Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame inductee | For more than a century players have donned caps and gloves, eager to yell ‘batter up!’
MUENSTER, Sask. — Baseball is a rite of spring for this community of 500 people.
“As soon as there is a dry spot on the diamond, there’s somebody throwing a ball around,” said Jim Korte of Muenster, longtime baseball player, coach and organizer whose car sports the licence plate, YUROUT.
This summer, the community will be inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame for its storied history and ongoing efforts in fielding competitive teams and maintaining local facilities.
Jane Shury, the hall’s president and chief executive officer, said many activities are planned for Aug. 16 in Battleford, Sask., to mark the induction and celebrate the hall’s 30th year.
The hall collects baseball memorabilia and honours those who contribute to the game, she said, citing a number of individuals, such as Korte, who were previously inducted.
Shury said the first game in Sask-atchewan (then the Northwest Territories) was played on the grounds of Fort Battleford on May 31, 1879, something that is marked each year with a re-enactment in period garb.
“Baseball played a big role in providing entertainment, a social outlet and developing our citizens who had to learn to play together and accomplish things,” said Shury.
The seed for baseball in Muenster was planted in the early 1900s. Many of the inaugural team members played ball in the Stearns County area in Minnesota before coming to St. Peter’s Colony at the same time as the monks who set up the nearby monastery.
The Muenster Red Sox joined the North Central Baseball League in 1964 and played in it until the league folded in 2003.
Korte said a game held on one of the six diamonds in Muenster attracts plenty of locals.
“We all just walk down to the ballpark to watch,” said Korte, who grew up across the street from the ball diamond and was a pitcher and outfielder.
Brent Loehr agrees.
“If you’re in Muenster, you’re involved with baseball,” he said.
Loehr was inspired by his father, Jim, and by Korte, who played until 2000 and coached many boys.
“(Korte) made me realize how cool baseball was when I was growing up,” he said.
“He coached even when his kids weren’t on the team, he organized a midget baseball league from scratch back in the ’90s, he was involved in Saskatchewan Baseball and has been heavily involved with the upkeep of our main gem of a diamond.”
Baseball took Loehr, a former catcher, to the United States, where he played college ball before returning to teach school near his hometown.
His relatives are also competitive ballplayers, and he is currently introducing his preschooler to the game in Rally Cap (T-ball).
Loehr served as a facilitator for the National Coaching Certification Program, coached with Team Saskatchewan’s elite teams and spent five summers with Major League Baseball as an envoy coach (ambassador for the game) in Europe.
He said there’s a deep love of the game in Muenster.
“People chip in to support the team,” Loehr said, noting Muenster has a reputation as “the gold standard for hosting tournaments.”
The volunteers make each game on the main diamond a special event with a scoreboard, an announcer in the press box at the top of the stands, water-absorbing shale hauled from Willowbunch, Sask., and ample seating, some of which was acquired for free from the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
The boys watch the plays unfold from covered dugouts while spectators can seek shelter from the elements inside a building near the batting cage that features a viewing gallery, concession and washrooms.
Korte said an active core of 10 volunteers oversees maintenance for the facility, which operates on a $20,000 annual operating budget.
“If we need something, we pull together,” he said.
Shury said volunteers, managers and coaches are as important for the game as players.
“If they’re not in place, they’re not going to be able to teach boys baseball,” she said.
Shury said there are challenges in sustaining baseball.
“To keep it going in this day and age is a far greater challenge than years ago because it was baseball and hockey then and now there are many other tempting things.”
Looking forward, Korte feels a new housing development in Muenster bodes well for keeping baseball numbers sustainable.
Loehr added that the community’s competitive success breeds success.
“Muenster has had a lot of success on the provincial scene,” he said. “A lot of youngsters coming up see that success and want to be a part of it.”
The 2012 Pee Wee Red Sox won the AA Provincial Championship and Western Canadian Championship the same year.
“The baseball community in Muenster is a large one and the ball programs are a point of pride for them,” said Loehr.