault, Minnesota.

Bell Field in North Alexander Park, Faribault, Minnesota.

God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.

On Sunday afternoon at Bell Field in Faribault, the faithful—some drinking beer, some not—gathered to watch the Faribault Lakers take on the Montgomery Mallards as the preacher pitched and music blared mostly catchy country lyrics. Like Billy Currington’s tune about God and beer.

Fencing and netting obscure the field. But I was thankful for both to keep us safe.

Fencing and netting obscured my view of the field. But I was thankful for both to keep me safe.

I sat in the stands, taking it all in, more interested in people watching and the setting than the game. I’ve never pretended to be a fan of any sports. But I’ve wanted to attend a local Minnesota Baseball Association game this summer simply for the experience.

Father and son bond at the ball game.

Father and son bond at the ball game.

So when my nephew phoned and invited my husband to join him at the ballpark along with his 3-year-old son, I tagged along.

The roofed grandstand keeps fans cool.

The roofed grandstand keeps fans cool.

Admittedly, the high heat and humidity concerned me. To my relief, the roofed stadium provided shade and the wind breezed like a fan on low speed.

Matt Lane in pitching mode for the Faribault Lakers.

Matt Lane in pitching mode for the Faribault Lakers.

A later shot of Lane also pitching.

A later shot of Lane also pitching with focus and determination.

Lane's pitch speeds toward the batter.

Lane’s pitch speeds toward the batter.

Sharing a can of icy beer with Randy, I turned my attention to the field where the Rev. Matt Lane stood at the pitcher’s mound, focused and ready to crank up a pitch.

A number one supporter of the Lakers' pitcher.

A number one supporter of the Lakers’ pitcher, the reverend’s little girl.

To my left, his family and friends clustered, Lane’s preschool daughter in a blue shirt imprinted with her daddy’s surname. Lane, associate pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Faribault, played college baseball and three years in the minor league.

A Montgomery Mallard races toward home plate...

A Montgomery Mallard races toward home…

...then slides into home plate.

…then slides into home plate.

I tried to follow the game. But I had a difficult time tracking the fast-moving baseball and anticipating the action. I’ll never be a sports photographer. I get too distracted by nuances like the violent throw of the bat by a batter who’s just struck out or by concern about the runner lying on the field, his pride, not his body, injured.

On either side of the announcer's box, I saw barn swallows swoop under the roof.

On either side of the announcer’s box, I saw barn swallows swoop under the roof.

Other details also garnered my attention such as sparrows nibbling dropped popcorn, teenage girls licking red suckers, barn swallows swooping under the roofline, the thunk of a pop-up ball slamming the metal roof, a boy roaring a toy car across bleacher seats, Elton John belting Crocodile Rock (one of my favorite 70s songs) over the ballpark loudspeaker, kids wrangling behind the Mallards’ dug-out for a foul ball knowing they’ll get a free Freezee pop for returning the ball…

My 3-year-old great nephew watched the game for awhile.

My great nephew watched the game for awhile and then got distracted by whatever distracts a 3-year-old.

Just in case a ball came our direction...and a ball to play with.

Just in case a ball came our direction…and a ball to play with.

The score wasn't looking too good as the game moved in to the final innings.

The score wasn’t looking too good as the game moved in to the final innings.

I was distracted, too, by my adorable great nephew dwarfed in his Minnesota Twins shirt and red Elk River baseball cap. Landon soon joined the Lane kid crew in tossing and chasing a ball, enough busyness—along with munching popcorn and sharing Skittles—to keep him content to the bottom of the seventh inning. By then, the Lakers trailed far behind the Mallards, eventually losing 10 -2 in a regional play-off game.

Heading back to our vehicle in the parking lot, I stopped to photograph this pick-up from an area dairy farm.

Heading back to our vehicle in the parking lot, I stopped to photograph this pick-up from an area dairy farm.

As the eighth inning began, some fans left and we soon joined them. Will I attend a local baseball game again? Maybe. But next time I’d like to check out the Dundas Dukes.


Batter up for the Faribault Lakers.

Batter up for the Faribault Lakers.

And the batter swings.

And the batter swings.

The Montgomery Mallards dug-out.

The Montgomery Mallards dug-out.

My great nephew watched the game for awhile.

My great nephew watched the game for awhile.

I had no clue what any of the ump's hand signals meant.

I had no clue what any of the ump’s hand signals meant.

I always appreciate an iconic scene of fans in the stands.

