One hundred years ago, the great Babe Ruth visited Sleepy Eye to play in an exhibition game. This fall, in memory of that famed barnstorming event, there will be a celebration.
“It’s a celebration of small town baseball and Sleepy Eye, and baseball in general,” said Randy Krzmarzick, one of the volunteer organizers for the 100th anniversary Babe Ruth event to be held in Sleepy Eye on Saturday, Oct. 15.
“The fans have fun with it.”
Babe Ruth’s visit to Sleepy Eye all those years ago was momentous not only because the famed New York Yankee came to visit a small town. It was also noted for the time when he belted two home runs, including one he described decades later as the longest he had ever hit.
Baseball enthusiasts and local boosters will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ruth’s very real visit to Sleepy Eye with a variety of events. The schedule includes a plaque-dedication ceremony at the diamond where Ruth squared off against New York Yankees teammate Bob Meusel and a collection of amateur players on Oct. 16, 1922.
The Sleepy Eye Ballpark, where the day’s festivities will take place, is among the last remaining fields in the United States on which Ruth played.
“It’s a cool list,” said Christina Andres, executive director of the Sleepy Eye Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“There are currently three standing ballparks where he hit home runs. Fenway, Wrigley and us. It’s not terrible company to be a part of.”
The schedule for Oct. 15 is for a 1 p.m. gathering at Sleepy Eye Ballpark, 500 7th Ave. SW. There all ages are welcome to play catch and take swings where Ruth played. It’s free to attend, though concessions provided by the Sleepy Eye Baseball Association will be sold.
At 3 p.m. on Oct. 15, a plaque-dedication ceremony will be held at the ballpark, followed by a tribute to event organizer Dean Brinkman, who died recently at the age of 59.
That evening, a private, ticketed, exclusive event will be held at Sleepy Eye Brewing Co. starting at 5 p.m. Speakers, beer and a loaded hot dog bar will be featured. A “Barnstorming Brew” beer release will also occur. Organizers hope this sells out with 100 guests welcome.
At 7 p.m., a private event room opens to the public for more talk about baseball and Ruth. The Sleepy Eye Brewing Co. will be open until 11 p.m.
Hot dogs and beer were two Ruth staples, event organizers say, and will be paired with presentations by baseball historians, special guests and live music by Sue Nelson, the organist for the Minnesota Twins and a native of nearby Nicollet.
Scheduled speakers include Stew Thornley, Minnesota sports historian and official scorer for the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Timberwolves; Dana Kiecker, retired major league pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who was born in Sleepy Eye and grew up in rural Fairfax; Pat Fischer, TV sports producer; and Krzmarzick, local baseball historian and columnist.
“He was one of the biggest stars,” Krzmarzick said of Ruth, “back when baseball was the national pastime. He was one of our first national celebrities. Media was becoming national with radio and newspapers and he was one of the first superstars in America.”
This 100th year anniversary celebration is the first community-wide celebration of its kind, though organizers say they might look at holding it every year or every five years. It’ll depend on how this fall’s event is received and attended.
“It should be an interesting night,” Andres said. “We’re enthusiastic about it and hope other people are too. It’s been kind of a hidden gem that has not really been promoted all that much in our hometown even though it’s such a unique and specific thing.
“We’re kind of seeing what the draw is and what the feeling of the crowd will be,” she said. “If someone would venture back every year, we would love to hold it every year. We would like to continue celebrating it in some manner or fashion for sure.”
Go to sleepyeyebrewing.com for $40 tickets to the evening brewery gathering.
“It’s for anyone who knows of Babe and his baseball lore,” Andres said. “It’s neat. People are welcome to come and share in our history and in those moments of being out here. We hope that people are able to revel and share in the experience that Babe shared with us in 1922.”