By Nick Gerhardt
Out on the Minnesota prairie there exists a keg unlike any other.
Some say it has enough vexing power to curse a team, others make sure it appears at some of life’s biggest moments. At all times it’s something to behold and bring together the communities of Elrosa and Spring Hill for annual battles to gain possession of its decade-old contents of green beer from a St. Patrick’s Day of yesteryear.
Just 8 miles separate Elrosa and Spring Hill and during some fierce battles it might feel that it’s not enough distance between the hamlets that total 308 in population.
It seems mythology is based around some fact but let’s allow for some of the facts surrounding the keg to come through.
It is true the keg has disappeared twice and has appeared on horseback.
Some say the keg was an attempt to curb some of the trash talking between the clubs. There are those who claim arguments sprouted up at weddings, gun raffles, ham dinners, family reunions and local bars. They’d begin about baseball but veered into arguments over scoop shovel gloves, twine cutting and the mysterious disappearance of field equipment and the reappearance of the equipment painted in the rival’s colors.
The keg has rolled down the Spring Hill church parking lot and even paraded around Spring Hill on horseback by Elrosa players. It has been said to be guarded by chain-smoking trolls, though the keg wasn’t safe during a three-day keg-napping in the summer of 2014.
“It’s just a good symbol of respect,” Saints shortstop Matt Middendorf said of the keg rivalry.
Forging the rivalry
What makes this rivalry even more unique is that the two squads have long featured players familiar with each other since Little League. Elrosa’s roster features players who attended Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School and Sauk Centre High School. Spring Hill’s roster is mainly players who graduated from Melrose. The two schools are longtime conference rivals and most of the players grew up competing against each other. Even then it was a class rivalry with a shared respect.
It took a pair of rivals becoming teammates in college to begin one of the most interesting rivalry stories in town ball. Middendorf and Elrosa teammate Ethan Vogt played at Ridgewater Community College and there they met the Terres boys -- Nate and Jamie from Spring Hill. Middendorf and Nate Terres first played together at Ridgewater and later Vogt and Jamie became teammates and led the team to the 2004-05 National Junior College Athletic Association World Series. Vogt and Jamie also played a summer with Thunder Bay in the Northwoods League.
“Growing up all the way from little league, you remember playing these guys,” Jamie Terres said.
With the friendships formed in college, it turned into something fun for the friends when they met on the diamond for town ball and to keep it interesting they added a keg.
The idea of playing for the keg began when Elrosa’s Gumby Bauer had an old keg laying around from a St. Patrick’s Day party in 2007 that some people noticed months later. An idea sprouted to create a rivalry game with Spring Hill by painting both teams’ logos on opposite sides of the keg, like a trophy game in the Big 10. The score of each meeting is kept on the side of the keg, like the jug the Minnesota and Michigan football teams play for each year. It was later found that the keg still held some beer when a ballboy pressed down on it and it sprayed green beer, Middendorf said.
With the proximity of the towns and the mutual friendships, the battle for the keg pits family and friends against each other.
Five sets of families play for Spring Hill -- there are five members of the Schoenberg family including manager Randy, four Terres boys, a pair of Bartens, Welles and Revermanns.
Though the lines on the field are clearly drawn, they tend to blur in the stands. An Elrosa player is engaged to marry a relative of a Chargers player and in the stands, people might wear a Saints shirt but sport a Spring Hill hat later in the day. The keg will likely be at the upcoming wedding as an honored guest. It’s appeared at Middendorf’s wedding and Vogt’s wedding. But things get tricky when someone who’s getting married and their club doesn’t have possession of the keg.
“They want to make sure that thing’s at their wedding,” Middendorf said. “If it’s not there it’s kind of a big deal. You never have to want to go to the other town and pay a fee to rent it.”
Appearance fees for the keg usually run a case or two of beer.
When the keg isn’t on the field it’ll be in Bucky’s Bar for winter in Elrosa. Spring Hill rotates it between the Horseshoe Bar and Extra Innings. But now both sides keep it locked up for good reason.
The keg has been stolen twice since its creation but one instance stands out. Dubbed the “keg-napping” it disappeared for three days in 2014. On a Friday the 13th, leading up to a June 16 meeting. Spring Hill held possession of the keg by way of a 6-3 win back in May.
Spring Hill summoned a search party while a Twitter account, @whereisthekeg, sprung up.
Have you seen me? pic.twitter.com/w68y2Vy3Mn— Where's The Keg? (@whereisthekeg) June 14, 2014
Through some deduction work the keg was later found underneath a blanket in a vehicle located in neighboring Lake Henry. Though it was found no suspects were ever identified.
“I think the consensus was we knew where it was headed,” Jamie Terres said. “It was a little bit of a rabbit hunt. We start singling out the people. When you could hear the cows in the background you knew it wasn’t [the Vogts].”
The Vogts are dairy farmers who run the family farm and milk around 200 cows.
Buoyed by the temporary loss of the keg, the Chargers won the June 16 meeting.
Theft of the keg has stopped since then because it became a bit of a curse. Spring Hill lost the next two meetings after it stole the keg. The Saints lost the game following the disappearance of the keg.
Spring Hill leads the all-time series 20-18 and own one of the most dramatic victories in the series.
In a win-or-go home region playoff game in 2015, Spring Hill scored the biggest win in the rivalry since the creation of the keg trophy with a 5-3 victory to grab a spot at the state tournament.
Elrosa advanced to this year’s state tournament and made it through its first two games before falling to Jordan. Spring Hill’s season came to a close in a 7-4 loss to Meire Grove in the Stearns County League North playoffs.
The keg meanwhile will sit in Bucky’s in Elrosa until the spring comes.
“It’s going to be a long, dark winter there,” Jamie Terres said.
Photos courtesy of Elrosa Saints