Dave Winfield and kids

Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield poses with a group of young local ballplayers after giving the keynote speech at MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation Day at First National Bank of River Falls Field Saturday night, July 18. Winfield, a member of the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation Executive Board, was instrumental in helping the River Falls Baseball Council obtain an $850,000 grant from the foundation to install artificial turf at the field in 2019. Bob Burrows / Star-Observer photo

Dave Winfield was impressed by what he saw when he visited First National Bank of River Falls Field three years ago. So impressed that the hall of famer helped coordinate a grant from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association to fund the installation of artificial turf at the field.

Saturday night, July 17, the community of River Falls and the River Falls Baseball Council welcomed Winfield back to showcase the improvements at the field and thank him for his role in obtaining the $850,000 grant at the RFBC’s MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation Day.

The day highlighted the expanded opportunities the new turf affords at the field, beginning with youth baseball and softball games in the morning, the Hudson Booster Challenger League playing with the help of the River Falls American Legion Post 212 team in the afternoon, and ending with the River Falls and New Richmond legion teams playing at 5 p.m. and the River Falls Fighting Fish and New Richmond Millers amateur teams capping the night.

During a ceremony highlighting the day between the legion and amateur games, Curt Bruns of the River Falls Baseball Council noted that First National Bank of River Falls Field has gone from hosting around 120 games a year pre-turf, to over 500 this year.

“And that includes youth baseball, softball and special needs,” he pointed out. “And it’s all possible because of the work of Dave Winfield and the youth development foundation grant."

The MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation is a joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. It was created to increase participation in and expand access to youth baseball and softball and makes grants to organizations in the United States and internationally.

Winfield, a member of the foundation’s executive board, said he knew Bruns from their work together on another foundation, and when Bruns asked him to come see what the River Falls Baseball Council was doing at First National Bank of River Falls Field in August, 2018, it met all the criteria of what the foundation was trying to do.

“Your town just fits what we're trying to do at different places across America,” Winfield said. “We’ve probably given grants in 40 of the 50 states for all different levels. Some people just need a backstop. Here you guys needed the whole carpet and so this was a big one. But we help people in all kinds of different ways, and I'm just glad that you guys were able to get it.”

After being approved for the grant in February, 2019, the new turf was installed at the field later that fall, but an official turf dedication was delayed a year due to the COVID pandemic until Saturday night.

Winfield, a St. Paul native and University of Minnesota graduate, played for six teams over his 22-year Major League Baseball career, including the Minnesota Twins from 1993-94. A 12-time MLB all-star, seven-time Gold Glove winner and six-time Silver Slugger Award winner, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

After addressing the crowd on the field Saturday night, Winfield took time to pose for pictures with some of the young players who will benefit from the expanded opportunities the turf is providing. He also gave a brief, impromptu clinic to the youth, including showing them the proper way to grip and throw a baseball.

He said he was impressed with the work the RFBC has done to make First National Bank of River Falls Field the attraction it is.

“Curt’s sent me some pictures, but to see how many people are out here is tremendous,” he said. “And it remains a major focal point of this community; a gathering place if you will. And now you’ve upped the number of people that can play baseball here, and that's what we look for. So I'm extremely happy for you guys.”

Before leaving he had one final message for the kids.

“Enjoy this field,” he said. “And take care of it.”

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