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Amateur baseball: Hess receives call to the Hall

Gary Hess stands with his baseball-themed Volkswagen Beetle, customized with baseball seams, the Minnesota Twins logo and the license plate "SLUGGER." Hess is set to join the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame on Sept. 15 in St. Cloud. (Submitted photo)

Everything about Gary Hess -- down to his Minnesota Twins-themed Volkswagen Beetle -- screams baseball.

The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame agrees.

“Baseball has been my whole life,” Hess said. “I basically lived at the ballpark.”

After a decorated managerial career, Hess is set to enter into the Hall on Sept. 15 as a member of its newest class. The Fairfax native won 365 games as the skipper for his hometown ballclub, 200 more than any other manager in team history. He led the Cardinals to six state tournaments over 19 seasons. And now, he’s getting his call to the Hall.

“It means a lot. It’s a high honor in the baseball (community),” said Hess, an Alexandria resident. “It’s a very high honor to be recognized by your peers for what you’ve done over the years. I feel honored to be a part of it.”

After countless summer days and seasons spent at Memorial Park in Fairfax, Hess and his wife, Becky, moved to Alex eight years ago. Coincidentally, two of Hess’ former players -- Bill Ziegler and Mark Vanderwerf -- also call Alexandria home.

And while the town may not have the same lure as a pitchers’ duel or an extra-inning thriller, Hess said the relocation wasn’t a hard decision.

“I like to fish. As a kid, we always used to come up to Lake Miltona and ice fish,” he said. “I got married, and I always told my wife, ‘Someday I’d like to live in Alex.’ … When I got done with baseball, that’s when we moved up here.”

Left behind in the 115-mile drive from Fairfax to Alexandria is a baseball legacy within a city full of it.

“The history is so rich there, and they’ve never had anybody in the Hall of Fame,” said Hess. “I’m the first one going in from the town, so it’s very special to me. That whole town fed off baseball.”

Hess began racking up accolades when he played for Fairfax from 1974-80. After transitioning to the managerial position, he served as the skipper for Redwood Falls during the 1985 campaign. Then in 1987, Hess managed his hometown Cardinals for the first time, becoming a mainstay in the Fairfax dugout for 19 years. And even after those days were done, Hess moved to a marketing role for seven years with Fairfax.

“All three phases, I enjoyed them all. I met a lot of people,” said Hess. “When you get in (the Hall of Fame), it’s not about how well you played. It’s about what you did for baseball. That’s why you get it.”

Even still, Hess wasn’t certain what his fate would be.

“I had no idea that I’d get in there. In fact, I thought my chances were slim,” he said. “It was a total surprise.”

The Hall of Fame induction will be held at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud, which is the home of the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. Joining Hess in the 2018 class are Myron Bennett, of Hadley; Dave Hartmann, of Arlington; Randy Heidmann, of St. Mathias and Gaylor; and Bruce Rosenow, of Hutchinson.

When Hess formally enters the Hall, he’ll do so with pride for what he did in the game.

“Baseball is a good time to pass the summer away,” he said. “If I did it again, I wouldn’t do it any different.”

Micah Friez

Micah Friez covers Bemidji State basketball and BSU for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Beaver basketball updates.

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