Baseball in Hamburg – A Legend in Progress
On any given summer night in the the hamlet of Hamburg, you will immediately notice ten light towers hovering over the village. It comes as a surprise to many that those towers light up one of the best amateur baseball facilities in the State of Minnesota. How did such a sleepy little town become the home of such a venue? The answer to that question and many others lie in the long and storied history of baseball in Hamburg.
The Early Years
The game of baseball in Hamburg goes back so far that nobody really knows when it began. We do know that there was a team called the Hamburg Stars around the turn of the century. The well-known battery of pitcher Otto Siewert Sr. and catcher Jerry Englen highlighted Hamburg teams from 1900 through 1920.
Great pitching has always been the hallmark of Hamburg teams. It was no different in the 1920s and early ’30s when George “Shorty” Schrader took the mound. In fact, Schrader was drafted by Chaska and played a prominent role helping them to a Class B state championship.
It was about this time that the Crow River Valley League, one of the most venerable in the state, decided to allow teams to hire pitchers. Seeing that this would not be in their best interest, Hamburg decided to play in the Tomahawk League for a couple of seasons. In 1935, Hamburg became a charter member of the Dairy Belt League along with Plato, Winsted, Lake Marion and Lester Prairie. This league only lasted a few years, so the locals decided to tough it out against the hired guns of the Crow River Valley League. Despite the absence of hired pitchers, the Hamburg team did very well. The teams in the late 1930s had to play their home games in Norwood because a housing development replaced the original Hamburg Park. As it turns out, this may have been the most significant event in Hamburg Baseball history.
The Birth of Hawk Field
Immediately following World War II, Hamburg became a member of the S-C-S league, which was composed of teams from Arlington, Green Isle, Belle Plaine, Cologne, Carver, Chanhassen, Hydes Lake, Norwood and Hamburg. Because Hamburg still did not have its own park, it played its home games in Green Isle. In 1947, the club purchased four acres on the north side of town and started to build the current ballpark. The standing joke is that they’ve been at it ever since. The park was completed in 1948 and in true Hamburg style, a celebration with a parade was held to recognize the event.
The Hamburg Baseball Club incorporated in April 1950 and has operated as a not-for-profit organization since that date. The Crow River Valley League also re-entered the picture. By this time the league had gone away from hiring pitchers. The 1950s also saw team fortunes improve somewhat with several second place finishes and a league championship in 1961. In regional play, that team eliminated Rogers, but was beaten by Saint Bonifacius, the eventual state champions.
Going to the Show
The 1960s began what has been a common theme in Hamburg Baseball, constant improvement of the park. The first lighting system was purchased from Glencoe in 1965 and installed on new 90-foot poles. This was all done with volunteer labor, another common theme in the club’s history. Night baseball seemed to bring out the best in the locals. Under the direction of Manager Loran “Lefty” Graupmann, the team made the state tournament at Jordan in 1969. That team also decided to adopt Lefty’s other nickname “Hawk”, as their own and so “Hawkamania” was born. Hamburg’s first tournament team defeated Windom, but lost to Alexandria by one run in the second round.
Lefty led the club back to the state tournament at St. Cloud in 1974. That team won two games before losing 3-1 to Cyrus in the quarterfinals. 1975 saw the Hawks make another run at the state championship in Delano before losing to Dundas in the semi-finals. These clubs where again known for great pitching featuring Jerry Stuewe, Bob “Schpitz” Mueller and drafted Green Isle ace Don “Pumper” Sauter. Hamburg also had its share of sluggers during these state tourney years with Darv Rolf, Doug Will, Tom Kloempken and Mark Willemsen just to name a few. Lefty Graupmann’s contributions as a player, manager and league official were recognized years later when he was named to the Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
Building a Legend
The successes of the 1970s were a financial springboard to the Hamburg Baseball Club. A new lighting system was installed in 1977 and a new grandstand was erected in 1981. At the request of long time Hamburg player and club member Marv Scheele, who was elected to the State Board of Amateur Baseball in 1976, Hamburg began to pursue co-hosting the State Amateur Baseball Tournament. Under the direction of club president Harlan Dammann and long-time baseball booster George Droege, Hamburg co-hosted the 60th State Amateur Baseball tournament in 1983 along with Arlington. At the time, many wondered how such a small community could pull it off. Concerns were quickly put to rest as players and fans came in record number. The event was such a success that the Board awarded the tournament to Hamburg and Chaska in 1988. Again, records fell. In, 1998 Hamburg again co-hosted the 75th Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament along with Chaska. 2007 saw Hamburg again host the State Tourney along with Norwood. Priding themselves as innovators, the first and so-far only three equal site State Tournament was hosted by Hamburg, Green Isle and Norwood in 2017. Scheele, Droege and Dammann have all since been named to the State Hall of Fame.