I always appreciate an iconic scene of fans in the stands.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My Minnesota childhood memories of Harmon Killebrew May 18, 2011


His voice cracked like the whack of wood against leather as I stepped up to the plate, bat handle vise-gripped in my hands, feet planted in packed gravel next to the rusted, cast-off disk from the disk harrow.

As my oldest brother lobbed the ball toward me, I swung, and as was typical of me, missed. I was aiming to hit the ball toward the barn and milkhouse at the edge of the farm yard, our ball field.

Almost every evening, as the sun inched lower in the prairie sky toward the greening fields of early spring and then into the hot, humid days of tasseling corn, my siblings and I traded chore gloves for softball gloves. “Let’s play ball,” we’d yell in unison.

And then the arguing would begin. “I’m Harmon Killebrew,” my oldest brother hollered, the name flying off his tongue with the speed of a fast pitch.

No matter how loudly the rest of us protested his call, we struck out. He was the eldest. If he wanted to be Killebrew, then he would be Killebrew.

We assumed the roles of other 1960s Twins greats like Tony Oliva and Rod Carew.

But we all wanted to emulate Killebrew, to swing the bat, to watch the ball powerhouse toward the barn roof, maybe even sail as far as the silo room or the cow yard beyond, well out of reach of our siblings’ outstretched hands.

Such are my memories of the Twins’ home run slugger.

I’ve never been to a Twins game, never met Killebrew, don’t watch or listen to baseball.

Yet, upon learning of Killebrew’s death, a twinge of melancholy swept across me as I thought of those pick-up farm yard softball games, the baseball cards my brothers collected and the static of my eldest brother’s transistor radio broadcasting a Twins game in the 1960s.

For all the sibling bickering over who would pretend to be Killebrew or Carew or Oliva, those post chores games score among the home runs of my rural Minnesota childhood.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hit one out of the cornfield for the Minnesota Twins October 8, 2010


Montgomery Orchard celebrates the Minnesota Twins' 50th anniversary with a Twins logo corn maze.


HEY, ALL YOU APPLE-LOVING Minnesota Twins fans, if you want to test your Twins knowledge and your navigation skills, head to Minnesota’s version of The Field of Dreams at Montgomery Orchard, like I did last weekend.

Just a note here, before I tell you more about this opportunity. Please do not mistake the previous apple reference for any endorsement of The Big Apple-based New York Yankees.

Montgomery, Minnesota, orchard owners Scott and Barb Wardell clearly love the home team as they’ve created a six-acre corn maze in the shape of the Twins emblem. But that’s not all. They’ve developed a trivia game that challenges maze visitors to answer questions about the Twins at home plate; first, second and third bases; the pitcher’s mound; short stop; and right, center and left fields, depending on the selected maze route.

Since I don’t exactly like mazes, having once survived a terrifying mirror maze at Arnolds Park in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, during my teen years, I opted for the short Be-A-Mazed half-hour route. Fortunately, my husband agreed to lead me through the cornfield because I possess minimal map reading skills or sense of direction or knowledge of The Twins.


My husband leads the way through the short corn maze route. If you get lost and think you can just follow the corn rows to get out, forget it. The corn is not planted in straight-shot rows.


But my 24-year-old daughter and three of her friends, who had driven down from Minneapolis for the afternoon and who are the ultimate Twins fans, along with my teenaged son, opted for the longer maze with far more winding trails and far more trivia questions. At least one of the four women had brushed up on Twins trivia. I wondered, though, why none of these Twins fanatics were wearing Twins attire.


My oldest daughter, left, and three of her friends drove down from Minneapolis to navigate the maze, pick apples and rave about the homemade hot dogs from Edel's Meat Market, an on-site vendor.


Who am I to talk, though? I probably should not admit this. But since I am an honest person, I will reveal that, except for the World Series games in 1987, I have never watched an entire professional baseball game on television or ever attended one. I am the rare individual who really does not care about sports. I had come to the orchard corn maze simply because I wanted to see my daughter.

While I was there, I decided to exert some effort toward answering the Twins trivia questions. The problem, however, is that nearly everything I know about baseball history is limited to names—Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia and Rod Carew. I learned about those players decades ago from my eldest brother who listened to the Twins games on his transistor radio and who insisted on being Harmon Killebrew whenever we played farmyard softball.

I figured that long-ago role-playing and sportscasting would be helpful in the maze trivia contest. Plus I do know a bit of current trivia: Joe Mauer plays for the Twins. Yup, I figured “Mauer” might be the answer to at least one question.

