By Jennifer Kotila
Mark Forsman was an 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school baseball when he began playing for the Dassel-Cokato Saints in 1982. The following year, he became manager “because I was the only one stupid enough to do it,” he said.
However, Forsman has spent his time since then building a successful amateur team and a ballpark to be proud of in his hometown. He will be honored for his efforts by being inducted into the Minnesota State Amateur Hall of Fame Saturday, Sept. 20.
Forsman said he was honored and surprised when he received the call informing him he had made it into the hall of fame.
“I thought, maybe 10 years down the line would be a good time to get something like this,” he said. “I didn’t expect this, nor was I striving to achieve it.”
He noted he would never have gotten this far without all the great people who have helped over the years, or the sacrifices his family was willing to make.
“When you have a dream, and someone else is accepting of that dream and lets you do that, it’s humbling to me I get a little choked up about it,” Forsman said. “The problem with accepting an award like this is you think of all the people who have helped over the years. It’s great to get the award, but what about all those other people who helped?”
Forsman’s love of baseball, and creating a great ball field, was forged in high school when he played for DC Chargers coach Mick Hoien in 1980 and ‘81. Forsman said Hoien was his inspiration for becoming a good manager.
“I mean, you want to talk about a fundamentally sound baseball coach,” Forsman said of Hoien, noting he not only coached, but taught a love of the game and keeping the field nice.
During his senior year of high school, Forsman had a study hall at the end of the day, and he and Hoien got permission from teachers and Athletic Director George Keith to work on the baseball field instead of sitting in a classroom.
“The more he started doing it, the more he wanted it perfect,” Hoien said.
Forsman was Hoien’s starting third baseman his last two years of high school. “He was a coach’s player what all coaches dream of,” Hoien said, noting Forsman was always on-task and mentally and physically prepared for games and practice.
The DC Saints did not have a team in 1980 and 1981, and lost its spot in the North Star League, along with a lot of good players to Maple Lake, Forsman said.
Forsman played for the Saints in 1982 under the management of Bruce Isaacson. The team was an independent team, forming too late to enter a league that year.
Taking over the reins as manager in 1983, Forsman was both a player and manager until he took time off in 1985. He was again manager in 1986-89, took time off from 1990-92, returned in 1993, and has been manager ever since.
The Saints played in the Sauk Valley League through 1985, were independent in 1986, played in the Central Valley League 1987-1993, and returned to the North Star League in 1994.
Forsman was inducted into the North Star League Hall of Fame in 2010, and received his “500th” win ball in a playoff game against the Howard Lake Orphans July 29, 2011.
Currently sitting at more than 550 wins Forsman couldn’t say just how many, noting, “I don’t keep track of things like that.”
Building a successful town team
When someone has voluntarily managed a team for so long, a question often asked is “why?”
“When you have been in it this long, you really get to know all the players,” Forsman said, noting his team is more like a family.
When he first started, Forsman was a peer and friend to his teammates and players. However, as the years have progressed, he has been an older brother, and even a father-figure to his players.
“That dugout has held a lot of good times, and bad times,” Forsman said of some of the things his team has helped each other through.
For instance, long-time player and assistant coach Jeff Neutzling lost his daughter and his wife, and player Lucas Larson lost his father suddenly a couple of years ago.
Forsman makes a point of recruiting home-town boys for his team. Many of his bat boys have grown up to be his players.
As president of the Dassel-Cokato Baseball Association, Forsman grooms home-town baseball players from the time they are old enough to grip a bat and throw a ball, through becoming a player for him on the Saints.
Because he is deliberate in his approach of bringing in home-town players, Forsman notes he has coached many father-and-son players at the same time.
“That is neat,” he said. “It kind of ends up being a little bit more not just baseball, but a kind of human interaction with the things you go through when you sit here this long.”
Forsman has even watched his own son grow up at the ballpark, and now become a player for the Saints.
Karsen, a pitcher for the Saints, was born on a night the Saints played Clear Lake. His first game played as a Saint was against Clear Lake, and Karsen got his first hit in that game, Forsman noted.
In the beginning, one of the hardest things for Forsman was to write the line-up for the team, especially being player/manager of a team that included many friends, Forsman said.
“Writing myself into the line-up, while sitting good friends, that was hard,” he said, noting he has always written his line-ups according to talent and hard work, not by loyalties or relationship.
For example, his brother, Tim, was his shortstop through much of the 1990s. Mark asked Tim to step aside and move to third base when 1998 DC graduate Peter Burkstrand came along. “My brother got mad and left the team,” Forsman said.
Today, Forsman faces the difficulty of managing his son and writing him into the line-up or sitting him.
Forsman said his greatest achievement as a the manager of the DC Saints is watching the community come together and build a program, and build a facility worthy of a state amateur baseball tournament.
When Dassel was first designated as a state tournament site for 2005, the ballpark did not even have the amenities it would need, such as a covered grandstand, Forsman noted.
“They had faith in me to get it done, and I did,” Forsman said, again acknowledging all those who helped him.
Saints Ball Park will also host the 2016 state amateur baseball tournament. Some of the improvements planned before then include a new bleacher system along the third-base line, and moving the current aluminum bleachers to the first-base line, new perimeter fencing, tiling and leveling the field, and sprucing it up with flowers and other decor.
“Mark is a really dedicated person, and those are few and far between,” Hoien said. “If it wasn’t for Mark, there wouldn’t be a town team here.”
Forsman is the 15th person associated with the North Star League to be inducted into the Minnesota State Amateur Hall of Fame, and the third DC Saint.