In the hit 1989 Hollywood movie: Field of Dreams, actor Kevin Costner heard a ghostly whisper through the rows of an Iowa cornfield: “If you build it, they will come.”
Although Bob Dolan didn’t hear any voices, he followed his own dream four years ago to build a ballpark out of a bean field in rural Milroy for the next generation of young baseball players to enjoy.
Located on Dayton Ave., about a mile off Highway 19 and approximately five miles from Milroy, Dolan and his family began building a new home for the Milroy Irish amateur baseball team in 2010.
The Dolan’s have a long tradition with baseball history in Milroy starting with the first amateur team that was formed in 1945 with the original nickname of “Irish” until 1954.
In the last season of being called the Irish in 1954, Bob’s father, Joe Dolan, played on the Class B state championship team. Joe was named MVP of the tournament, finishing with a .667 batting average. “My dad loved the game, even my grandpa John was involved by selling advertising for the team program,” Bob recalled.
The next year Milroy switched its name to “Yankees” which became the main amateur team in Milroy for the next 53 years, with a full roster of talented players and winning teams nearly every season.
As a youngster, Bob started as a bat boy for the Yankees and began his playing career in 1982 through 2003. He also managed the club for 10 seasons, which included a couple of state tournament appearances. His brother Neil played for Milroy too, from 1979-2003, and was manager for three years before retiring in 2008 when he was inducted into the Yankees Hall of Fame.
With their playing days mostly over, both men felt they still had more to offer Milroy baseball and with additional players wanting a chance to play, decided it would be a good idea to form another team in 2009.
The original nickname “Irish” was brought back, but the new team soon had a hard time finding a place to play games. “We tried to work out a schedule to play on the Yankees field, but they wanted to charge us $100 a game so that wasn’t going to work,” explained Dolan.
As a result, the Irish were forced to play home games on the road at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall for the next three seasons. “That really was nice of them until the opportunity to build our own ballpark became available,” Dolan said.
And it came on five acres of farmland right across the country gravel road from where Bob lives.
Dolan talked to his neighbors, Jim and Kathy Zwaschka, who owned the land. They sold it to the Milroy Irish in July 2010 to become the future home field location for the team.
With the land deal finalized, work started on the field in August of that year. But by that time the field had 3-foot-high soybeans growing in it, and Dolan had to mow the crop down with a side cutter.
The piece of land was perfect for Dolan’s dream. With an untouched high prairie ridge forming a natural berm rising above the rear of the property, Dolan went to work designing the ballpark framed by surrounding fields and farm sities.
Along with his three sons, Anthony, Lucas and Dominic, who all play on the team, they researched ballparks on the Internet and came up with a lot of ideas for the construction of a new field. They particularly liked the concept of including some major league features, like below-field-level dugouts and installing a large 56×20 old-fashioned style scoreboard. “It’s a mini version of Fenway Park’s Green Monster, where the inning totals and numbers are dropped in from behind and posted by hand,” Bob said. And on one side of the scoreboard fans can also see the Gopher League team standings.
“People laughed at us, said we were crazy to do it, but we took that as a challenge to prove we could build it,” Dolan commented.
After settling on the dimensions for the field, which range from 302 feet down the right field line to 375 in the center and 315 to the left, with power alleys in the left of 360 feet and 355 in the right, the Dolan’s went to work building everything from a large batters eye in the center, a scoreboard above the left field fence, leveling the playing field dirt, planting the grass, building a pitcher’s mound, putting up a fence, dugouts, concession stand, an elevated press box and a concrete tri-level grandstand.
Construction of the field included 15 truckloads of agrilime for the infield, which was hauled from Mankato by Dolan’s father-in-law, Clair Kelly, and Eric Fultz.
From the Twin Cities came the Blue Clay Pro’s Choice dirt for the pitching mound and batters box, which is the same material used at Target Field for the Minnesota Twins. The field has no irrigation but relies on mother nature to water the grass or else Dolan uses a 1,000-gallon tank attached to a wagon that can be filled and applied as needed from the creek that flows behind the outfield fence.
“The press box is actually part of a garage that was donated to us by Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center,” explained Dolan. “We hauled that out here driving about eight miles an hour…it was a long trip,” Dolan laughed. Dolan then found out through a friend that the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards baseball stadium was doing some renovations and some seats were available for sale through a business located in Indiana.
Bob and his wife Peggy took off in the family suburban pulling a trailer for a 16 to 18 hour road trip to pick up about 75 dark green seats. They returned home and had them installed before the next game. The seats cost $60 apiece, and Bob says the name “Irish Yard” for the ballpark comes from a combination of the team nickname and the seats bought from Camden Yards. Now Milroy fans can buy a $50 season pass to get their own numbered seat for the year, which includes a free hot dog, beer or soda at every home game.
Coming up with the cash to repay loans to finance the construction of the ballpark wasn’t an easy task, but the players, family members and fans all volunteer to work the concession stands at Minnesota Vikings and Twins games to raise funds.
“We usually leave here with 16 players at six in the morning to get to the stadium on time and arrive back home around eight at night, so it gets to be a long day, but we earn about $1,200 to $1,500 every time we do it,” said Dolan. “We’ve had about 150 people who volunteer to go sell hot dogs and beer at the games during a season schedule, so that helps with our expenses and future plans for the facility,” he stated.
“We have a great fan base and have received a lot of support from the surrounding small businesses and communities where we draw most of our players who want to be a part of the tradition of Milroy baseball,” he commented.
One of the biggest donations obtained for building the field was a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Twins Community Fund. Dolan also got free advice from the Twins grounds crew on growing and maintaining Milroy’s bluegrass seed, which is the same variety that covers Target Field.
From the day when Dolan’s vision for a baseball field started with cutting down a soybean field it took a little more than a year and a half for the ballpark to open in June 2012. But that first summer was a hot one for fans, who watched games from a grandstand with no roof. That changed the next year, and now all seating is in the shade.
Dolan estimates it’s cost about $90,000 for materials to build the park so far without adding the land purchase price and donations of labor.
“It’s been a labor of love for all of us,” said Dolan. “My sons helped do a lot of work for this place and built most of the stuff you see here.” But he added the entire team is proud to be able to play games at the Irish Yard. “If there is ever a need for help to do some work at the ballpark I can count on them or someone from the organization to be here,” he stated.
Bob is largely a one-man maintenance man for the complex. He hasn’t counted the hours it takes to get a field game ready, and his plan for Irish Yard is not finished yet.
That includes the big project of installing a lighting system for the field that Dolan hopes to have installed in time for the start of the 2015 season. Some of the light poles have already arrived from the college track facility in Marshall that was recently renovated. In the future, Dolan thinks a clubhouse addition could be built into the hillside behind the home team dugout.
Baseball is indeed a family affair for the Dolans. There are seven Dolans on the team, including Bob’s sons and two of Neil’s boys. Bob is the manager, and Neil coaches, but both are known to get an occasional at-bat. Behind the concession stand Grandpa Kelly is the designated griller of hot dogs, brats and hamburgers while the concession stand is operated by wives, family members and friends.
After a recent game, Bob looks around and smiles. He sees kids running the bases while his German shepherd dog stands close by and checks out a visitor to the Milroy dugout.
He’s pleased knowing that persistence, hard work and a passion for the game of baseball has led to the echo of “play ball” on his field of dreams.