Nearly 50 years ago, the town fathers running the city of St. Cloud saw fit to tear down Municipal Stadium–the venerable baseball complex located on Division Street and 25th Avenue. This stadium had been home to the St. Cloud Rox from 1948 through 1971. The Rox were a bonnified farm club of the Major Leagues–the Class C team for the New York Giants in the 1950s, then the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs from 1961 on.
Players such as Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, Ossie Virgil, Tony Taylor, Mateo Alou, Leon Wagner, Gaylord Perry, Willie (Boom, Boom) Kirkland, Steve Brye and George Mitterwald, to name a few, made their way to the Majors after a stint playing in St. Cloud.
With the facade and main seating area built of solid concrete and the grounds meticulously maintained by the city’s park department, Municipal Stadium was the mecca for mid-Minnesota’s baseball enthusiasts prior to Major League baseball coming to the state. Besides the 60 pro home games played there during the summers, local high schools, Babe Ruth Leagues, state amateur tournaments and college baseball teams used that stately park. The stadium was a sports showcase for the Granite City.
An important catalyst in building the original “Home of the Rox” came from a volunteer group calling themselves “Sports Incorporated.” This core group of mostly men came to bat year after year, volunteering their time and talents, making sure St. Cloud could sustain a Minor League franchise. If it were not for the dedicated members of Sports, Inc., there would not have been a Municipal Stadium or any semblance of Major League Baseball in central Minnesota during the 50s and 60s.
So it was with a degree of sadness that members of that founding organization stood by and watched a wrecking ball take down their beloved structure in the early 1970s.
And what replaced this Stearns County icon? A strip mall was built on that land, two-thirds of which stood vacant for years after. The city did use the money from the sale of the land to build St. Cloud’s first indoor hockey facility, but there are still those in St. Cloud who are upset with city planners who decided to raze the old park. Some say, with a little imagination and foresight on the part of the city, that area of St. Cloud could have been developed into a grand city park, complete with walking paths, fountains and lots of green space with the stadium as its centerpiece.
Much of the refuse from the old ball field walls lay buried on the banks of the Mississippi just south of St. Cloud State University. Buried with those remains lie the memories of times past, like the occasion when Rox manager Charlie Fox (who later aspired to become the manager of the San Fransisco Giants) met an opposing manager at home plate for a fist fight after a particular game, or the night Orlando Cepeda was crowned the MVP of the Northern League in 1956 on his way to earning the same honor in the Majors, or Jim Palmer pitching against the Rox as a member of the Aberdeen Pheasants in 1967, or Lou Piniella, who was playing for the Sioux Falls Packers at the time, turning around and presenting a nasty hand gesture to the stadium announcer who had mispronounced his name. Not to mention three fledgling sports reporters–Mike Augustine, Pat Reusse and John (Skid) Roe–working for the St. Cloud Times, honing their trade before moving on to major newspapers in the Twin Cities. Thousands of mid-Minnesota folks back then enjoyed their summer evenings watching the stars of tomorrow and today, sitting in their beautiful stadium.
In some respects, tearing down the Metrodome in the Twin Cities was similar to what those in the Granite City experienced with the demolishing of their renown stadium. Both stadiums had lives spanning just a few decades, and when the Dome and Municipal stadium went down, gone went the venues where so much local sports history was made, and those memories were hauled away in dump trucks. If history tells us anything, thirty years from now, the new Viking stadium, the new Gopher stadium, the new Timberwolves and Wild arenas will each be deemed unfit, and Minnesotans will again be tearing down their iconic sports venues, all in the guise of progress.
Bob Statz is a Messenger staff writer.