Doug's Diggings: Burton Field has special spot in my memory bankI drove past Burton Field on the corner of Ninth and St. Croix streets one night last week and the field was empty. It brought back memories of my childhood when Burton Field was about the only real baseball diamond in town.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
I drove past Burton Field on the corner of Ninth and St. Croix streets one night last week and the field was empty. It brought back memories of my childhood when Burton Field was about the only real baseball diamond in town. From the time the snow began to melt until football practice started, Burton Field was crawling with baseball players of all ages and adult softball players all hours of the day — especially after school let out.
Burton Field is still busy, of course, especially in the summer with something in the neighborhood of a hundred baseball and softball teams playing organized baseball and softball. The difference is that there is now a long list of baseball facilities throughout the community. Burton Field is one of many.
In the 1960s, about the only other space for playing baseball was the old cinder lot – now a playground just southeast of Willow River Elementary. I remember rushing to get to a baseball field immediately after supper so that our “group” could lay claim to the diamond for the evening!
When I think of Burton Field, the name that comes to my mind is Florian Cassutt. I was just leaving town for two weeks earlier this spring when we received word that Cassutt had died at the age 86 on March 2.
In my high school days, Cassutt taught — what my 1966 yearbook describes as — American Problems. Essentially it was a combination of history, social studies and civics. He also coached several sports at various levels, including varsity baseball.
Cassutt came to Hudson in 1958 and began teaching. His “other” job, however, was leading the Booster baseball program. When he came to town the Boosters had three baseball teams. Under instructions to expand the program, he immediately created a program that featured eight little league teams, eight pee wee teams, two junior teams and one senior team.
It was in the Booster program that I was first introduced to Florian Cassutt. He not only taught me how to play baseball, but also taught me a love of the game. I think of Cassutt when I reminisce about Burton Field. Since he was “Mr. Booster baseball,” whenever one of our youth baseball teams was scheduled to practice, nothing ever started until we saw the Cassutt station wagon coming down Ninth Street.
The reason being, of course, is that he had the keys to the supply building where all the bats, balls, catcher’s equipment and other baseball paraphernalia were stored.
There was always a little air of excitement as the station wagon pulled to a stop. Everybody started moving toward the storage house to get the needed equipment.
When I was about 13 or 14 years old, we played in a league that included Hudson (two teams), Stillwater (two teams), Bayport, Afton, Lakeland and maybe one other, possibly Lake Elmo. Cassutt actually coached the Hudson teams and always had a vast amount of baseball knowledge that impressed me — he taught us about aspects of the game that I had never considered.
When Cassutt came to town there was no high school baseball team. He soon solved that problem. I was fortunate enough to play high school baseball under Cassutt’s mentorship. All our home games, of course, were at Burton Field.
Cassutt continued to guide the Booster program for 10 years, leaving it in 1968. He retired from teaching in 1988.
Cassutt came “oh so close” to being a major league baseball star. He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1940s and received what was a whopping signing bonus at the time — $4,000. Another guy signed a bonus the same year for $1,500; his name was Mickey Mantle.
Cassutt was being groomed by the Cardinals to move into the Cardinals’ starting rotation and advanced as high as the team’s AAA squad in Omaha. His career, however, was cut short by back problems.
Burton Field, by the way, was named after Col. William Y. Burton (1869-1959). The field was renamed after Burton in 1955. Before that it was simply called the Hudson Athletic Field. The name honored Burton, then 87, who was a long-time Hudson resident, an enthusiastic booster, a soldier and civic leader. During his life he was always interested in youth and youth activities, especially athletics.
Burton Field will probably never be the hubbub of activity it was in the 1950s and early 1960s when it was the football home for Hudson High School and the baseball home for virtually every baseball game played in Hudson. For those of us who have been around town for many years, however, Burton Field will always hold a special place in our memory banks.