Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

My Minnesota childhood memories of Harmon Killebrew May 18, 2011

“BATTER UP!”

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

 

Three dumb moments December 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:30 AM
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HAVE YOU EVER SAID, done or believed something that ranks as stupid/dumb/unbelievable, etc., and shortly thereafter realized your mistake/stupidity/gullibility?

Of course you have, and so have I, plenty of times.

In recent days, I’ve had too many of those moments. Can I blame it on holiday stress, lack of sleep or maybe, more truthfully, myself?

We’ll start with Sunday morning church. As the offering plate is passed down my pew, I hand it along to my husband, who typically pulls our offering envelope from his dress shirt pocket and drops it into the plate.

But he’s not doing that. He’s sitting there holding the collection plate, looking at me with one of those looks that only a spouse can give his/her spouse. We’ve been married long enough that I knew exactly what I hadn’t done.

I unzipped my purse, reached inside and grabbed what I thought was the offering envelope and nearly dropped it into the plate before realizing I was offering God $10 off on a $25 purchase at J.C. Penney.

Later Sunday, apparently still in that dumb mode and while dining with my extended family at a soup lunch I hosted, I was convinced by two brothers-in-law that another brother-in-law had scooped the beets for the borscht from the highway. That would be as in sugar beets that had fallen from an overloaded truck.

Why I believed the pair is beyond me. You would think that after nearly 30 years of knowing these two guys I would realize they are sometimes full of…, well, you know. So I asked the brother-in-law who made the beet-laced borscht (soup) if this was true. Of course it wasn’t and a dozen guests had a good laugh at my expense.

Perhaps my recent dumbest moment occurred a few days ago when I was talking with my second-born, who recently moved to Wisconsin. I asked if, when she was Christmas shopping, she could look for a Minnesota Twins long-sleeved shirt for her sister. I couldn’t find any in Faribault and did not want to run all over the area shopping for one given I detest shopping.

“Um, Mom,” she replied. “I don’t think I’m going to find a Twins shirt in Wisconsin. Maybe a Green Bay Packers shirt.”

Honestly, these stories are all true. Really, could I make up anything as stupid/dumb/unbelievable?

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in publicly sharing any of your similar memorable moments, submit a comment. With the stress of the holidays, we could all use a few more laughs.

© Copyright 2010 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

 

I may not be Joe Mauer’s mom, but I’ve “got it” June 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:45 AM
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Cookies 'N Cream (not Kemps) store brand ice cream

TERESA MAUER, move over. You’ve got competition on the playing field.

I, too, can hit a fly ball—uh, scoop of ice cream—across the ballpark—um, kitchen.

Here’s a replay of my shining moment:

“Do you want some ice cream?” I ask my guys. Silly question since I already know they’ll say “yes.” But I hope that, by inquiring, one of them will dish up the treat. Arm wrestling rock-hard ice cream really isn’t my favorite sport.

Clearly, the guys are not going to pinch hit for me. My teen is snuggled into a corner of the couch with his laptop. My husband has his feet up in the recliner watching America’s Got Talent.

So I head toward the kitchen, pull open the freezer door and consider the options. “Peanut Butter Brownie Sensation or Cookies ‘N Cream?” I shout.

Of course, they both want the Blue Bunny “peanut butter ice cream loaded with brownie chunks and a chocolate peanut butter swirl.”

“There’s not much left,” I share, thinking maybe they’ll settle for the store brand of Oreo-laced vanilla ice cream and I can have the remaining Brownie Sensation.

Nope, that game plan isn’t working, so I scrape the bottom and sides of the carton, evenly distributing the ice cream into three bowls. (Well, I do cheat some and give myself a little bit more. But who’s watching?)

Next, I lift the flaps on the Cookies ‘N Cream box, edging the tip of the ice cream scoop into the hard, hard ice cream.

Then, just as the ice cream molds into a ball, it releases. It’s a hit. The ice cream ball flies up, grazes the watch on my left wrist and lands at the edge of the kitchen sink, nearly rolling into clean silverware stashed in the dish drainer.

I’m stunned. But I react swiftly, grabbing and tossing the ball into a bowl.

I share none of this with the team…until later, when my husband and I are watching the 10 p.m. news. Our son is gone by then, star-gazing at his astronomy class.

During a commercial break, I watch as Teresa Mauer, mother of Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer, scoops ice cream. Then, just like that, the ice cream releases from the scoop and flies across the room. Joe lunges and catches the ice cream ball in his bowl.

My jaw drops. I have never seen this Kemps’ “Got It” television spot. Yet…

“That just happened to me,” I say, detailing to my husband exactly what occurred in our kitchen 1 ½ hours earlier.

“Yeah, except you didn’t have Joe Mauer there to catch it,” he replies. “You just picked the dirty ice cream off the floor and put it in my bowl and figured I wouldn’t notice since it’s Cookies ‘N Cream.”

Uh, not quite.

Bottom line, I love this “Got It” ad. It’s short, sweet (catch that?), and absolutely believable.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:13 AM
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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.

Ah.

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