Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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.

BONUS PHOTOS:

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

 

Beyond just a game of dodgeball January 6, 2017

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A JCC player prepares to throw the football, left.

A Minnesota State High School play-off game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

RECENT REPORTS THAT ONE STUDENT punched another in a game of dodgeball during a gym class at a Wisconsin high school have prompted unpleasant memories of my own p.e. experiences. I can still feel the sting of those rubber balls slammed by muscled farm boys in a fierce game of bombardment. Even the game name suggests violence. I took plenty of physical, and emotional, hits.

I don’t understand the value in kids targeting balls at one another. Call it dodgeball. Call it bombardment. Why engage in this game? In the Wisconsin case, a student is now facing battery charges following the punch that resulted in a facial fracture.

A ref makes a call.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Back in the day, I hated gym class. There, I said it. I was a bookish kid, small in size, wearing glasses (since age four) and among the last chosen for a team. I couldn’t wait until class ended and I could escape team pressure, demanding expectations of a gym teacher and the sting of rubber balls, a bow string or a volleyball.

I tried. Really tried. But no amount of effort could turn me in to an athlete. If only teachers, and classmates, recognized that.

I recall one junior high p.e. teacher in particular who expected students to perform like Olympic gymnasts, comparing us to Martha, the one girl in class who could tumble, swing, leap and balance with amazing agility. The teacher allowed us to choose our grade based on a list of requirements. Unable to ever physically complete the tasks required for an A or B, I selected C. I fail to understand that teacher’s grading methods; the system only served to humiliate students. Grading based on personal improvements seems a better way to gauge progress in a physical education class.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

My experiences with sports during recess and then gym classes shaped my attitude toward athletics. I understand the value of sports in building confidence, physical and mental strength, leadership and teamwork skills. But at what cost? I see a society so focused on sports that we’ve lost perspective on the value of family time, morals, time for kids just to be kids and a balance in life.

Yes, this is just my opinion and you can choose to disagree. Perhaps your sports experiences differed significantly from mine. I hope so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fishing on Circle Lake, a photo essay October 20, 2016

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Photographed in early October, Circle Lake, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up on the housetop in Waterville September 29, 2016

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THERE ARE VIKINGS fans and then there are Vikings fans.

 

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When I spotted this ginormous Vikings helmet atop a roof recently in Waterville, just a half block off Main Street, I thought it marked a bar. Waterville seems to have a sizable number of drinking establishments.

But, upon closer inspection, I determined this building is a residence.

There’s a story here.

What story would you spin from these photo prompts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The place to be on a fall Friday evening in Waterville September 28, 2016

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VISIT THE HOMEPAGE of the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School District and you’ll see team sports photos front and center.

 

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Sports are big in these southern Minnesota communities, as they are in most small towns.

 

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WEM is the home of the Buccaneers, a fitting mascot for Waterville situated on two lakes. Resorts, campgrounds and cabins ring the lakes, drawing locals and vacationers to Sakatah and Tetonka lakes and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.

 

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But on Friday evenings in the fall, it’s football that brings folks into town to cheer on the champion Buccaneers. Nine seems to be the team’s good luck number with state championships claimed in 1989, 1999 and 2009.

 

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I’ve never attended a football game here, but my husband did years ago when his alma mater, Healy High School, played here. He remembers an uneven playing surface and muck.

 

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Last week, when heavy rain fell and flooded this area of southern Minnesota, the Buccaneers moved their game against Le Sueur-Henderson to neighboring New Prague. But that didn’t deter them. Pirates are, after all, transient, extremely resourceful and not easily intimidated away from their home turf. They defeated the Giants 38-14.

© Copyright 2016 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.

BONUS PHOTOS:

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