By Nick Gerhardt
Keller Field at Dakota Park in St. Louis Park is going to have a major league feel this spring after a some of the best in the business partnered this fall with the city of St. Louis Park.
The city of St. Louis Park got some major league help in renovating the fields at Dakota Park this fall from the Toro Company and the Minnesota Twins Oct. 4. Around 80 volunteers helped repair a portion of left field and draining issues there, rebuild the mound and home plate area, fixed the bullpens, painted dugouts, repaired sod and leveled the field. The group also made improvements to softball fields at Dakota Park as well.
Toro and the Twins Community Fund together donated $20,000 to the city of St. Louis Park for the renovation project for a field that gets a lot of use through the spring and summer from the St. Louis Park Class A amateur baseball team, the St. Louis Park High School team, the American Legion baseball team and several other teams. The Twins and Toro approached the city of St. Louis Park for the project to revamp the only full-sized baseball field in the city.
Keller Field was built on a swamp and creates some unique drainage challenges each year. The work to left field sought to improve the drainage there, St. Louis Park High School baseball head coach Brian Kelly said. Members of the Twins Grounds Crew and Toro Sports Turf Managers worked on that portion of the field and others during the day in October.
“They dug one major trench and put some piping underneath to help with the draining,” Kelly said. “It should help a lot.”
For Josh Nelson, who served as the project lead with the city of St. Louis Park’s parks department, the improvements came as welcomed work.
“I was really happy with it,” Nelson said. “It’s been my No. 1 priority for three years. We’ve had extremely wet fall seasons where we can watch the field deteriorate. We have this extremely short window to get in there and make things right.”
Nelson’s field staff also got the opportunity to learn to build a pitcher’s mound from the Twins’ pros, which was something they found rewarding, Nelson said.
Dakota Park was built in 1968 and has served as a hub for recreational activity for nearly 50 years.
“Dakota Park is one of the real jewels of our recreation system and the financial assistance, volunteer resources and professional groundskeeping expertise provided by the Twins Community Fund and The Toro Foundation allows for extensive renovation of these fields,” said St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano in a press release.
The baseball field was already a special place for the St. Louis Park community. In 2013 the St. Louis Park city council voted unanimously to rename the baseball field Derrick Keller Field. Keller played baseball at St. Louis Park and graduated in 2011. He earned all-state honors in 2010 as a left-handed shortstop and planned to play at Southwest Minnesota State University after earning a scholarship.
Keller died in 2012 following a battle with leukemia and never got the chance to play at SMSU. Keller underwent a new form of stem cell treatment after receiving his leukemia diagnosis because his type of leukemia wasn’t treatable with chemotherapy. Keller volunteered for a stem cell treatment technique developed by Dr. John Wagner, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, according to a 2013 story in the Sun Sailor. The stem cell therapy is designed to increase the number of white blood cells, according to the story. The therapy had never been used with a human but that didn’t deter Keller from taking it. It worked and Keller beat leukemia but with a weakened immune system, he died after contracting cytomegalovirus, according to the Sun Sailor article.
The St. Louis Park Dugout Club raised $10,000 for a new scoreboard with his name and another $10,000 for a scholarship in his honor.
“It just rocked our baseball community,” Kelly said of Keller’s death. “He was that kid who would drive by the youth field and stop to help. He would always be helping.”
The renovations to the field come at a time where the St. Louis Park community is seeing a revitalization. The St. Louis Park athletic community has seen a resurgence through the past few years with the high school football team reached the state tournament for the first time in school history this year. Two years ago the baseball team lost in the section championship and last season the boys’ hockey team defeated Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the section playoffs. Several of those athletes play baseball in the spring for Kelly. Additionally, the St. Louis Park Pirates fell to Minnetonka in the Class A state championship last year.
“I’m excited beyond belief for not only what we can do on the field but the field itself,” Kelly said.