A history of local ball [UPDATED]Published 7:42am Monday, June 30, 2014 Updated 5:05pm Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Baseball tradition is rich in FF
Fergus Falls has experienced a number of great baseball moments, from a state championship town ball team in 1950 to watching one team face off against African American legend Satchel Paige. Those great moments would have been lost if not for the efforts of early residents looking to find a bit of entertainment playing America’s pastime.
Early baseball teams were organized in town during the late 1800 as a form of entertainment — for those who loved to play and watch the sport. The Fergus Falls Advocate reported on the formation of a baseball club in April of 1872, when a committee was appointed to draft a club constitution.
“This is a beautiful game — for those who love rapid exercise in warm weather,” the article read. “— but our individual preference would be to lay in the shade of some friendly oak, and see the rest do the active part of the business.”
For all the larger-than-life figures that baseball created over the years, it’s only fitting that the game’s pioneer in Fergus Falls was one of the towns most infamous characters.
The game would solidify around Prince Albert Honeycutt. Honeycutt helped organized the North Star Baseball Club in 1873 and played left field for the squad.
Honeycutt, an African American, came to Fergus Falls one year before, moving with the Captain James Compton family from Illinois. Honeycutt had served as a mess boy in the Union Army in Compton’s unit. He ran a barber shop and also ran for mayor later in life.
Perhaps without even knowing it, Honeycutt established a sporting legacy beyond Fergus Falls. According to baseball historian Steven Hoffbeck, Honeycutt is the first recorded instance of an African American baseball player in Minnesota.
Honeycutt continued to play outfield for many years to come, as the city and surrounding areas saw the formation of teams like the Young Americans, Hoss Marines, Ancient Americans and the Musculars. In those days, it was common to see high scoring games, with teams often reaching 10, 20 and even more than 50 runs a game. Rules were still being perfected, as they were across the country. One report recalling the old days of baseball stated that there were “no shin pads, breast plates, face masks or padded gloves. The ball had to be delivered under the hip and was really a toss. A foul was never a strike and home runs were frequent.”
Baseball continued in its popularity here running up to the turn of the century. In 1887, the “Red River Baseball League” was formed. Teams from Grand Forks, Wahpeton-Breckenridge and Fergus Falls all competed. The local team was managed by Walter H. Clary, who had a reputation for keeping a well run squad.
“The Fergus Falls baseball club has the reputation of being the best disciplined team in the league,” the Fargo Republican wrote in 1887. “Manager Clary has every man under contract, and imposes fines for indifferent playing, using profane language on the grounds or for any violation of the national playing rules.”
The 1900s ushered in a new club, as Fergus Falls High School had its first official team in 1900. In 1908, high school and college leagues were formed in the city. The Fergus Falls High School, Park Region Luther College and the Northwestern College in Fergus Falls all participated in play, which was used to “arouse greater interest in one of the healthiest of sports,” according to the Fergus Falls Weekly Journal.
As other area teams joined the league, the stakes and competition grew.
“The league is planning to secure a trophy which will be played for from year to year and will become the property of any team that wins it three year in succession,” noted an article in the Fergus Falls Weekly Journal.
Games and other teams were formed at the State Hospital, where the game was also popular. According to an article published by the Fergus Fall Weekly Journal in 1903, the first ever indoor baseball game in Fergus Falls took place in the amusement hall at the state hospital.
It was from these humble, somewhat obscure beginnings that the game continued to grow in town as it did across the country. Eventually, the game would come to resemble its modern play. But the importance of its beginnings and those who helped grow the game’s popularity can not be overstated.
Canes still playing for the love of the game
On a hot summer day in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesotans spend time at the lake. Still others travel to their local ball field to cheer on their town team. In Fergus Falls, the Hurricanes carry on a tradition that started in the 1870s and still captivates fans as the field rings out cracks of wooden bats and the players display flashes of leather.
The Hurricanes have found success in 25 seasons as a town team, making 16 Class C state tournament appearances since in 1992. Current head coach Dave Johnson attributes the success of the Canes to great youth development and coaching in the Fergus Falls area.
“The success of the Canes is due to the strong youth programs we have, which keeps us supplied with quality players,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can continue the success for a long time to come.”
Though not the first, the Hurricanes were formed in 1989 as a way of bringing back town ball to Fergus Falls. As a member of the Minnesota Baseball Association, the Hurricanes became one of 310 teams in three divisions that play across the state of Minnesota. Johnson says that the future of town baseball has stayed the same in regards to the number of teams playing, but the decline of leagues in northern Minnesota has forced those teams to develop different travel schedules.
The Hurricanes name has a unique story, as it was formulated through a combination of its sponsor and one of college baseball’s powerhouse teams. Hardee’s was the team’s official sponsor when it first took the field and the jerseys had a large “H” on the front. Adapting to its uniforms, the team chose the name Hurricanes, partially because of the Miami Hurricane baseball team, which was dominant in college baseball in the 80s. As the team began to modernize its look, it ditched the H and went with a C — for Canes — reminiscent of that of the Cincinnati Reds.
Most of the Hurricanes are former Fergus Falls Otter baseball players with a few imports sprinkled in. Players are given recommendations by college coaches and former Canes players to be apart of the team. Johnson contacts those players and assembles the team each season to compete in the Countryside League.
“It’s a lot of fun coming back from college for the summer and playing with guys who I grew up playing ball with,” current Hurricanes player Darin Stanislawski said. “It’s hard to stay connected sometimes with people you went to high school with, so it gives us that unique opportunity.”
The benefit of having several skilled players allows the team to compete at a high level, even if they don’t see much practice time. Johnson explained that work schedules and college get in the way of any real formal practices, but the expectations for most of the players coming into a season are high. The Hurricanes rely on previous chemistry and, for younger players, a continuation from their spring high school and college leagues.
Although they are not paid for playing, the Hurricane players bring a passion to the game that you can only get from true ball players. Johnson sees this as the best aspect of being a part of Fergus Falls’ rich baseball legacy.
“Seeing people put all the time and effort in to be a successful baseball team, knowing that they are doing it simply for the love of the game.”