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Kevin Schnepf, Published July 26 2009

Historic stadium provides backdrop for Enderlin amateur baseball

Enderlin, N.D. - The overcast sky spits rain on Hendrickson Field – a baseball field that has been a part of Enderlin since the 1920s.

“Don’t know if we’re going to get this game in,” says Don Dick, manager of the Enderlin Indies amateur baseball team for the last 11 years. His grandpa managed the Indies in the 1950s and 60s.

Enderlin players filter into the Indies Clubhouse – the press box that sits above the first-base dugout. Plaques honoring 10 Indies state championships from 1988 to 2007 hang on the wall. A case of Busch Lite is being chilled in a mini-refrigerator.

It’s 6:15 p.m., 45 minutes before a game against the Kindred Kings, when Dick gets a call from one of his players. Parker Wiltse says he’ll be heading to the park once he changes a diaper on his 5-month old daughter.

It’s 7 p.m. when the rain lets up and Enderlin players start taking the wet tarp off the batters box and pitching mound. That’s when Kindred realizes it will be one player short.

Dane Vekrey of Rock Springs, Wyo., – visiting his cousin Logan Midthun, Enderlin’s pitcher – agrees to suit up and play right field for Kindred.

“That’s amateur baseball,” Midthun says.

Hendrickson caretaker

Kevin Bratland, who has been playing with the Indies since 1985, rakes in a bag of drying dust on the rain-soaked batters box – a spot where he will be crouched down as Enderlin’s catcher.

“This is my thing,” says the 43-year-old Bratland, known in Enderlin not only as the high school and American Legion baseball coach, but as the caretaker of Hendrickson Field. “It’s a labor of love, I guess.”

Bratland helped install a grass infield and sprinkler system in 2001. The Wrigley Field-like ivy – maintained by Midthun’s mother, Janet – was added to the outfield fence in 1999.

It’s 7:30 p.m. when a Canadian Pacific train roars by beyond the outfield fence – a common sight at Hendrickson Field. One half hour behind schedule, Midthun fires the first pitch.

Only two fans sit in the wooden grandstand behind home plate – Wiltsie’s girlfriend Cayla Kappenman and their freshly diapered daughter Brynn.

“One night, we may get 50 fans, the next night 5,” says the 52-year-old Dick, who works at the sunflower plant east of Enderlin. “I think the rain scared a lot of people away tonight. That’s amateur baseball.”

Paying your dues

Midthun, who will be a senior at Valley City State where he plays baseball, throws a high fastball by his cousin.

“Give him a chance,” a Kindred player jokingly yells from the dugout.

Midthun starts laughing, forcing him to step off the pitching rubber. Seconds later, Midthun’s cousin stares at a third strike.

By the fifth inning, Enderlin builds a 12-0 lead with a lineup that also includes first baseman Dusty Nelson, a landscaper in Enderlin; 35-year-old second baseman Pat Adair, the Lisbon High School principal who has been playing amateur ball for 17 years; shortstop Patrick Dougherty, a Lisbon standout who now attends North Dakota State; third baseman Corey Lindemann, an electrician in Enderlin; left fielder Tyson Hoy, a railroad engineer in Enderlin whose dad, Archie, played for the Indies; center fielder Joe Krivarchka, another Lisbon standout who coaches the Lisbon Legion team.

As Krivarchka comes running in from center-field, public address announcer Tyler Pfaff pipes in: “Joe, you get any phone numbers out there in center field?” – referring to the five girls seated underneath the football press box.

Josh Berg, who played for Enderlin last year, is Kindred’s new pitcher. “We traded him for a six-pack of Grain Belt,” jokes Dick.

With Enderlin leading 14-3, it appears the game will end in the seventh inning. As the teams prepare to shake hands, Adair asks the Kindred players if they want to keep playing.

“As long as they are here, we might as well keep playing,” Adair reasons.

Kindred agrees to a nine-inning game, much to the chagrin of Zach Michaelson – one of two Enderlin Legion players who were assigned to umpire the game.

“Being an ump is like paying your dues,” Midthun says. “Ump now, play for the Indies later.”

It’s nearing 10 p.m. Brynn can he heard crying in the grandstand. Cattle can be heard mooing in a pasture across Highway 46. The squeaking and grinding of boxcars can be heard from the railroad yard on the east side of Enderlin.

The game ends on a groundout. Thinking the throw is going to first base, Michaelson focuses his eyes on the first base bag to make the final out call. But the throw goes to second base.

Not even seeing the play, Michaelson calls the runner out. Players on both teams laugh, shake hands and are ready to drink one of those Busch Lites.

That’s amateur baseball.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com