Kolpack: Fargo Post 2 forever tied to Maris’ legacy
FARGO — Volunteers were busy doing what they do to keep Jack Williams Stadium in good shape on Tuesday morning in preparation for this week’s American Legion Central Plains Regional baseball tournament.
It’s a facility that will turn 50 years old in 2016, and it takes a labor of love to keep it going. Same goes for the Post 2 program as a whole. What it has in its back pocket is history and tradition, and any talk of messing with it can be dangerous.
But I’m here to tell you that it’s time to seriously think about messing with it.
The bar-room talk around the Legion circles this summer is possibly changing the name of the team to the Fargo Post 2 61s. Yes, the most famous alumnus the program has produced, and will most likely ever produce, is Roger Maris and his 61 home runs in 1961 will forever be tied to this community.
Kids can associate with the 61s. The logo is still cool. The term Post 2 means very little to them.
Maris’ retired No. 9 is on the outfield fence. The Roger Maris Gardens on the concourse level honors his accomplishments. Maris played for Fargo Legion from 1949-51.
Then along came the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in the mid-1990s and their Newman Outdoor Field, and immediately the baseball option for the casual fan took a major upgrade.
The days of an open checkbook from the Legion post are long gone. Clubs that were once thriving are not. The days of a state title every four or five years are gone (Post 2 has won the state legion title twice — 2005 and 2013 — in the last 20 years). The days of kids growing up solely wanting to play for Post 2 are gone.
There are too many options out there, from the new Post 400, more lake cabins, summer hockey teams, summer basketball teams, high school baseball or just simple lack of competitive interest in the summer.
What Post 2 has that nobody else has is Maris. His legacy will never go away, forever tied to the New York Yankees and breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. It’s not unique in Legion baseball — the team in Las Vegas is Post 51, in reference to Area 51. The minor league team in Vegas is known as the 51s.
The Millard South Legion team near Omaha, Neb., changed its name to the 52s to honor primary donor and Minnesota Twins pitcher Brian Duensing, who wears No. 52.
Some would argue the Maris name has never been more popular, especially in Fargo. His gravesite and the Roger Maris Museum at West Acres Mall are popular stops for traveling baseball fans.
The thought is to make the baseball field another stop. Agreed, said Jim Pettersen, the vice chairman of the Post 2 baseball board.
“It’s a wonderful place that the guys ahead of us gave us,” he said. “But I think it’s time now to make some upgrades and make this still the classiest ballpark in North Dakota for American Legion ball.”
Pettersen said the board has already met with an instructor from the North Dakota State architecture program to make it part of a class project. The kicker, of course, is stadium upgrades don’t grow on trees.
It takes money.
“Funding will be big,” admitted Pettersen. “We’ll be talking to people in the future to try and get as many people behind us.”
Here’s my thought, and this could be playing with fire with the traditionalists: change the name to Roger Maris Field at Jack Williams Stadium.
I’m no fundraising genius and I don’t know any details of the reported $120 million settlement in 2005 the Maris family had in its distributor dispute with Anheuser-Busch, but tying the field and the program to the family can’t hurt to attract a future gift.
Pettersen pointed to the Jack Williams Stadium sign at the corner of 12th Avenue North and Elm Street. In it is a list of supporters from way back when who contributed to the original stadium construction.
“They gave us this thing. Now it’s our turn to keep it going,” he said.
Athletics are like a shark. You have to keep moving forward or you’ll die. It’s time for the Fargo Post 2 61s to play at Roger Maris Field at Jack Williams Stadium.
Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.