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Buttermakers Baseball:

Best buy in sports

  

By Wally Shaver

 

Hadley, Minnesota – home of the Buttermakers. Who? Now come on, you mean to tell me you haven’t heard of the Hadley Buttermakers? This is Class C town ball at its best. And where else in America will you find a team with a nickname like that? 

And what the heck is a Buttermaker? Well let me share with you one of the great Minnesota delights of summer – Hadley Buttermaker Baseball. 

I first became acquainted with Hadley as a student at Southwest State University in Marshall in the 1970’s. While attending most of my classes at this fledgling institution, I met my future wife, Connie, who hails from this small farming town 30 miles south of Marshall and five miles west of Slayton. 

Slayton is the county seat of Murray County, which they stole from nearby Currie during a bloodless, midnight coup back in the late 1800’s, although rumor has it someone got a nasty splinter yielding a rough-hewn axe handle.  Slayton got the courthouse while Currie settled in as a small town on the southern shore of Southwest Minnesota’s jewel on the prairie, Lake Shetek.

The lake, and a desire to return to my wife’s roots, brought us back to farm country eight years ago. Now, a small cabin on the lake, a great group of friends, the Left Field Loonies and Buttermaker Baseball draw us back most weekends.

It wasn’t long after the coup that the axe handles were smoothed down and turned into baseball bats as Minnesota’s oldest ball team was first organized in 1882. If my Canadian math is correct, the Buttermakers are 127 years old – Minnesota’s oldest baseball team (if there is an older team in the state still playing, please correct me). 

Back in the heyday, Hadley was a bustling town that maxed out with 350 residents. A primary business was the Creamery. Motorized transportation didn’t exist, leading to a plethora of small communities five to 12 miles apart around our state, as this was the limit of a day’s travel back in an era of horses and wagons. Naturally, the Hadley Creamery produced a variety of dairy products used by the locals, including the butter the Creamery churned out. 

Hence, Buttermakers, and the name has endured to this day. We decided to become season ticket holders.

Now I would imagine most of you would think being a season ticket holder means you get to pick your own seat. Not the case – there aren’t any. Well, a very small bleacher and a few picnic tables. Everyone usually just brings their favorite chair and finds a spot. I like sitting among the knuckleheads in left field – the Loonies. At least that’s what Jim Johnson’s shirt says. And it’s not really in left field – there’s a swamp behind the fence. We’re actually down the third base line just past the base, under the trees. 

Since there are no seats to claim for all home games, the key incentive is you get to pick your season ticket number – I chose 13, my hockey number. My wife took 8, but was quickly quelled by long-time friend Tom Berg who commented, “You can’t have 8, that’s Myron’s number!” 

Myron Bennett is the team manager, third base coach, groundskeeper, chief organizer and manager of the Summit Bar, Hadley’s only retail enterprise. I don’t know how long he’s had the bar, but he’s been running the team for 23 years and has never taken a nickel in return. He even buys his own season ticket; it is number 8, also his jersey number. That is until we showed up for the home opener, collected our season pass, and Connie noticed Myron had given her his number 8. That’s the kind of guy Myron is – he gave her the number off his back.

For my season ticket of 15 home games, I paid $25. With that, I get one item of my choice each game from the concession stand. It could be a burger, brat, steak sandwich, beer or pop. This has got to be the best buy in all of sports.  I didn’t even know that was part of the deal my first year. I was happy to buy a burger, brat or beer for $2.25 each. Parking is free, but don’t get to close to the field – foul balls have made for breezy trips home in the past. 

Crowds are huge at these games – at least 80 to 150 a game. Not bad for a town of 59 – at least we think so. Sitting among the trees with a dozen or so Left Field Loonies, we tried to figure the actual population. It depended on whether so-and-so moved to Fulda, or the family in the stately white house next to the ball field had a baby – which they did last week.

There’s one half-dead tree (no, not one of the Loonies, an ash tree) in our section. Tom and I want to bring in a chain saw, but mayor Rick Like says we can’t. “Still a little life left in it,” he said.

We pleaded, “Yeah but we could leave a stump and attach a top to it for a table and have great box seats. Could probably fetch $30 for that season ticket.” 

Well it made sense to us – might have to ponder another Murray County coup.

Sunday, July 19 was Fan Appreciation Day. It was the third game in three days for Hadley. The Buttermakers lost 5-3 to the Windom Pirates. Following the game, it was a free for all. No not a bench clearing brawl, but free corn on the cob, free watermelon, free beer and free root beer floats – even inviting the Pirates and their fans to join in. Then they gave away a couple dozen door prizes. Man, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Three weeks ago, Henry, the chief cook (but not bottle washer), had a day off from the grilling. So when concessions boss Kathy Herding asked, I volunteered Berg and myself to step in.

Tom said, “But I don’t grill – I’m not sure when to turn the stuff.”

 I said, “It’s simple – when it looks like a hockey puck on one side, flip it.” 

Henry was back the next game.

Hadley games are always in the afternoons or early evening – as beautiful and well kept as this small town ballpark is, there is no budget for lights. Night games mean the team plays on the road.  The Twins Community Fund did grant the Buttermakers a few thousand dollars a couple of years ago for new dugouts, fence and field improvements which was greatly appreciated and still talked about among the locals, many of whom willingly volunteer their time to keep this remarkable tradition going.

While many other teams have come and gone over the years, a century plus tradition of Buttermakers baseball continues to play out surrounded by the corn and bean fields of Murray County. If you ever have a few hours to kill in southwest Minnesota, head west out of Slayton for five minutes and turn right at the Hadley corner to witness the longest-standing tradition baseball has to offer in the state – it’ll only cost you $2 to get in. 

At almost every game, you’ll have two beers – Luke Beers plays left field and his brother Ryan, a former Gopher, is the catcher. Otherwise, it’ll cost you $2.25 for the liquid kind, unless of course, the designated beer batter on the opposing team strikes out. Then beer is only $1.50. Man, do we like to see that guy strike out.

It really doesn’t get any better than this. I’ll be over with the Left Field Loonies.