Come spring, attending Howard Lake Orphans baseball games at Memorial Park just won’t be the same.
Baseball fans, not just in Howard Lake, but also across the state, suffered a big loss this past week as avid Orphans and amateur baseball fan Melvin Kottke passed away at the age of 87.
Melvin, along with his wife, Ardis, were the definition of true Orphans fans, showing up a couple of hours prior to the start of games at Memorial Park.
You could always count on seeing Melvin and Ardis at Orphans games in the summer.
And, while Melvin will always be remembered as a true Orphans fan, his legacy goes much further in the amateur baseball world.
It seemed like every year, come state tournament time, the host community would do some kind of story about Mel and Ardis.
See, for the past 50-plus years, Mel has been attending the state tournament.
Weather, dates, or times couldn’t keep Mel and Ardis away from Orphans games, they also always found a way to make it to the state tournament, as well.
This past state tournament, which took place in Shakopee and Chaska, were the final amateur baseball games Melvin was able to see.
But, it was the best of both worlds for Mel, as not only was he at the state tournament, but he, along with Ardis, got to see the Orphans in the tournament this year.
For those of you who may not know Melvin and Ardis, one story gets right to the point of their allegiance with the Orphans.
Married for 66 years, they spent one of their wedding anniversaries at Memorial Park, doing, what else, watching the Orphans play.
As for my own personal experiences, I don’t have many with Melvin, other than always getting asked about him.
Either working for the Minnesota Baseball Association web site or the Herald Journal, come tournament time, I seemed to get asked every year, “Who is that couple that comes to all the games?”
In fact, Minneapolis StarTribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse wrote a story about Melvin and Ardis a few years back.
Unfortunately, I never got to get to know Melvin real well, but as a big amateur baseball fan myself, involved in nearly every aspect of the game, I have a true appreciation for Melvin and Ardis.
Fans like Melvin and Ardis are what makes amateur baseball, especially in our area, so very special.
This past summer, the Winsted Wildcats lost one of their true fans in Kenny Norman, and now the Orphans have suffered a big blow as well, with the passing of Mel.
These are the kind of fans who are not just fans, but followers, that make each amateur baseball team special.
The little stories, and always knowing that you may only have two fans at the game, but already knowing which two they will be hours before game time.
The kind of fans that show up when it is raining to find out that the game has been postponed, even though it is pretty clear that no game is going to be played, because you just never know.
And, should the game get played, you want to make sure you didn’t miss it.
The true impact of the loss of Melvin will never be totally gotten over.
Right now, family, close friends, and anyone who knew Melvin are feeling the pain of his loss.
That pain will always be there, but will lessen with time.
That will also be the case come the first Orphans game this spring, as the players and other fans will have to play or watch without Melvin in attendance.
Orphans manager Mike Gagnon was kind enough to talk to some of his players about their memories of Melvin, and then shared those memories with me.
Here are a few of those stories he shared about Melvin.
When a player was running hard to beat out an infield hit or trying to stretch a single into a double, Mel would yell “Give -er, Give-er.”
When one of the Orphans was up to bat, Mel would say, “Hit a far one.”
The umpires who knew Mel would smile when he would say, “Hey, ump, what are you looking at?”
Yep, the summers at Memorial Park just won’t be the same.
But one thing is for sure, Melvin will still be watching the Orphans from the best seat there is up in heaven.