By Nick Gerhardt
With a pristine field like Jack Ruhr Field in Miesville it’s the little things that make it standout among others.
The field in Miesville has long been considered a jewel of amateur baseball in Minnesota from its outfield fence to the grandstand, all the way to the blades of grass. Getting it that way took a team of dedicated volunteers committed to transforming a field.
The effort started in the lead up to the 2001 Minnesota Baseball Association state tournament. The Miesville Baseball board started researching how to revamp the field to what it felt worthy of state tournament play. It took a team of volunteers to do the work, something typical for a club that got its park built behind a group of 26 people who chipped in $100 each. The park opened in 1961 and took the name Jack Ruhr Field in 1990 to honor the man who served as president for the club for 46 years. Ruhr was also one of the original 26 investors.
It led to Jim “Juice” Johnson, who managed the Mudhens for eight years and started playing for the club in 1972, digging deep to learn as much about field maintenance as he could. Johnson took every opportunity to pick the brains of experts even as he brought Jack Ruhr to St. Cloud in 2000 for his Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame induction.
“I took Jack and said, ‘Let’s go look at their fields,’” Johnson said. “We found out there’s about a dozen tenets of taking care of a park. We weren’t doing one.”
Johnson, who was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, later enlisted the advice of the godfather of modern turf management, George Toma in Fort Myers. Johnson went down for spring training and caught Toma at 7:30 in the morning to absorb some of the extensive knowledge Toma, the man who has led the grounds crew for every Super Bowl, has accumulated. For nearly 20 years Toma has overseen the fields at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers for Lee County and that comes after beginning his career in 1967 with the then Kansas City Athletics. It later expanded to Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs when Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium.
Through Toma, Johnson learned about calcium clay and Miesville became one of the first clubs to begin use what Johnson calls “the miracle drug of grounds crews” because of its absorption powers.
“We started learning how this stuff absorbed,” Johnson said. “We could play the next day after an incredible amount of rain.”
Johnson also learned that in order for a field to look professionally manicured, a reel mower is needed. A reel mower creates the ball roll seen on MLB fields when it cuts the grass to a length of 1 ¼ inches. The reel mower also provides the advantage that it can operate on a wet field and not cause damage, Johnson said.
The Mudhens pay special attention to the mound and batters’ box, using all clay on each to make them some of the best in the state. There is no sand mixed in and it’s similar to the mound at Target Field, Johnson said. Miesville manager Chris Olean, a former pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization has said it’s the best mound he’s pitched on.
The lips of the infield are another area where Jack Ruhr Field stands out from other parks in the attention to detail the club pays to maintain. Dirt can move into the lips, Johnson said, and create dams, resulting in poor drainage.
Regular rolling of a field also goes a long way, Johnson said.
“If you have $500 I’d spend every penny on rolling,” Johnson said. “The pros roll their fields regularly. Every baseball field should do it.”
Johnson stepped away from managing Jack Ruhr Field four years ago but the foundation of his revitalization efforts continues.
“He made the field what it is now,” said Miesville Mudhens board President Joe Meyers.
Meyers and his wife have run the concession stand for the past 14 years and logged long hours helping get the field to take its fine form.
Today, Kevin and Rod Weber head up maintenance of the field, along with a staff of high school and college kids. Mark Niebur took over the lawn care of the field last year and Miesville still attracts swarms of baseball fans, along with field appreciators.
Niebur’s staff cuts the field every two to three days, spot sprays for weeds during the season, fertilizes in the spring as well as three to four times during the season.
“The goal is to keep it looking it that way,” Niebur said.”I think everybody who helps out down there has a passion for it. It is one of the nicer fields in the state for amateur baseball. The volunteers are really good about helping out. I don’t take a lot of credit.”
The Mudhens will showcase the field this year for a different audience as the St. Paul Saints will play a game against Miesville May 12. It will be the third time the Saints have traveled to Miesville for a game. Meyers expects to draw around 800 to 1,000 fans. The club will spend around $15,000 in upgrades to the park this season, Meyers said, by adding bleachers along the third-base line and fixing concrete.
The reason the Mudhens can afford to continue to work on the field comes from the work the concession stand does and the continued investment of profits into the park, Meyers said. Around 90 percent of the money generated from concession sales goes back to the field, Meyers said.
The continued investment has a trickle down effect to each blade of grass and each speck of dirt to make Jack Ruhr Field a town ball treasure.