WOODSTOCK -- When Edward O’Hearn was a young ballplayer with a left-handed power stroke, his long balls to right field in his hometown ballpark didn’t clear the fence.
Because there wasn’t one.
“No trees, either,” he says. “There was nothing but cornfield. So if you could hit one into the cornfield, you’d better keep running. Because the right fielder might find that baseball and you could get thrown out.”
Back in the day, Woodstock had a rich history of producing excellent Gopher League baseball teams. A summer afternoon game might attract 200 or more fans, about doubling the population of the village.
Sadly, the ball diamond in the middle of Woodstock hasn’t been the site of many games the last 40 years or so. But the field never went to seed.
Because of people like Edward O’Hearn.
Though few have used the field, Edward has been mowing and grooming it for years. And now the civic-minded Woodstock Community Club is showing its gratitude.
Last Sunday afternoon, the Community Club unveiled a new scoreboard and formally dedicated the diamond to Edward O’Hearn. Forevermore, the place will be known as O’Hearn Field.
“It’s unbelievable,” Edward said softly.
And, adds Community Club chairman Allison Kruisselbrink, it’s the right thing to do.
“The O’Hearn family is so deserving of this,” she said. “If you were an O’Hearn, you played ball in some shape or form on that field. I just think they’re very deserving of it.”
Edward’s wife, Kathy (Janssen), was once a fine softball player. Their daughters, Tammy and Staci O’Hearn, also were excellent ballplayers who spent many hours at the Woodstock diamond.
Edward’s family, including older sister Twila and younger brother Craig, also excelled on the Woodstock diamond. Perhaps that is part of the reason Edward is so dedicated to preserving it.
“Ed played here a long time and he’s been taking care of the field forever,” Allison said. “He does everything he can to keep it up, whether there’s anyone playing there or not.”
Allison’s husband, Austin, is a Woodstock native who now serves as the town’s mayor. Austin’s family knows the ballpark only too well.
“He played on it for years,” Allison said. “And so did his mom, dad and grandpa.”
Sunday’s festivities included a meal, followed by a dedication ceremony that included recognition for Woodstock ball-loving families named Powers, Legler, Biever and Van Nieuwenhuyzen.
“Most of them had grandpas and other relatives who played ball here,” said Allison. “The youngest one we’re featuring is Chad Powers, who started a slow-pitch men’s team a few years ago. Before that, the field was just sitting empty, and that was a sad thing.”
Sunday’s ceremony was cause for celebration. The little diamond a block north and east of main street in Woodstock now has an outfield fence behind which stand many trees. There are also lights that have been updated.
And the new scoreboard in centerfield is beautiful. Local folks and businesses ponied up about $30,000 for the improvements.
“The people in town got behind it,” Edward said. “It truly is unbelievable. It really is.”
Says Allison: “It started out as a tiny little dream and it grew quickly.”
Now 75, Edward said it seems like yesterday when the no-frills Woodstock diamond was thriving.
“We had no fence and the infield was all dirt,” he said. “And we had wool uniforms. By the third inning you were soaking wet when it was hot out.”
Though the field dedication is to Edward, he didn’t want his first name on the scoreboard. That’s because he prefers to include his family.
Roman Powers managed the Woodstock town team when Edward started playing on the ballclub as a 16-year-old. He played for his hometown team for probably 15 years, when it folded.
By then Edward had been managing the team and his kid brother, Craig, was the star player.
Craig, a 1974 Pipestone High graduate who starred for years in southwest Minnesota baseball and was a standout player at South Dakota State, was regarded as one of the finest all-around ball talents in the region. He could hit, hit for power, run and play shortstop.
Craig was also a dynamite pitcher.
“I could hold my own,” Edward said. “But there was quite a difference between my brother and I.”
Then he smiled.
“Craig, he helped us quite a bit.”
Craig says it’s the other way around.
“It warms my heart that they’re doing this for Ed,” Craig said. “He’s been a great brother to me.”
The boys’ father, Edwin O’Hearn, also loved ball.
“But he never played a day in his life,” Edward said. “He was an umpire. He loved the game very much. And he wanted me to play ball.”
When Edward was young, 6 or 7, he was right-handed at everything.
“But for some reason I started batting cross-handed,” he said, showing an unorthodox grip with his left hand above his right. “He couldn’t get that out of me, so he said, ‘You might as well bat left. You’ll be a better hitter anyway.’ “
“It’s the only thing I do left-handed.”
The O’Hearn patriarch was a farmer. But he didn’t make his boys work when there was a game to be played.
“Ball came first with Dad,” Edward said.
Edwin and his wife, Etta, didn’t miss many games.
“The joke was, if there was no equipment running at Dad’s farm, Craig must have been playing in Brookings that day,” Edward laughs. “Dad would shut down the farm to go see Craig play.”
Many years ago there were two ball diamonds in Woodstock, north of town on a Kruisselbrink farm. For Little League, fastpitch softball and town ball. By the time the O’Hearn boys played, the farm fields were gone and a diamond had been fashioned over an old junkyard in the middle of town.
Woodstock didn’t have a grandstand, but the team had a home advantage all right. Heckling the opposition was something the Woodstock fans took pride in.
“We had fans,” Edward chuckles. “And they were definitely into it.”
Nothing unusual about that in Minnesota town ball country.
“Well,” Edward said. “Every team had their own umpire. And he was the No. 10 man on the team.”
Edward laughs long and hard.
“It was like that everywhere,” he said. “I remember the first time I played in Hadley, I got a hit off a fellow named Jack Johnson. And the next time I’m coming up, our manager, Romie Powers, says “Be a little careful. He might throw at you. And that’s his brother, Alan, umpiring, so he might call it a strike.’ ”
Despite being a power hitter, Edward was a pretty fair bench jockey. His little brother was usually the best player on the field -- and the best smack-talker.
Playing for one’s hometown, of course, creates pride and heightens an us-against-them mentality.
“You talk about playing for your hometown, and one of the main things that taught me was to be competitive,” Craig said, “It taught me to put it all on the line when you’re out there.”
“We always had laughs, too, during games,” he said. “My brother always had a sense of humor and would have a few comments during each game.
“It was always so great. No matter which little town we played it was like that, all the fans going at it like they’re going to kill each other during the game. And then after the game everybody’s up at the bar together having a beer and laughing.”
Sunday’s dedication provided a lasting memory.
“The field, it’ll be a legacy,” Edward said. “It’ll be here forever.”
Allison said the hope is that softball continues on the field, and that some T-Ball for Woodstock-area youngsters will take place next summer.
Edward and Craig have an older sister, Twila. She and Craig, who both live in the Owatonna area these days, were planning to be back home for the Sunday ceremony.
Edward has memories galore of the Woodstock ballfield. Sunday’s dedication provided another one.
“It definitely will,” he said softly. Then he pauses.
“I’m going to have to be a little careful that I don’t tear up,” he said. “It’s going to really be something.”
Scott Mansch is a part-time writer for The Globe. He appreciates tips and story ideas and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org