By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The former baseball field in the northeast corner of Holdingford was transformed into the town’s softball field in 1971, after people were asking Cyril Ebnet to form a slow-pitch softball league.
With the encouragement of Charlie Heidgertken of Freeport, Ebnet had formed a fast-pitch softball team in 1966, which played on Sunday afternoons for four years.
That ended just about the time that a slow-pitch softball league was forming in Freeport. On his way home one day, Ebnet stopped at Schiffler’s Bar in St. Anthony and was urged by Erv Schiffler to form a similar league in Holdingford.
“He told me, if we formed a league, he would sponsor us,” said Ebnet.
So in 1971, Ebnet approached the City Council with a request for start-up funds. “I was dumbfounded when they agreed to give us $3,100,” he said. “The first thing we did was to put up lights.”
The Lions Club put in new restrooms.
Every year, the league held a fundraising tournament, which paid for continuing improvements at the field.
The first fencing for the field was a snow fence. Thus, new fencing was the first major expenditure. Later came a new concession stand. Then the fence was moved back because it was too close to the field.
Sprinklers were soon added and later a new backstop installed.
“The only thing which was never replaced were the bleachers,” Ebnet said. “We did put in new plank seats and painted them, and put a roof over it for shade. Later a fence along the sides and behind the back row was added for safety reasons.”
All new dugouts were built later, and the field was also redone with new sod and lime.
Ebnet managed the league for the Holdingford American Legion. For about four to five years, he also managed a team and played at whatever position he was needed.
“That got to be too much, so I had to cut back to just be league manager and field supervisor,” said Ebnet.
After Ebnet had knee surgery, which was followed by an infection, he had to give up managing the softball league.
He was manager for 37 years during a time when the league played four nights a week through the summer months. He and his wife were still milking cows.
There were four games a night starting at 6:30 p.m., with an hour allowed for each game.
“We thank God that our family was there to help out,” said Ebnet.
“They ran the concessions until we got there,” said his wife, Donna.
“We met so many people from the area,” said Ebnet. “There were teams from Upsala, Little Falls, Sobieski, Bowlus, Royalton, Avon, Albany, St. Rosa and Sauk Centre.”
There were a pair of teams from Upsala, a team of mothers and a team of daughters, that always drew a good crowd when they played each other.
“We always had a nice crowd,” Ebnet said. “Even the umpires told me one time, they’d never seen that many people at games, and they’d umped a lot of places.”
One year, Ebnet announced that the first woman to hit a home run over the fence would get a case of beer. “No woman had hit a home run at that time,” he said.
The winner was Nicole Quistorf in late June 2003. She hit a ball 280 feet into left center field, according to a carefully kept newspaper clipping.
Four teams went to the National Slow-Pitch Softball Tournament during Ebnet’s time managing the league. One team was from Kroska Motors in Holdingford, one from Cans R Us in Swanville, another from Linda B’s in St. Rosa and one from DB’s Bar and Grill in Meire Grove.
In 1986, the softball field was named “Cyril Ebnet Field,” something that took Ebnet completely by surprise. “No one had said a word,” he said.
In 1997, he was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame as a promoter/organizer. Gary Zapzalka spearheaded that surprise.
It looks like softball is making a comeback in Holdingford starting June 1 with Friday night games, sponsored by Community Education and the city of Holdingford. Registration runs through May 18, with a managers meeting May 23 at 7 p.m. in the Holdingford High School Board Room. For more information call Community Education at (320) 746-4464, or 4311.