“Play ball!” called for the first time at new Castle Field

The first pitch was thrown from the mound of the new Castle Field last week, marking a milestone of moving the historic baseball field across town.

Terry Castle, nephew of Willard Castle, throws out the first pitch. Photos by Mandy Moran Froemming

Terry Castle, nephew of Willard Castle, throws out the first pitch. Photos by Mandy Moran Froemming

Anoka held the official opening and first game on the field July 3. It was an exhibition baseball game with the Anoka Legion team’s ballplayers – past and present.

But first a ceremonial ribbon cutting was held to celebrate the long process of relocating the field from just off Highway 10 to Seventh Avenue.

Over the years the city had tested the idea of relocating the field to make way for new development a couple of times, but a deal was never made.

“The idea was floated around but timing wasn’t right and the community could not embrace the idea,” said Councilmember Mark Freeburg.

But as the need for expensive upgrades to the field grew, the conversation about rebuilding the ballpark started again.

The new field is on land donated to the city by the Anoka-Hennepin School District and the first phase of construction costs were covered by the sale of the old Castle Field property to HealthPartners, where a new clinic will open this fall.

“Tonight is a real testament to what can happen when the community and government come together for our youth,” said Tom Heidemann, chairman of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board.

The first phase of the project cost nearly $1.7 million. Funding includes $1.105 million from the sale of the old Castle Field site, as well as a $300,000 transfer from the city’s electric utility fund and $326,000 from the park capital fund.

Anoka Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Steve Nelson said the new Castle Field is vastly improved from the original. Fixes include the infield lip and the distance between home plate and the backstop.

“There are all kinds of things that are different,” Nelson said. “It’s not like we picked Castle Field up on a flatbed and moved it.”

The field, originally built in 1950, was dedicated as Willard Castle Memorial Field back in 1953 to honor Willard Castle, who was killed on the job at the age of 26 while working for the city’s water and electric department. He was also a star baseball player and served the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

“This field is a great thing for baseball in Anoka and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” said Kay (Castle) Froemming, niece of Willard Castle.

Nephew Terry Castle threw out the first pitch on behalf of the Castle family.

Freeburg said Castle’s memory will live on through the people who have played ball on Castle Field.

The coaching contributions of Dick Johnson and Wayne Dietz were also noted during the ribbon cutting. The memorials to both will be relocated to the new field, as part of the plaza that will be built late next year.

The next step will be the construction of the building under the bleachers, which will house concessions, rest rooms and storage. The city plans to move ahead with construction of the $427,000 building once this year’s baseball season is complete.

After the work is finished, the ballpark will be officially be dedicated as Willard E. Castle Memorial Field, according to Public Services Director Greg Lee.

A limited number of games will be played at Castle Field this summer, which will be open to full play in 2014.

The city, along with Castle Field Association, continues to work to generate fundraising to help pay for the next two phases of construction.

The ribbon cutting also included a donation of $7,500 from Jim Lundeen, founder of the Anoka Bucs town ball team and promoter of baseball in Anoka, to the Castle Field Association. The money was raised at a golf tournament hosted by Lundeen. Last year the tournament raised $8,000. Lundeen is a member of Castle Field Association’s fundraising committee.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]

  • Sue

    Loved the story until I read the part that the AH School District “donated” the land.

    The land belonged to the taxpayers and should have been sold where the funds could be reinvested in education.

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