MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There are movies made about stories like that of Russ and Ann Mann’s.
“I really wanted to build something that nobody else had,” Russ said.
There are two little league baseball fields, nestled in Isanti County, built from the sheer drive of two salt-of-the-earth people.
“Initially it started out just to build a plain baseball field here for the township, and it just kind of got out of control,” he said.
The Mann Field dream began in 2007.
“When our son played little league baseball, the ball fields were in really tough shape,” he said.
Russ was to help build a little league field in Athens Township with a round of seed money. He quickly realized it would not go far — at least not the distance Russ wanted to go. So he reached out to his community for donations, and they started coming in.
“I sang songs for the Isanti Lions one evening for $1,000 a song until they pulled me off the stage,” Russ said. “I’m sure I humiliated myself, but at $1,000 a song I wasn’t going to quit.”
Russ stretched the money raised, repurposing another man’s trash into the field’s treasure. He scored their stadium lights at a silent auction.
“We ended up purchasing them for a dollar for eight of them,” he said.
The batting cage was saved from demolition.
“The problem was finding somebody that could dismantle something of that size in three days,” he said.
A press box broadcasts music and the players’ names, and boasts bullet-proof glass for the errant fly ball.
“Most of this building was paid just by repeated garage sales,” Russ said.
But the real homerun for these kids is the sunken dugouts.
“This is really what makes this kind of one of the field of dreams,” he said. “They’re always saying they feel like they’re playing major league baseball. Kids coming from away are shouting, ‘These are real dugouts!’ And the excitement is fantastic. I think they all grow a couple of inches when they walk out on this field, and it’s really exciting for us.”
But there is more than baseball learned inside this diamond.
“These young guys really learn the responsibility of taking care of a field. They learn about being part of a team. You know, you’re going to win and you’re going to lose, but you have to be able to learn those life lessons,” Russ said.
And there are lessons Russ and Ann have learned, too.
“We’ve learned a lot of patience, a lot more patience,” Ann said. “We’ve learned that there is no bad kid. They’re all good kids.”
And Russ says their dream is not done yet.
“As long as we have kids that want to show up and play baseball, we need to keep building fields,” he said.
The Manns are great people who have invested so much of their own time and money to make the field happen.
They left me with this quote: “Always remember it doesn’t matter the wealth you gather in your lifetime, but the love you leave in the hearts of those you leave behind.”
Athens Township has purchased five more acres for Mann Field to expand.