But, after reading the first set of questions at home plate, I realized I’d never win this game.

Here’s the first rookie question I faced at home plate: Which of the following Twins legends are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?  a. Harmon Killebrew  b. Tony Olivia  c. Rod Carew  d. Kirby Puckett

I had no clue. None. Nada. Strike one.

So, I moved on to the All-Star question: What American League catcher holds the record for the most All-Star selections?

I suspect if I knew the definition of “All-Star” that would help considerably. Strike two.

Heck, I may as well go for the Hall of Fame question: Name three Minnesotans that grew up to catch for the Twins.

Uh, yeah, so like I have no idea what positions Harmon or Tony or Rod played. Not even Joe, although I think he’s a catcher but I would need to verify that.  Sorry, Joe. Strike three. I’m out!

After that I decided to forgo the trivia and concentrate on getting through, and more importantly out of, the corn maze. As my husband and I wound our way along the rock-hard dirt path that twisted through the towering dried corn, I repeatedly asked if he knew where we were going. He said he did and I trusted that he did, although a few times I wished aloud for bread crumbs to drop along the path.

Or perhaps leaving a trail of peanuts and Cracker Jacks would have been more appropriate.


The Twins trivia questions are posted at baseball positions in the corn maze.



My husband climbs to a platform in the midst of the cornfield.



From the elevated platform, you get a bird's eye view of the corn maze and the countryside. Montgomery Orchard is donating $1 of each maze admission to the Twins Community Fund.



After completing the maze, head to the orchard to pick apples.



Or you can head to the store for pre-picked apples, local honey, jams, jellies, Cortland caramel apples and more. Peruse the wagon full of pumpkins from a neighboring farm on your way there.



You can choose from bags of apples lined up on the store porch. The orchard grows 13 apple varieties.



Musicians entertain inside and outside the store, depending on the weather.



Down in the pole shed, visitors can help make apple cider during a 2:30 p.m. daily demonstration.


FYI: Be-A-Amazed corn maze is located at Montgomery Orchard about an hour south of the Twin Cities and just south of Montgomery one mile east of the intersection of state highways 99 and 13 along highway 99. Regular orchard hours are from 1 – 6 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. (Check the Web site for Be-A-Mazed-At-Night dates.)  Last corn maze admission is taken at 4:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended for large groups. Cost is $6.75 for ages 11 through adult; $5.50 for ages 4 – 10; and free for those under four.

In addition to the maze, apple picking, cider making and entertainment, Montgomery Orchard offers a 1 1/4-mile nature hike through the prairie. A free adopt-a-tree program is also available for youth.

Click here for info about Edel’s Meat Market, which serves those delicious (according to the Minneapolis residents) hot dogs and homemade brats.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“You paid how much for a brat and pop at Target Field?” June 14, 2010

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“THAT’S PRICE-GOUGING, or whatever you call it,” I exclaim.

My husband has just revealed that he shelled out $18 for two brats and two soft drinks for himself and our teenaged son at a Minnesota Twins game.

“That’s ridiculous,” I continue to rant. “Who pays that much for a brat and pop?”

Apparently, if you’re a Twins fan (and dare I say here that I really don’t care about sports in general), that’s the price you’ll pay for simple fare to fill your belly.

Let me restate that. A brat and a pop do not fill the stomachs of two hungry guys, especially one who is 16.

Nor do a brat and a soda satisfy a man who would prefer a brat and a beer. But, with beer priced at $7, even my husband could manage to eat a brat sans beer. I didn’t even ask him the price of Tony O’s Cuban sandwich, the food he once told me he would try if he attended a Twins game.

But he did share, seeming a bit miffed, that Leinenkugel beer, brewed across the border in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, is grouped at Target Field with beers labeled as “Minnesota-made.”  That appeared to bother him more than the beer price.

So, wanting to direct him off the topic of beer, I inquire about our oldest daughter’s meal. (She has given her dad and brother the $18 tickets as a Father’s Day gift and is attending the game with them.) “Carrots,” he tells me. “She brought a bag of carrots.”

“I thought you couldn’t bring food into the game,” I say, at the same time inwardly applauding my daughter for her healthy food choice.

“She had that big green purse,” he explains.


Later, after I check out the Twins Web site, I read that you can take food into Target Field, but only if you eat it in the general seating area. Ditto for a few beverages, that, for obvious reasons, do not include beer—Wisconsin or Minnesota-made.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling