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Woodworking: It's retro, it's a blast and it's America's pastime happening here in our back yard

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Every once in a while I thank my lucky stars we're living in River Falls.

Not always, mind you, because every once in a while I also wish that I lived just about anywhere else, as when I look at my hazardous sidewalk or read that the city is being sued to the tune of a quarter of a million bucks because someone thought the town needed a new hotel that butts right up against the sidewalk on Main Street.

So it was reassuring this summer to go to a baseball game right here in town to watch River Falls' mighty Fighting Fish trounce the nine from Spring Valley, 10-1.

The day was beautiful, sunny and not too hot. We parked the car on a knoll behind the high school and made the short walk to the ball field, to be replaced in the coming years by a field at Hoffman Park.

At first I reached for my wallet to buy tickets and discovered the game was free!

And from then on I learned that The Fighting Fish and its supporters are doing everything right.

From up in the press booth came the dulcet tones of Fighting Fish announcer Bob Brenna, the Harry Carey of Pierce/St Croix County.

He announced that today's game was sponsored by Johnnie's Bar and that Johnnie's was giving away fried fish prepared by Pat Smith of Lazy River bar/restaurant "for as long as it lasts."

I hoped it wouldn't last too long because Johnnie's at that moment was losing money big time because most of its regulars were seated on bleachers behind the Fish dugout.

The game got underway and sped along merrily, the Fish displaying the hustle and the skill it took to win last year's state championship. They're a speedy lot, and more than once arrived at first ahead of the grounder hit to the second baseman.

One of the stars of the show was Kenny Cosgrove, the smallest batboy in Western Civilization, wearing blaze orange and struggling to lug bats longer than he back to the dugout.

When the third batter came up, Brenna announced that if the Fish managed to get him out, hotdogs would sell for $1, compliments of Boomer's Bar.

Big deal, thought I. Most hot dogs served at Falcons games aren't worth $1.

The third man struck out and we bought hot dogs. REAL hot dogs, with skins on and everything.

That happened three times in the course of the game. There were lots of singles, a few doubles and two triples, one of which hit the centerfield fence, as runners flew around the bases.

At game's end we returned to our car on the knoll, chatting with friends and neighbors and agreed that putting up a new ball park for our various baseball teams was a good thing, indeed, illustrating cohesiveness in the town that makes one feel all fuzzy inside.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, with young and old celebrating a sport that was once a fixture in small town America before the advent of TV and other events that aren't good for us or even the big-time players who are overpaid and whose performances are often underwhelming.

It's just amazing how small-town baseball is coming back.

In my hometown, they've built a new grandstand at Melby Park and the Whitehall Wolves play games as far away as Chippewa Falls.

When I was a kid, Whitehall had a great "city team," which is what we called such enterprises back then.

Earlier, in the 1930s, they won the state championship and with the prize money bought used uniforms from the Chicago Cubs and ditched the Millers name, which displeased the feed-mill owner, who sponsored the team, and became the Whitehall Cubs.

After World War II, the town put up lights and played a full schedule. I sold popcorn and pop to the hundreds of people who came every Wednesday and Sunday night.

My employers were the Johnsons, who sat in their portable popcorn wagon and argued with each other, saying very nasty unprintable things to each other, once within earshot of Pastor Olaf Birkeland. I was soon to be confirmed, so was I embarrassed!

One of the rituals at every home game was produce buyer Ed Getts, who parked his old pickup at the edge of center field. Whenever LaVerne Nelson hit a home run up on Park Drive, old Ed would honk his distinctive oo-ga, oo-ga horn and the crowd would applaud.

The Cubs, like every small-town team, played exhibition games with traveling clubs like the House of David, guys with long beards. One year, Max Lanier's All-Stars came to town.

Lanier and his teammates had jumped their pro contacts to play for big money in the Mexican League. When it folded, the American leagues forbade their coming home, so they wandered the boonies playing for whomever would hire them.

I put down my pop case, bought a program, weaseled my way into the Lanier dugout and got an autograph from Max himself. He smelled of whiskey.

I still have that program.

Go, Fish!