Baseball a part of New Prague tradition

By: 
Chuck Kajer, The New Prague Times

As it has in many small towns, baseball has been a shared pastime for generations in New Prague.

This year, New Prague is one of the hosts of the State Amateur Baseball Tournament. A lot of time and money was invested over the past four years into improving the city’s ballpark in Memorial Park to make sure it was in top shape for the tournament. Tournament organizers and city crews succeeded in that endeavor. One person told me the park looks like a million bucks… Appropriate, since that is approximately the amount of money raised by organizers to upgrade the park.

The park was opened in the late 1940s and by all accounts, it was a great place to play baseball. My memories of the park began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By that time, wear and tear on the wooden grandstand and dugouts and wooden fence had taken their toll. The park was in disrepair and eventually, the grandstand and dugouts were removed. The dugouts were replaced, but instead of a new grandstand, a set of bleachers was set up in the open air behind the backstop… not an ideal situation.

Over the years, the Orioles DRS team and the city did what they could to keep the park in shape. Improvements were made in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including a covering over the bleachers to keep fans out of the sun. New dugouts and a concession stand were also added about this time.

The redesign of the park replaced or upgraded nearly everything about the park. Some of the members of the 1973 New Prague High School team who were on hand Sunday for a pregame ceremony commented on how nice the park looked, and how different from the wooden structure they remember from 45 years ago.

Likewise, visitors from out of town also commented about how nice the park looked. Players commented on how well the field played, with true hops in the infield.

The best thing about having the state tournament in New Prague was that it gave the city, school district and local baseball boosters the impetus to make improvements that will last for decades. The newly-refurbished stadium is a point of pride for the community. Here’s hoping it attracts future tournaments for years to come.

* * * * * In my opening, I commented about how baseball has been a part of New Prague for generations.

Elaine Rybak Barber, a New Prague native, loaned a baseball keepsake to Dennis Dvorak of the New Prague Historical Society. Barber’s father, Mike Rybak, was known as New Prague’s Mr. Baseball for many years. In fact, the Memorial Park field was known for some time as Mike Rybak Field as he led the charge to build the stadium in the late 1940s.

The keepsake is a scorebook for the New Prague Seals, the local town team, from the 1921 and 22 seasons. Among the opponents for New Prague in those days were Jordan, Montgomery, Le Sueur, Le Sueur Center, Kilkenny, Credit River, Chaska, New Market and Lonsdale. It should come as no surprise that the lineup for Lonsdale on July 4, 1921, included two Vosejpkas. The New Prague players included such “traditional” New Prague names as Rybak, Dvorak, Suel, Shima, Bartyzal, VanCura and Ambroz, to name a few.

It’s fun to note that while many things have changed in the 97 years since those games were played, baseball still is a welcome distraction from every day life for many in the community. Here’s hoping many of our readers get the chance to become part of this tradition over the next two weekends and take in a game or two. Two local teams take the field in New Prague Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. when New Market faces Fort Ripley, with New Prague taking on Hanska at 1:30 p.m.

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