North Dakota has some baseball history, but is not a prolific baseball area. Maybe that's based on the numbers. The 2010 census tells us there are just over 640,000 North Dakotans.
In the history of Major League Baseball, just fifteen people born in North Dakota have reached the big leagues. Darin Erstad (Jamestown) and Rick Helling (Devils Lake) won World Series titles in 2002 and 2003 (Angels and Marlins respectively). There is just one active Major Leaguer who hails from North Dakota, Travis Haftner (Jamestown).
The most famous North Dakota baseball player is Roger Maris. He was actually born in Minnesota, but grew up in North Dakota and went to high school just a few blocks away from where the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, an independent team in the American Assocation, play baseball as North Dakota's only professional team today.
To the north of Newman Outdoor Field is Maris' gravesite, often adorned with a Yankees or Cardinals cap, and baseballs. To the south and west is West Acres Shopping Mall, home of the Roger Maris Museum.
"It's cool, something to come check out, a little history," says visitor Josh Benoit of Minot, North Dakota. "It's free, there's no reason not to come see it."
Maris was a seven-time all-star, two-time most valuable player, and three-time World Series Champion. The museum features a wide variety of Maris memorabilia, and a small theater in which to watch his run to 61 home runs in 1961, while sitting in old Yankee Stadium seats.
Maris is still the single season American League home run record holder, but he's been passed by the likes of Sosa, McGwire and Bonds in the major league single season rankings. Of course Maris is the only one of those four who played outside of baseball's steriod era. Something that is pointed out by the locals in the Red River Valley.
"In Fargo there's definetly a bias, I don't think there's much debate," says area native Josh Buchholz, General Manager of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. "What Roger did in that time period, and with the stress and pressure that he was under, he wasn't the golden boy for the Yankees, that was Mickey, he just went out and he just went out and did it the North Dakota way."
Buchholz continues, "But boy, 61 home runs, and it took how many every years? You barely even ever hear of people hitting 50 anymore, there was a little era there that was a little sketchy and some guys put up big numbers, I think history will be very kind to Roger Maris just like the people of Fargo are."
The RedHawks have retired three numbers since they began play in 1996. Number 8 for Maris, that was his minor league number when he played for an Indians affiliate in Fargo. Number 7 for Joe Mathis, who spent six seasons in a RedHawks uniform. And number 35 for Jeff Bittiger who pitched in seven Fargo-Moorhead seasons.
It's likely that sometime in the near future Chris Coste's number will be retired. He grew up in Fargo, and spent four years with the RedHawks before reaching spending four in the big leagues and playing for the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Those other names are important pieces of North Dakota baseball history, but none stand out on the diamond in this state like that of Roger Maris.
Newman Outdoor Field Notes: The ballpark is leased by the RedHawks, from the city of Fargo, and it sits on North Dakota State University property. The Fargodome is visible just beyond left and center field. The naming rights are held by a local sign company, Newman Outdoor. The facility had a manually operated scoreboard for many years, but recently switched to a more modern scoreboard. The outfield dimensions are the same as that of Yankee Stadium. A local burger joint, Hi-Ho, serves its burgers from a stand past third base. Hot dogs in the 2012 season in Fargo, cost just $1.50.
What's On KCRG