By Mike Max

ATHENS, Minn. (WCCO) – In the small town of Athens, Minn., Russ Mann decided the Little League programs needed a nicer field to play on.
His dream became a “Fields of Dreams,” and has made quite a difference for the spirit of a community.

A cell tower provided Athens with a $36,000 in seed money for the baseball field. But with more funds needed, Mann – alongside is family and friends – started getting creative, tapping into a momentum that became contagious in the town.

The buzz for a baseball field was on.

Mann was at the heart of the project. And while some perceived his passion as both a little crazy and illogical, it was those two elements that were necessary to pull off such a worthy feat for the area’s children.

“I think it elevates them. All the young guys and girls that come out here seem like they grow about a foot when they walk out here on this field,” Mann said. “I think it raises their self-esteem, and I think that’s important.”

What came out of it was one of the nicest youth baseball fields you will find. All of a sudden there was sheen and a pride about the town.

The field became the focal point of the area, and it became a way for 10 year olds to be introduced to ownership and responsibility.

And they did it all without a big budget, even taking lights that were being torn down from another field and paying only for the moving costs.

“There’s nothing like night baseball, it’s just fantastic. And we just couldn’t see them cutting them up and wasting them,” Mann said. “They were just [in] beautiful condition. We had to get them.”

They also made sure there was a signature to the field, which came when they decided to dig in and build the dugouts – and man, did they dig in.

“I took a look at some of the dugouts that were the above-ground dugouts, and I just kind of expanded a little bit,” he said. “I just wanted the boys to have enough room to hang all their bags and their bats.”

With a template already in place, Mann decided to duplicate what he had done by building yet another field.

From time to time, Mann and his family and friends have to dip into their own savings to maintain the fields, but its well worth it.

The Athens area has become the toast of the baseball circuit. They love to come here to play, and Mann and company love to hear the comments – knowing the impression that has been made.

“People are always looking for our township, and they’re always like, ‘Well, is that the building in front of the ball fields?’ You know, we’re kind of identified by that, and I think it’s a great thing,” he said. “People understand we’re doing it for all the kids in the area. And hopefully we’re raising a better group of kids.”


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