In Holmes, N.D., a long dormant ballpark comes back to life
Once home to local softball games, the diamond now serves as home to a Thompson-based youth baseball team.
HOLMES, N.D. -- On the side of a dirt road in rural Grand Forks County, there's a metal sign in the shape of a baseball.
It has an arrow pointing toward the tree line and says "HOLMES BALL PARK."
Without the sign, you'd never know that tucked behind the trees is this community's own Field of Dreams.
It has been there since the 1950s, when local dairy farmer Ken Roeder approached Ralph Schroeder, who owned the land and the nearby general store, about building a diamond. Schroeder agreed and the Holmes community pitched in to turn a cow pasture into a ball field.
Roeder was the driving force behind it all.
He was the caretaker of the field and oversaw its many developments -- an infield, fencing around the outfield, a scoreboard that was updated by hand, light poles for evening games, a concession stand and a swingset for families who came to take in Wednesday night softball games.
Those Wednesday nights at the park, located 13 miles southwest of Thompson, became community events.
"Farmers had to quit farming," former Holmes softball player Mark Ellingson said. "And that wasn't easy for them to do.
"It became a social thing. Even if they weren't there to watch the game, they came to visit."
Ball players grew up on the field. Paul Lenz first played on the field when he was 9 years old. He continued playing there into his 50s. He wasn't the only one.
The Holmes teams thrived, too. They racked up dozens of trophies, eventually storing them nearby at the Holmes United Methodist Church.
But as the game changed, the 260-foot fences became too easy for players to top. Holmes eventually began playing its games in Grand Forks and the field's usage diminished.
Roeder, elected to the North Dakota Softball Hall of Fame in 1998, died in 2012. After he passed, the field was abandoned. Weeds and grass grew out of control and the once thriving community hot spot became a memory.
During the winter, Taylor Riedemann started putting together a 9-and-under Thompson independent youth baseball team. They were looking for places to play, when Jessica and Justin Johnson, whose son plays on the team, mentioned the Holmes field.
"The field is pretty much in their back yard," Riedemann said.
Riedemann decided to give it a shot. He arrived at the park on April 11 to survey the field and begin mowing it.
"I mowed it about 10 times that day," he said. "By the end of the day, it started looking nice."
Taylor's father, Dan, who spent more than 30 years volunteering with the Thompson baseball community, worked on the infield. His brother, Travis, fixed up the scoreboard and the team benches. Neal Klamm, whose son played on the field, pitched in wherever he could. Members of the Holmes community with access to a gravel pit brought three truckloads to cover the infield.
Within weeks, the field was operable again.
The independent baseball team held a practice there, then a game.
"We thought it was going to have to be plowed under unless a miracle happened," Ellingson said. "And as far as we're concerned, this is a miracle."
Re-dedication of the field
The field still bears the name of the original property owner, Ralph Schroeder. And the narrow gravel road that leads there is still identified, even on Google Maps, as Kenny Roeder Road.
The original scoreboard and concession stand still remain.
On Sunday, it was once again buzzing with activity.
The Thompson independent youth baseball team hosted a grand re-opening of the park. There were 90 cars packed into the field adjacent to the field, more than 200 in attendance, as Thompson played East Grand Forks.
Members of those old Holmes softball teams showed up wearing their old jerseys. They set down folding chairs, but didn't spend a lot of time in them. They were too busy walking around and socializing like those old Wednesday nights, vowing to attend as many of these 9U games as possible.
"This is a revived history for us," Ellingson said.
Lenz added, "Things quit when it's ball night."
Sunday's celebration featured a pregame ceremony honoring Dan Riedemann's contributions to the local baseball community. The color guard presented the flag. Brianna Theisen sang the national anthem as she does at some UND hockey games.
The players took the field and played. For those watching, the score didn't mean as much as the fact that the field was being used again.
Hot dogs, chips, water and Powerade were gobbled up on the 90-degree summer day. Wide-smiling children played on that old swingset that Roeder installed so many years ago.
"It's really great to see," Lenz said, "because I know there's somebody upstairs watching down and is really proud."
Ellingson nodded his head.
"Kenny Roeder," he said, "would think this is very, very special."