Wineka column from Fargo: Not all’s corny in America’s heartland
By Mark Wineka
FARGO, N.D. ó Bob Lowman and Voight Basinger drove more than 1,400 miles here to the American Legion Baseball World Series.
And the thing that impressed them the most?
They couldn’t stop talking about it Thursday afternoon fresh from their drive in Lowman’s Colorado pickup across half the United States.
The Rowan County men thought they were going to revel in America’s heartland, but it seems that at the heart of the country today are thousands and thousands of cornfields. At least it seemed that way from highways such as Interstate 94 West, the final leg between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Fargo.
Who uses all that corn, they asked each other.
At one point Lowman, team manager for N.C. and Southeast Regional Champion Rowan County, turned to his traveling buddy and asked, “You think any of it is popcorn?”
Lowman was punchy by then. He had driven 1,000 miles Wednesday before Basinger persuaded him to stop in Madison, Ill., for the night.
Not long after settling in their room, Basinger excused himself to use the restroom.
“Before I got out of the bathroom, Bob was snoring,” he said.
Wednesday, the friends spent 14 hours on the road. Thursday, they finished their trip in eight hours, arriving at the Fargo Holiday Inn where all the World Series teams, including Rowan, are staying.
As they drove on I-94 across the waistline of Minnesota Thursday, Lowman and Basinger noticed other things, of course.
Minnesota truly lives up to it reputation as the land of 10,000 lakes. There also seemed to be 10,000 silos next to the large farms and cornfields.
Billboards for restaurants boasted of bison burgers, broaster chicken and “woodfire cooking.”
Bugs were plentiful, as the front grill of Lowman’s truck verified.
The turned-over soil in the fields looked like roasted coffee, it was so dark. No red clay here.
Things were pretty flat, making the sky seem bigger.
You can’t drive through Minnesota and not think of Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and Twins baseball. Cars and trucks heading west tuned their radios to the Twins’ day game Thursday against Kansas City.
And zipping through Minneapolis/St. Paul, one can’t help but sing that line about Mary Tyler Moore’s making it after all.
The monotonous drive toward Fargo truly allows the mind to wander to magical places such as Lake Wobegone or honest-to-goodness jurisdictions such as Otter Tail County.
But the Rowan County team and its fans will have only baseball on their minds starting today, when they take on the proud nine from Festus, Mo., in both teams’ opening-round game.
Fargo, to them, will center on Newman Outdoor Field on the campus of North Dakota State University. It’s an attractive place, which serves in the summer as home for the Fargo Redhawks, an independent minor league team.
The concession stand sells delicious-sounding stuff such as pulled pork and shredded beef sandwiches, bratwurst and Polish sausage.
Tom Kennedy has the local Dippin’ Dots franchise and two stands in the stadium. Checking on things in the empty stadium Thursday afternoon, Kennedy guessed that he would have a good day at the Legion World Series if he were able to sell some $1,500 to $2,000 worth of Dippin’ Dots.
He said he was thrilled Fargo has embraced its role as World Series host.
Kennedy was a childhood friend of Fargo legend Roger Maris, the New York Yankee who broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961.
The two lived across the street from each other in Grand Forks (before their families moved to Fargo), and Kennedy recalled the times they worked for the same flower shop making boxes and delivering Easter lilies in the store’s truck.
“He was a pretty good guy, kind of quiet,” Kennedy recalled of the late, unassuming Maris.
Photographer Drew Lockwood of Best of Times Action Sports Photography, also made his preparations in the stadium Thursday afternoon.
He acknowledged the difficulty in predicting the size of crowds to expect for the Legion World Series games. Naturally, attendance will winnow down as teams are eliminated.
“We’re all guessing,” he said of the vendors, “and we’re probably guessing high.”
Lockwood grew up in Wilmington, N.C.,and has been in Fargo since 2000.
On the field behind him, a ground crew raked the infield’s dirt. On the outfield scoreboard, a woman practiced setting numbers in place by hand as she will do throughout the championship.
Beyond the scoreboard girl loomed the Fargodome, the indoor stadium where the North Dakota State University Bison play their home football games. Kennedy said it seats about 20,000 people.
Back at the Holiday Inn, a still unshaven Lowman was relieved to be off the road.
“Chicago was a bitch,” he said, describing all the highway construction, “and you can print that.”
Lowman said he dreads driving the long journey home. “But it may not be too bad if we have a trophy in the back seat,” he said.
Lowman surprised himself when he uttered those words and quickly took them back. He was just proud to be here and part of a special time in the kids’ lives.
“It’s a big deal,” Lowman said. “When you have ‘World Series’ beside your name, it means something.”
Nothing corny about that.