LumberKings

There is a lot of uncertainty and animosity surrounding Minor League Baseball right now.

There are 42 teams facing it directly after being noted by Major League Baseball that they are one of the teams to be cut in a proposed realignment plan. The Clinton LumberKings – along with two other Midwest League teams – are on that list.

For that reason, I felt it was important to start sharing some of our local stories that live and breathe in NelsonCorp Stadium, surrounding one specific topic: What do the minor leagues mean to you.

We need to remember two things. One – we still have a concrete and guaranteed 2020 season that the LumberKings staff is preparing for. Don’t forget that one of the biggest things you can do for the club is buy tickets, go to games, and continue to make memories.

Two – we have a wonderful baseball team and infinite memories and relationships that have been formed because of it. We need to remember the positives, and remember that we have a voice in that we can share those positives.

That’s the goal of the LumberKing Loyals story series is to share those stories from our fans, board members, staff and more. If you have a story, memory or special connection to NelsonCorp Field or to the Clinton LumberKings, please reach out to me at ckuehn@clintonherald.com so we can find a time to talk and share your story.

Here is Bill Kuehn’s story:

There are plenty of people for whom Minor League Baseball is a large part of their past and present, and Bill Kuehn is no exception.

“Baseball has been in my blood – no my DNA – for as long as I can remember,” Kuehn said. “Clinton, Iowa, has gained a place in my heart as well and it was baseball that placed it there. I have been directly involved in both since November of 1982. And when I think about it now, I am still amazed that it ever came to be.”

Growing up in the north suburbs of Chicago, Kuehn’s first baseball memories are of the Chicago Cubs. He recalls his grandmother and his mother gushing over their favorite players, and his first time in the Friendly Confines. His memories at Wrigley are endless.

But eventually, a couple of chance meetings and some persistent networking landed him an interview in Clinton.

“As the sun began to set, the faded green towers of the south bridge came into view and I got my first ever glimpse of the town that would become my home for nearly 30 of my 60-plus years,” Kuehn said.

Kuehn interviewed and was hired for the Assistant General Manager position under the then-Clinton Giants GM Gus Stokes. He immediately jumped into contract renewals for the 1983 baseball season, learning the trades of working in the minors.

“As I reported for duty, my ignorance of the workings of minor league baseball were painfully obvious,” Kuehn said. “I had come to Clinton to be in baseball, not sales. Gus [Stokes] explained that everything I would do from now on would be sales-related and the baseball would be secondary. I had sworn I would never be a salesman, but I wanted this and I dove in.”

Kuehn was quickly introduced to the life of the minors. The constant flow of people in the front office of the stadium by the Mississippi introduced him to the Giant faithful, the members of the Board of Directors, and all the other faces he would be in contact with for much fo the rest of his life.

As he struggled to find his way in a strange new town and a new career field, he found support from all over the community.

“In no time, the Board of Directors and especially the fans, who never stopped dropping in, made me feel welcome,” Kuehn said. “So much so, just a month and a half later at the Giants annual Hot Stove Banquet, I began my remarks with, ‘They say that home is where your heart is, and Clinton is truly now my home’.”

Kuehn leaned on knowledge of those in the business and found support from the community. He found supporters among the Board of Directors who constantly fought for him, and families like the Delzells, the Hunters and the Eggers who often had him for dinner and helped him with meals.

He found even more than he bargained for

“On top of my professional relationships, I met Norma Chaney,” Kuehn recalled. “Who would be hired to be my assistant in the 1984 season and would later become my wife. She also would become my “right hand man” during the rest of my baseball career.”

He learned the trade, saw the Clinton Giants change affiliations, met many future major leaguers, and met friends. He grew to love the ballpark, and continued is work in the minor league system after leaving Clinton. He worked in Chattanooga, Tennessee ... Welland, Ontario ... Hampton, Virginia and Kenosha, Wisconsin to name a few of his next stops.

“The stories of Clinton’s baseball past filled my days and my love of this town and this baseball story grew and grew,” Kuehn said. “This first year and subsequent years in minor league baseball made me a fan of minor league baseball, everywhere. For years, if I was near a former minor league park, or driving by a current minor league city, I would drive out of my way to see the park.”

