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Lion's Memorial Park
Lion's Memorial Park

Bird Island gives park a makeover

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sports Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

BIRD ISLAND - If Target Field is the newest pride and joy of downtown Minneapolis, this town of 1,200 citizens on U.S. Highway 212 can point to Lion's Memorial Park with similar affection.

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The ballpark is a monument to community spirit on the level prairie. Set on the west edge of town on land where the Bird Island-Lake Lillian football team put together consecutive state titles 30 years ago, the modernized ballpark is more than ready to host the 2010 State Amateur Baseball Tournament.

The 450 seat covered grandstand is 10 years old but much is brand new.

Mike Nagel, co-chairman of the baseball tournament committee with Merlin Athmann, said it was truly a grass-roots endeavor.

"To build a park like this right now would be two million dollars," said Nagel in his optometry office in Olivia this week. "A group of people had a vision but not a blueprint. Like a carving, it just happened as we went to work."

Lion's Memorial Park now has a new concrete-block concession/rest-room/storage building and dugout along first base. A long, sloping sidewalk leads up a berm from along the right-field fence to a plaza over the dugout.

The visual similarity to Green Lake Diamonds is not coincidental.

"Steve Rambow (of the New London-Spicer baseball association) gave us a lot of ideas, including the plaza," said Nagel. "We borrowed a lot of what they did."

Most all the project labor and some of the material were donated - carpentry, railing work, cement block and the dirt required for the berm.

"Farmers would arrive with wagon loads of black dirt and then they'd give us a check besides, as much as $500," said Nagel.

The equipment hours were donated; city public works director Dave Woelfel did the bricks on his own time, said Nagel. There were many others who made immense contributions of their time and skills.

"We probably had a thousand hours of time donated and the city and mayor were always there for us," he said. "We had $30,000 of Span Crete donated."

Some materials were purchased. Nagle estimated the total investment in real cash at $350,000.

There was resistance at first in the community to the renovation but it has been diminished by the success of the project. He estimates that the investment will be returned four-fold.

The revenue from the gate for the 48-team tournament goes 25 percent to the state association and 75 percent to the participating teams.

The local baseball associations retrieves their investments and hopefully puts money in their treasury through program sales and advertising, concessions and sale of shirts, caps and novelties. The impact on the communities should be felt especially at restaurants and motels.

Bird Island hosts two games tonight and four on Saturday, including games involving Sacred Heart and Raymond, qualifiers out of the Cornbelt South League.

Nagel believes the Bird Island ballpark will hold its own against the big stadiums that have hosted state.

"I think our marketing director Derek Stovern said it best," Nagel related, "when he said something like, 'Our field may not be the biggest or have the brightest lights, but you can feel the aura here because of the blood, sweat and tears of the community."

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