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Willmar Stingers and Rails can play ball

The Willmar City Council has given its approval for the Willmar Stingers and Willmar Rails to play baseball games on city fields, including at Bill Taunton Stadium, even though the governor's latest COVID-19 executive order isn't exactly clear on whether games are permissible at this time. Other cities and privately owned fields have allowed teams to use facilities to play.

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Baseball can return to Willmar, as the Willmar City Council has given its blessing for both the Willmar Rails and Willmar Stingers to play home games on city fields. Tom Larson File Photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR โ€” The crack of the bat will soon be heard again at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. The Willmar City Council, after a lengthy discussion during Monday's council meeting, approved allowing the Willmar Stingers and Willmar Rails baseball teams to play games this summer.

"Let's play baseball," said Councilor Rick Fagerlie at the end of the meeting, following the vote to allow games to start up.

Both the Rails and the Stingers asked for council approval to play, following in the footsteps of other teams in other cities, including Spicer.

"All the other teams in the league for the Rails have approved it. We have not approved it for the Rails," who have their first home game scheduled for June 28, Fagerlie said. The Stingers would follow with games scheduled in early July.

The motion to allow games at the stadium was approved 5 to 3, and a letter will now be sent to the Minnesota Baseball Association giving Willmar's permission to allow the Rails to play.

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Councilors Kathy Schwantes, Audrey Nelsen and Fernando Alvarado voted against the measure. The main concern was the governor's latest executive order amid the COVID-19 pandemic does not exactly allow baseball games to be played.

"The way this motion was made, it was as if it was in direct defiance of the executive orders," said Schwantes. "I have a real problem with that. How do we justify that to the other businesses and organizations that wanted to open but were not able to do so because they followed the executive rules?"

There was also concern about the risk of spreading the virus at a baseball game, even one with a smaller crowd.

"If there is an outbreak because someone was at the ball game, and you can tie it back that all these people became ill because someone was asymptomatic and they went out and spread it, how are you going to feel about that?" Schwantes said.

City Administrator Brian Gramentz and City Attorney Robert Scott said the executive order is somewhat ambiguous regarding whether games are allowed or not, though the Minnesota Department of Health is recommending games not be played. Scott said he believes any city liability is low and that the city can say that they are allowing the use of the facility but that users and spectators bear the responsibility to follow the guidelines.

"A lot of cities are facing this decision," Scott said.

The Minnesota Baseball Association, the governing board for amateur teams such as the Rails, has a list of guidelines teams must follow if they are going to play games. If a team does not follow those rules, the association will no longer allow those teams to play, according to the association's website at mnbaseball.org .

"It looks pretty safe to me," Fagerlie said.

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The Willmar Stingers, part of the Northwoods Baseball League, have been working for a few weeks now on their plan for a safe start to the season. Information can be found on the team's website at northwoodsleague.com/willmar-stingers .

"I am confident they have things in place," said Councilor Julie Asmus.

Councilor Andrew Plowman, while recognizing that everyone just wants to do what is best for the community and to keep everyone safe, said he believes it is now time to open everything up, including baseball fields.

Businesses which have been able to reopen have had to follow certain requirements and guidelines. While they might not be happy about it, Plowman said, they have been doing it successfully and baseball will be no different.

"At some point, regular life is going to have to resume and there is going to be some danger, whether or not we like it," Plowman said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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