Hulne: Marcusen Park will have a familiar visitor during VFW state tournament

Published 4:09 pm Monday, August 1, 2022

It has been 62 years since Robert Mathias stepped foot on Marcusen Park, but he hasn’t forgotten the memories the stadium has given him.

Mathias, who now lives in Duluth, was part of the Austin Post 91 Legion baseball team that won a state championship in 1953 and now he’ll be headed back to Austin to watch his grandson’s Duluth Lakeview VFW baseball team play in the state tournament this week.

Mathias has many fond memories at Marcusen as he used to watch the Austin Packers play in the Southern Minny League with Emil Scheid at the helm. Mathias recalls sitting in the field of play by the outfield fences as crowds would soar to 4,000 fans on summer nights to watch a Packers team that featured a handful of future MLB players.

“It was truly the only show in town,” Mathias said. “Baseball was big back then. That was the heyday for it.”

Mathias, who played infield, outfield and pitcher, had plenty of great teammates on Post 91. He recalled playing with Dave Ploof, who went on to coach Rapid City Post 22 for 47 years, pitcher Gary Underhill, who earned a pro contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and played minor league baseball for four seasons, and Terry Meyer and Dale Beckel. The team was coached by Matt Gowdy.

Almost every town had its own baseball team in the summers back in the late 40s and early 50s. Lansing, Waltham, Brownsdale, Hayward, Blooming Prairie, Adams and Hayfield all had their own town teams and there were plenty of local rivalries to keep fans fired up.

Mathias is excited to go back to Marcusen Park and see what has changed in the last six decades as he takes another look at the stadium that was once so dear to him and baseball in southern Minnesota.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Marcusen,” Mathias said. “I’m guessing some things have changed.”

Mathias has worked as a lawyer for the past 56 years and he is set to retire soon. He also played baseball and basketball at Hamline University after graduating from Austin High School.

He is ready to see his hometown again and he credits Austin with helping to shape him as a young man.

“Austin was as good a place as you could ever grow up in,” Mathias said. “There was a lot of money put into youth sports and a lot of enthusiasm. We had great coaching. It was as good as you can get.”