There’s no town in Minnesota where those qualities come together more dramatically than in New Ulm.
The German heritage is not quite as dominant as was the case a few decades back, although the 2000 census did not confirm this: New Ulm remains the most-German locale in the country among cities with a population of over 5,000.
The number was 66 percent in 2000. The population now is roughly 13,500, and the upcoming census could reveal a few more percentage points of diversity.
What’s puzzling is that way back in 1935 the town’s new ballpark was named in honor of a Swede – Fred Johnson, a long-time parks and recreation director in New Ulm. Johnson Park was the first baseball field in Minnesota to have lights.
Last weekend, Jamie Hoffman became the fourth native of New Ulm to play in the major leagues. The 24-year-old was called up by the Los Angeles Dodgers after a run of injuries in their outfield. Hoffman had a couple of at-bats on Friday and Saturday, then hit a three-run home run in the first at-bat of his first start. The audience at Dodger Stadium included his father, Rich, the Brown County Sheriff and a man in the midst of the drama surrounding the disappearance of Colleen Hauser with her son Daniel, a cancer patient.
The Hausers finally returned to Minnesota on Monday, and Sheriff Hoffman told reporters from L.A. that charges against the mother were dropped.
We had Todd Hoffman, Rich’s brother and Jamie’s uncle, on “Reusse and Company’’ early in the 6 o’clock hour to talk about this amazing few days in the lives of the Hoffman family.
That’s a large group by the way, with Rich and Todd growing up with seven siblings on the Hoffman’s family farm. I had talked to a couple of New Ulm oldtimers on Sunday night to track down someone to talk about the Hoffmans – Rich and Jamie.
The recommendation was to get ahold of “Clubby.’’ The interview was arranged. I had to ask Todd the source of his nickname. This proved once again that a radio host shouldn’t ask a question like that for the benefit of the audience unless he already knows the answer.
Todd responded, “It was because I was born with a club foot.’’ He added that there was hope his brothers might show understanding, but instead they gave him a nickname that he’s carried through life in New Ulm.
The interview also revealed that one of Todd’s first acts when his nephew was summoned to the Dodgers was to go down to the local Comcast office and order the baseball package.
There are three televisions (eat your heart out, Sooch) in Todd’s three-stall garage, in order to monitor conflicting sports events. “It was a zoo in there over the weekend,’’ Todd said.
And when Jamie hit the home run? “Every one went nuts,’’ Todd said.
The most-successful of the New Ulm big-leaguers was catcher Terry Steinbach, of course. He played 13 seasons in the American League for the Oakland A’s (10) and then the Twins. He played for the Gophers before being drafted by Oakland in 1983.
Brian Raabe also was another New Ulm and Gophers player who played s total of 17 games (13 for the Twins) in the big leagues.
The first major leaguer for New Ulm was Elmer (Doc) Hamann, a righthanded pitcher who appeared in his only game on Sept. 22, 1922. He faced seven batters, allowed three hits, walked three, hit one with a pitch and six of those runners scored. This gives Doc the distinction of facing more batters without getting an out than any big-league pitcher with an ERA of infinity.
There are baseball records suggesting that Fred Bruckbauer, another pitcher with an infinite ERA, can be credited to New Ulm. Bruckbauer, also a Gophers standout, pitched his one big-league game for the Twins on April 25, 1961, He faced four batters, allowed three hits, walked one and three of those runners scored.
Fact is, Bruckbauer merely was born in the New Ulm Hospital. He went home to Sleepy Eye in a baby blanket a few days later and grew up there.
Sleepy Eye is also the hometown of Daniel Hauser, the young man who occupied so much of the time of Brown County Sheriff Department’s time before mother Colleen brought him home on Monday.
One more note: Another pitcher, Dana Kiecker, spent his time with the Boston Red Sox before referred to as a Sleepy Eye native. Actually, he was born in the Sleepy Eye hospital, but comes from a farm outside Fairfax. And Dana actually had an ERA – 4.68 – in the 50 games in which he appeared for the Red Sox in 1990 and 1991