No more extra innings at Red WillowOne of North Dakota’s softball landmarks is closing its doors to tournaments, putting an end to more than 60 years of tradition.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
One of North Dakota’s softball landmarks is closing its doors to tournaments, putting an end to more than 60 years of tradition.
Red Willow has hosted ball players of all ages since about 1950 on two diamonds. The resort area in Griggs County was also a staple for youth for generations.
This year’s annual Labor Day tournament will be the last one played.
Vernis Haines and her late husband Bill bought the resort in 1946 and started work on Bill’s Field of Dreams and what would be Heifer Stadium in 1948. But an increasing water table has started to inundate it. Tournament play can’t continue with only one ball diamond.
“Thousands upon thousands of kids have come here since we came and fixed up the diamonds,” Haines said.
Three weeks ago the tournament stoppage caught up with the 90-year-old Haines with two Cal Ripken youth baseball teams.
“I was crying along with them because I don’t want to quit either,” she said.
Haines has been running the show at Red Willow since her husband passed away in 1997. Bill was a top baseball prospect and the pair went to Idaho where he played minor league baseball.
The couple came to North Dakota to visit relatives and fell in love with Red Willow. The rest is history.
“Many years ago Bill and I felt like there’s something different about this place,” Haines said. “What it is that’s been drawing me here all my life.”
Haines still has the memories of the thousands of games played over the decades.
For instance, the one game in 1982 when the heifers escaped and the umpire tried to round them up and clean up after them. At 8 a.m. the next morning the smell of cow manure was strong enough to give the second field its new moniker.
Jim Clark from Jamestown has played at least 15 tournaments at Red Willow.
He still remembers a championship game in the mid ’70s that his Woodworth team won with a walk-off sacrifice fly for a final score of 1-0.
“It was one of those things,” Clark said. “You play a lot of softball games — that one I remember.”
In Bismarck the McQuade Softball tournament is the nation’s largest with a plethora of teams and ball diamonds.
About 100 miles east and just north of Binford, N.D., Red Willow is a more intimate setting with two diamonds and at most 30 teams in each tournament.
“Almost every year we played on Labor Day weekend just before school started and sometimes you’d play a game at 8 in the morning or you’d play at 1 in the morning under the lights,” Clark said.
Winners got to play on Bill’s Field of Dreams and losers made the trek up the pasture hill to Heifer Stadium for decades.
“Your game was more of a highlight because there were only two games going on at one time,” Clark said.
For Clark the small town teams he played became sort of a family. His sisters played co-ed softball with him and his rival foe was the Helling team, with future big leaguer Rick Helling.
“Like Las Vegas the action kept going all night long,” Clark said.
It was a regional staple for children in the region as well.
“If you lived in Cooperstown or Binford or any towns close by, that was like home to you there,” he said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org