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Holy Cow! RF baseball hits a home run

The grandstand was full and people were lined up 8 to 10 deep along both foul lines for the long-awaited opening night at First National Bank of River Falls Field Friday, June 13. An estimated crowd of 2,000 people turned out for the historic first baseball game at the new ballpark between the River Falls Fighting Fish amateur team and the American Legion Post 121 team. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)2 / 13
The River Falls American Legion Post 121 Color Guard, led by U.S. Marine Corp veteran Monte Hanson, right, presents the colors while the St. Croix Chordsman’s Barbershop Quartet sings the national anthem as the American Legion and Fighting Fish baseball teams stand along the baselines in front of a packed crowd on opening night at First National Bank of River Falls Field at Hoffman Park Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)3 / 13
Public address announcer Bob Brenna goes over the lineups before the inaugural game at First National Bank of River Falls Field Friday night, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)4 / 13
Fans crowd the grandstand 30 minutes before opening ceremonies on opening night at First National Bank of Rive Falls Field Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)5 / 13
Fans crowd the Donor’s Plaza next to the Leinie Lodge concession stand before the pregame festivities on opening night Friday, June 13. The Donor’s Plaza contains the engraved bricks the River Falls Baseball Council sold to help reach the $800,000 fundraising goal for the new ballpark. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)6 / 13
Members of the Fighting Fish baseball team, including Joel Shafer, left, and Jack Herum, watch the pregame ceremonies from the dugout on opening night Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)7 / 13
Wendy Eidem, left, wife of RFBC President Josh Eidem, and Renee Bishop, wife of RFBC Vice President Ryan Bishop, throw out the ceremonial first pitches before an overflow crowd on opening night at First National Bank of River Falls Field at Hoffman Park Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)8 / 13
Members of the River Falls American Legion Post 121 baseball team stand along the first base line after being introduced to the crowd on opening night at First National Bank of River Falls Field at Hoffman Park Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows) 9 / 13
River Falls Fighting Fish bat boy Kenny Cosgrove high-fives the players as he is introduced along with the rest of the team during pre-game introductions Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)10 / 13
Fighting Fish players and River Falls High School alumni Trevor Gutting, catcher Tyler Hunter, Clint Kempf and Colin Pechacek break the team huddle and head for their positions before the first pitch on opening night Friday, June 13.(River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)11 / 13
River Falls Fighting Fish catcher Joel Shafer guides his son Cade, 1 ½, around the bases at the end of Friday night’s inaugural game at First National Bank of River Falls Field. Kids of all ages took advantage of the opportunity to run the bases following the game. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows) 12 / 13
Members of the River Falls American Legion Post 121 team congratulate a pair of mesmerized little girls after they ran the bases following the Post 121 team’s game against the Fighting Fish on opening night Friday, June 13. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows13 / 13

If baseball is America’s pastime, River Falls was the nation’s capital city of fun Friday night, June 13.

After over six years of planning, three years of fundraising, countless hours of volunteer labor, and the ever-growing enthusiasm of an entire community, an estimated 2,000 people flocked to First National Bank of River Falls Field at Hoffman Park for opening night at the gleaming new 315-seat facility.

The evening featured live music, speeches, surprise guests and at least one smile for each of the 2,000 hot dogs sold at the concession stand.

Oh, there was also a ballgame between the River Falls Fighting Fish amateur team and the Post 121 American Legion team.

“I was blown away,” former UW-River Falls player and original member of the Fighting Fish, Nathan Brom, said. “I was expecting it to be nice but this was incredible. To have 2,000 people come out to watch the Fish play the Legion is awesome.”

Former River Falls High School English teacher Joe Paatalo was just as impressed. The 51 year-old former Wichita State University player once faced Roger Clemens as a collegian, and after playing sporadically with the Fish the past few seasons donned the uniform one more time for the ballpark’s inaugural game.

“I’ve been playing amateur baseball 30 years,” he said. “In all those years I’ve never seen anything like this.”

People started arriving as early as 4:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. start, and by game time were packed into the grandstand and lined 8 to 10 people deep down both foul lines.

Patti Lindquist of River Falls got to the park at 4:45 p.m.

“I just couldn’t sit at home any longer,” she said. “I wanted to get out here and get my seat.”

Not just any seat, mind you. Lindquist wanted to make sure she sat in the seat with the little silver plate with her name engraved on it. The one she paid $200 for as part of the ballpark’s fundraising effort.

So was it worth it?

“I don’t think I could have had any more fun,” she said.

See the June 19 print edition of the River Falls Journal for the rest of the story.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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