NEW ULM — In terms of aesthetics, New Ulm's Johnson Park is far from the prettiest baseball facility around.
Made up mostly of mortar and steel, it pales in comparison to newer parks that offer more creature comforts and grandiose concession fare. But what Johnson Park lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in memories.
The park celebrated its 75th anniversary on Saturday and former players and fans came from across the country to pay homage to the old yard that served them well in their youth and beyond. It is the centerpiece, the crown jewel, for a town that has been synonymous with baseball for as long as anyone can remember.
"To me, Johnson Park symbolizes the passion this community has for the sport of baseball," said Bob Skillings, president of the New Ulm Baseball Association and chairman of the Johnson Park 75th anniversary committee. "It's all about traditions and remembering those who came before us. Johnson Park has seen it all."
Built in 1939 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project on the site of the former North German Park, it was the vision of Fred W. Johnson, a civic leader and president of the New Ulm Park Association. He had started preliminary work on the ballpark years earlier and finally got the city administrators to back up his plans.
On Sunday afternoon, May 7, 1939, a parade of baseball players, city officials and fans marched into the newly completed diamond. Mayor Albert D. Flor threw out the first pitch to launch the inaugural season in the new facility.
The city honored Johnson's tireless work on the project by naming the field after him. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Through the years the baseball-crazed community of New Ulm has supported 16 state championship teams from VFW to Legion to high school to town team baseball. All of them were honored at a banquet Saturday night at Turner Hall as part of the celebration.