The 1980s and early ’90s saw the club continue to make constant improvements to the park. When the Metrodome took out their lighting system in 1990, the Hamburg club was waiting at the door. Again with volunteer labor, the club installed another set of new lights. Those lights had an impressive history as they they hung above the 1987 World Series and 1998 State Amateur Baseball Tournament.
But that wasn’t enough. Knowing far in advance that the club would again be hosting the 1998 tourney, plans were drawn up by long time club officer Wendell Stuewe for a new grandstand facility. Many long days and nights where spent by volunteers in the fall of 1994 and spring of 1995 to complete the project. Stuewe would also be named later to the State Hall of Fame. The names of people who made contributions to help build the structure are engraved in its aluminum seats. In the fall of 1997, a new fully electronic scoreboard was installed thanks to the philanthropy of a couple of Hamburg Baseball boosters.
But it doesn’t stop there. In the early 2000’s, a modern new lighting system was installed and has been recently upgraded. In late 2019, the scoreboard was retrofitted with LED and wireless technology by the same boosters who purchased the original. Besides these major systems, there have been many other upgrades to the facility over the years. It seems there is always an active project under way at Hawk Field.
It should be mentioned that all of this is done without any city or taxpayer money. The Hamburg Baseball Club is self-sufficient and driven by volunteers and donors.
Back to the Game
On field success during the 1980s and ’90s came and went. Although Hamburg teams are always competitive, league championships were sparse, coming in 1981 and years later in 1992. Again pitching was the theme. Hard throwing Jim Brazil, knuckle-curving Jay “Sudsy” Sutherland and a young John Wroge continued the Hamburg tradition of fine pitching. All of these men were drafted and appeared in state tournaments for other Crow River Clubs.
In the early 1990s, the nucleus began to form for the next run at state tourney play. 1997 started out disappointing as the club began the season not playing up to expectations. But like a lot of young clubs, improvement can happen as quickly. The Hawks defeated Young America in a three game series to earn a Region 7C birth. The Hawks quickly turned heads by defeating Glencoe in the first round, and arch rival Green Isle in the second. Hamburg topped it off by defeating New Germany in the final round to achieve its first tournament birth in 22 years. Ironically, it was held in Delano and Maple Lake, where the last Hawk tourney teamed played some two decades before. Several Hamburg players were the sons and son-in-law’s of the players on those glory year teams.
After appearing in the region tournament in 1998 and 1999, the Hawks again broke through to the state tournament held in 2000 at Fairfax and Sleepy Eye. This time losing an extra innings thriller to Elko in the first round.
The 2004 Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament was held in Belle Plaine and Jordan. Hamburg entered the tourney as the Region 7C runner-up. The Hawks lost their first game 2 – 1 in an epic, 17 inning battle against Melrose. Stand-outs for the Hawks were Tim Stuewe, with an early home run, Larry Heckmann with three hits and Mike Mueller who pitched 11 strong innings in a no decision.
The 2006 Hawks appeared in the State Tourney in Meisville and Red Wing and again experienced high drama. Mike Muller was dominant in a game one victory over Pierz setting up a match-up versus a tough Carlos squad. The Hawks tied the game up late, but would succumb in the twelfth inning in another extra inning battle. Mike Mueller would break through the very next year as a drafted pitcher for the Plato Bluejays, as they won the Championship in 2007. Mueller was named the MVP on his home diamond in Hamburg and has since had his number 22 retired.
2015 saw another State Tourney appearance from the Hawks as they battled through an extremely tough Crow River South schedule to reach the Region 7C tournament which had now expanded to eight teams. They defeated Glencoe and Winsted to reach the state tournament only to lose to Chokio in the first round.
It is with great pride that we now welcome you to Hamburg for the 2021 Minnesota State Baseball Tournament along with our Carver County partners of Chaska and Waconia. Please be our guest and enjoy all that Hawk Field has to offer.
It is through your continued support that we can keep improving and investing in the “Uniquely Minnesota” experience of amateur baseball.