The village of Miesville, Minnesota, wears Father’s Day like a ballplayer wears a broken-in glove. It’s fit, it’s snug, it’s natural. There are few matches more perfect for each other than a ballplayer and his mitt. There are even fewer matches more perfect for each other than a day like this in a place like this.
Tucked between Hastings and Red Wing on U.S. Highway 61, the signs going in and out of Miesville list the population at 125. It seems more than double that number have made their way to Jack Ruhr Field on this afternoon, the home of the Minnesota Baseball Association Class B defending state champion Miesville Mudhens.
The size of the crowd and its enthusiasm are unsurprising. The field, gleaming vibrant green and orange in the sunshine, is perfectly groomed and the beloved Mudhens, who have been on a tear as of late, are looking to extend their win-streak to five games. There’s a cornfield lying just beyond the outfield walls that makes references to “Field of Dreams” a virtual certainty for a first-time visitor. I’m tempted to turn to a Mudhen faithful to ask, ‘Is this heaven?’ in hopes of getting a response of, ‘No. It’s Miesville.’
“Miesville’s Jack Ruhr ballpark is to amateur baseball aficionados what the Guthrie is to theater lovers,” local author Todd Mueller writes in his book “Town Ball Parks of Minnesota.” “There’s arguably no other ballpark among the state’s 300 amateur baseball teams better known than this iconic gem.”
The Jack is a gem, but so is the whole village of Miesville. The town’s landmarks can be counted on two hands—there’s the ballpark, the fire station, the cemetery, the church, a casino a few miles away, the supperclub, and the burger joint. The burger joint, however, isn’t just any burger joint. It’s called King’s Place and if The Jack is the Guthrie of Minnesota ballparks, King’s may be the Weisman Art Museum of the state’s burger joints.
What was once a grocery store, bar, and restaurant offering only four kinds of burgers, King’s has now grown into one of the state’s famed burger destinations with a menu boasting more than 80 different kinds of burgers. There are traditional burgers and experimental burgers. If you’ve ever thought to use an obscure ingredient, like peanut butter, green olives, or cottage cheese, as a burger topping, chances are King’s not only already offers it but has already perfected it. It’s not just burgers on a grill. It’s culinary artistry at its finest and the beauty is in the eye of the burger’s holder.
King’s has been hailed as one of the best burgers in the state by outlets such as Minnesota Monthly, WCCO-TV, and Pioneer Press. It’s much more of a celebration than it is a secret, and the size of the Father’s Day lunch crowd shows that. When patrons wrap up their meals and head across the street to the ballpark, their tables are quickly filled from the mob of King’s diners patiently waiting in the parking lot.
A burger called “The Umpire” made up of bacon, pepper jack cheese, and a generous dose of horseradish settles in my stomach while I explore the grounds of The Jack. The Mudhens are flexing their muscles on today’s opponent, the Austin Greyhounds and will eventually tack on their fifth consecutive blowout win.
A handful of seats among the grandstand and the adjacent bleachers are open, but not many. There’s a crisp breeze blowing in towards home plate, causing all the day’s fly balls to stay inside the park and many of the locals to pull on their Mudhens windbreakers and hooded sweatshirts.
Most of the kids have no trouble staying warm by running around the ballpark chasing foul balls, scoring fist bumps from the players through the netting, and training to be future relief pitchers in the Mudhens’ own bullpen nestled quaintly in the shadow of the town’s fire station.
Photos by Dan Murphy
I find a nice standing space behind the Hens’ dugout alongside several locals and use the dugout’s roof as a resting surface for the cheapest beer I’ve ever bought at a baseball game. An elderly gentleman standing close to me has made his own custom scorecard on the back of the team’s roster sheet and is scoring the game with his son and grandson. A glance at my own roster sheet shows that the whole team is made up of Minnesota boys from all around the area.
I flip open the pocket schedule I picked up on the way in and peruse the upcoming promotional nights listed. July 7 at The Jack is Clergy Night, incredibly followed by Coors Light Night on July 14.
Maybe this is heaven.
The game ends before I’m ready for it to be over. I settle in at a picnic table by the concessions and watch the happy fathers and their families trickle out of the ballpark. I take in one last view of the beautiful cornfield before departing. The city feels much farther than just an hour beyond this sea of green.
If it were a Friday night game, my car would turn left out of the parking lot of The Jack and head to Wiederholt’s for the supperclub’s traditional Friday night fish fry. But tonight I turn right to connect up with the highway.
There will be another trip here and soon, I decide. Maybe for Clergy Night, maybe for Coors Light Night, or maybe for both. For now, all I can think about is which burger I’ll get at King’s on my next visit as my car carries me back towards the city.