Eventually, it all led him back to Clinton in 1992. Then again, he came back in 2019. Since then, he’s raised a family in Clinton and served on the Board of Directors for the Clinton Baseball Club.

In the midst of the proposal to cut the Clinton LumberKings from the affiliate baseball system, Kuehn is one of the many sharing stories in hopes of reminding all who read that the minor league system is a crucial part of many lives. Including many in Clinton.

“The stories I can tell of why minor league baseball must be protected could fill a book,” Kuehn said. “I have seen so many heartwarming things, so many incredible feats and at one time over 100 major league players that had been on one of my teams.

“Multiply what I’ve shared by hundreds, maybe thousands. Multiply me by the people and the experiences of fans in the 42 affected cities, and you begin to see just a tiny bit of what minor league baseball is to the heart of America.”

By Bill:

Minor League Baseball is...

-Marilynn Hurlbert sitting in the first row behind the home dugout for over twenty years, with her beloved dog and an ever present bag of candy and gum for the players...

-Kacee Kooi, then a pre-teen member of the Happy Joe's Junior Giants, who won the "Perfect Attendance" award three seasons in a row. Kacee and her husband Brad remain some of the most loyal fans...

-Leroy "Blackie" Laurent yelling play ball at the umpires night after night, during the meeting with the managers at home plate...

-The Clinton Board of Directors monthly "Pot Luck" dinners after Sunday day games for the players, giving them a "home-cooked" meal...

-The family of Richard and Barb Eggers, feeding the team after most every other Sunday day game...

-The 40 or so "Bleacher Bums" in Historic Engel Stadium led by Bobby Kagle, who never missed a game...

-Hubert Quarles, the Octagenarian Lookouts fan who was ceremoniously carried around the field after the final out of the Southern League Championship by the players...

-The Welland Pirates Fan Club that fought feverishly for improvemnts to try and keep minor league baseball in town... 

-George Marshall of the Welland City Council who spearheaded the efforts to build the stadium...

-Bruce Hornsby, Larry Gatlin, T. Graham Brown and all the other celebrities who found peace for a few hours at minor league games...

-Community investment, the multi-million dollar renovation of Engel Stadium, publically funded new stadiums in Welland, Columbia, Fort Wayne and Wilmington, not to mention all the other cities throughout the nation...

-The nearly six million dollars invested in Riverview Stadium, Alliant Energy Field, Ashford University Field and NelsonCorp Field in the last fifteen to twenty years...

-The hundreds of Columbia Mets fans who trekked all the way to Charleston, West Virginia, to watch the Mets win the South Atlantic League Championship...

-Bob Lee, the "King of Kenosha", who single-handedly brought baseball to town.

Yes, minor league baseball is the heart and soul  of 160 towns across our country, especially here in Clinton. In 1983 when plant after plant announced closings and unemployment was in the mid to high teens, we set an attendance record. We did it again in 1985 and 1987. Why?  It is because we offered an affordable alternative to expensive family vacations. Barely a day goes by, when someone doesn't remind me of those days and thank me.

The few stories I've shared are just the tip of my iceberg of tales I could tell. Multiply what I've shared by hundreds, maybe thousands. Multiply me by the people and the experiences of fans in the 42 affected cities, and you begin to see just a tiny bit of what minor league baseball is to the heart of America. 

This move, supposedly based on economics, is a smoke screen for MLB and specifically Rob Manfred's need for power and control. The fact is that one deal, such as the $324,000,000 contract of Gerrit Cole, would fund all of minor league baseball for ten to twenty years. 

There are some real issues. Some facilities lag, we'll get them fixed. Travel is crazy in Class A baseball. Fine-let's realign the leagues, not do away with them. It all comes down to this. The loss of baseball to Clinton, Chattanooga, Burlington, Quad Cities, and all the other cities on the list,  is wrong and must be stopped. Endlessly, tirelessly, we all must lobby our elected officials. Without the protections baseball has been afforded with its "Anti-Trust Exemption", the entire world of these owners would crumble. We must get our leaders to hold that over the heads of baseball and get them to reverse this ridiculous move.

 

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