Something sweet in Maple Island

Published 12:51 pm Saturday, July 3, 2010

There’s no Teflon roof, but there is a reason Maple Island Ballpark, home to one of the area’s most competitive softball leagues, is dubbed “The Maple Dome.”

A 24-foot tall fence surrounds the field and the mature oak trees that fill the park create the illusion that you’re playing in a dome; but the sky has nowhere to hide.

“Trees make a ballpark,” league manager Ron Hanson said. “That’s one of the things that make this place dome-like.”

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The ballpark, that Hanson assertively refers to as having been there forever, hosts softball league Tuesday through Thursday; men’s league Tuesday and Wednesday nights, co-ed Thursday night.

Most take it seriously.

“A lot of (the teams) aren’t out here for the fun of it,” Hanson said. “The jokes and beer drinking and all that. They’re out here to play serious ball.”

Many Maple Island league players also play in Albert Lea on Thursday nights, getting in a couple nights of league play to prepare them for weekend tournaments.

“I’m sure you’re going to find guys who are playing 12 weekends a year,” Hanson said. “They need an extra night of league to prepare them for the weekend and to get their swings in.”

The Maple Island Softball League is home to many long standing rivalries. It’s not a rivalry between sponsors, but the players themselves, because many teams change their names from year to year.

“Produce Bank and Northwestern Mutual is one of the better rivalries,” Hanson said. “Those teams have been around here forever. The Nasty Habit and Pro Trucking is always a big matchup.”

While many players play in Maple Island and Albert Lea, not everyone plays on the same team. A player you played on Wednesday night may be your opponent Thursday night, creating rivalries among individual players.

“It’s pretty much friendly,” Hanson said. “But there are still bragging rights.”

The ballpark and league are also an important part of the Maple Island community. Hanson credits the quality facility for attracting spectators.

“There are a lot of community people who come out and watch our games,” Hanson said. “People like coming out here because it’s a quality facility.”

The ballpark’s upkeep is funded through pull tabs and auctioning off the concession stand. The $300 team fee also helps pay for the umpires’ service, which can cost up to $180 a week. Sponsors typically pay for teams’ entry fees.

According to Hanson, the ballpark has struggled financially since Diamond Jo’s Casino opened in Northwood, Iowa, because pull tab sales declined.

“When people in Freeborn County wanted to gamble, they would go to the casino,” he said. “That really hurt the ballpark.”

The ballparks revenue is back on the rise, though, and it will continue hosting softball league for years to come.