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


Baseball memories from rural Minnesota July 14, 2014

FOR BABY BOOMERS like myself, summertime memories of life in rural Minnesota are as much about consuming pitchers of sugary Kool-Aid, picking rocks and walking beans as about baseball.

Memorial Park Baseball Field, home to the Dundas Dukes.

Memorial Park Baseball Field, home to the Dundas Dukes., an amateur baseball team.

When I think back to the 1960s, I hear the static buzz of my older brother’s transistor radio as he dials in ‘CCO. Play-by-play with Halsey Hall, Herb Carneal and Ray Scott. Names familiar to my generation as the voices of the Minnesota Twins.

A carving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player stands just outisde the baseball field in Dundas.

A carving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player stands just outside the baseball field in Dundas.

And then the players themselves—greats like homerun slugger Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva and Rod Carew.

My brother, when we played pick-up games of softball after the evening chores, role-played Killebrew. There was no arguing the choice among us siblings. He was always Killebrew as we pulled on our worn gloves or thwacked the grimy softball with a wooden bat or sped across loose gravel, rounding the discarded disc plates that served as bases.

This plaque, by a baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas,

This plaque, by the baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas, summarizes well thoughts on baseball.

Such are my memories, along with remembering the stacks of baseball cards my brothers collected. They chewed a lot of bubblegum.

My interest in baseball, like the demise of the transistor radio, has faded through the decades. I don’t watch the game and occasionally catch only wisps of a radio broadcast.

Looking through the fence toward the Dundas Dukes' dug-out.

Looking through the fence at Memorial Park Baseball Field in Dundas.

But this week, when all eyes focus on major league baseball’s All-Star game at Target field in Minneapolis, the memories rush back.

I hear the static. The cry: “Batter up!” I see ball connecting with bat, my older brother slamming a homerun over the milkhouse. I race toward the bouncing ball, feet pounding across gravel. I scoop up the ball. And, as always, I fail to throw with any force, landing the ball far short of upheld glove. And my brother sails across home plate, arms flying. It’s another homerun for Harmon.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling