By the time the Gibbon Area Uncommon Band of Renown launched into a pre-game rendition of baseball’s national anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” over 500 people had gathered Sunday in the city park. It was Gibbon Funfest 2013, and like many small communities, there was plenty of music, food, beer, friends and stories a-flowing.
The Uncommon Band had opened the weekend festivities with its “Music in the Park” festivities, tooting from the historic band shell, nestled in amongst the trees just a block off Main Street. But the true celebration came Sunday, as the Gibbon Reds hosted the New Ulm Brewers in Tomahawk amateur, town team baseball.
To say this community of 800 has embraced its Reds doesn’t do this story justice.
“It’s the best thing going in Gibbon,” beams Darwin Buerkle, president of the Reds’ baseball association. “We’re having a good time.”
Buerkle played for the Reds during the 1950s and ‘60s. Town team baseball was still going strong throughout rural Minnesota in those days. Over 26,000 fans attended the 1958 state amateur tournament at New Ulm’s Johnson Park, a level of attendance not reached since. Gibbon’s Reds appeared in the 1964 state tournament at Brownton. It was their last of three state births, the others coming in 1930 and 1935.
But as in other small towns, changing transportation patterns, entertainment options and aging demographics slowly eroded baseball’s prominence in many communities. Gibbon was no different, as young players moved away and the local town team struggled through the ‘70s. And then came that 25-year gap without baseball in Gibbon, a span that at one time Buerkle thought might last his remaining lifetime.
That all changed in 2005, as then Mayor Dennis Nau threw the Gibbon City Council’s full support behind a dream of a young player-manager Tony Stadtherr – to recharge the community’s baseball field and the Reds. Today, Buerkle’s not alone in his “best thing” in Gibbon assessment.
“The community of Gibbon really needs to be proud of the Reds and what they’ve been able to do for amateur baseball in the area,” states long-time Tomahawk League President Myron Seidl. “They’ve really kind of showed what town team baseball should be.”
“There’s no other place around like Gibbon.”
It hasn’t mattered to the community of Gibbon that the Reds’ success on the field has been limited. And Seidl, now 55, who still plays for the over-35 Searles Bullheads baseball team and played and managed the Stark Longhorns through four decades, downplays the wins and losses. Big crowds, community spirit and playing opportunities for young and old players alike set the Gibbon Reds apart.
Gibbon was able to put several key ingredients together, according to Seidl, in launching the Reds in 2005 — an active mayor and broad community support; a youthful organizer with a group of willing players; and a revitalized field in the middle of town. Now nicknamed “the Mac,” the Gibbon baseball field was named after the late William “Mac” McGowan, longtime Reds manager, former president of the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association, who was elected to its Hall of Fame in 1964.
And then there’s Wade Werner, who Buerkle considers the glue that’s held it all together. Werner teaches at the GFW school district’s elementary site in Gibbon. His passion for history and baseball helped create a perfect fit for the Gibbon Reds and its importance to the community.
“I think people that have a true passion for baseball and its history always envision an environment which is supportive of America’s national pastime,” says Werner, who has evolved into a local historian, compiling pictures and documents for the Gibbon community. A 1996 GFW graduate, he’s by 10 years the senior Gibbon Reds player. And enjoying every minute of it, “watching kids chasing foul balls and old-timers telling their stories.”
“Being part of something like the Reds has fulfilled those dreams of mine,” Werner said.
And the dreams of Darwin Buerkle and many other Gibbon community residents.