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 email@example.com so we can find a time to talk and share your story.
Here is Dennis Duerling’s story:
Dennis Duerling may have been born on the east coast, but most of his life has been spent in Clinton, Iowa.
Duerling ended his career in education in 2009, retiring as the principal of Lincoln High School. But before that, he formed plenty of memories and lessons while working at what is now NelsonCorp Field.
“My first job ever in life was when I was in I think seventh grade,” Duerling recalled. “I rode my bike from school at Washington Middle School, and then in torrential rains rode down to the ballpark to turn in an application to sell peanuts and popcorn.”
Duerling took to the concourse, selling concessions throughout the stands during Clinton LumberKing games.
He recalled the packed stands and the popularity of the games, earning his money from a young age.
Although in his early teens, Duerling never missed a game. A huge reason for that is a helpful neighbor who offered him rides to each and every game.
“I was lucky,” Duerling said. “My neighbor was Hank Dihlmann. Thank goodness Hank would take me. Every game I was there. It gave me a work ethic right away.”
Dihlman worked his career at KROS, doing the sports broadcasting for many events around the area and earning a spot in the Clinton High School Athletic Hall of Fame. His presence in the booth at the stadium kept Duerling coming back.
He never missed a game. Even when the temperatures dipped below freezing, he sold the malt cups to the best of his ability.
“The only frosty malt I seold that night was to myself,” Duerling laughed.
After a while, Duerling moved up in the baseball world. He went from selling peanuts to a spot behind the scoreboard, where he put up the runs by hand.
As a kid, he wasn’t always on top of it, but once again hung on support from Hank Dihlmann.
“A lot of times I wasn’t paying attention,” Duerling said. “But I had my radio with me, had to listen to Hank tell me what the score was.”
Duerling also served as a bat boy, wracking up plenty more memories that he still laughs about to this day.
Once as a bat boy for the visiting team, he witnessed a riff between a catcher and an umpire. After the catcher messed with the umpire’s shoes before the game, Duerling had a first-hand look as it escalated in the first inning of the game. It all ended with the player thrown out of the game and a wide-eyed Duerling watching.
He also befriended former LumberKing Angel Bravo. Bravo was from Puerto Rico and taught Duerling plenty of Spanish while he was in town.
Duerling went back to his Spanish teacher at Clinton High School and asked about them, only to learn he had Spanish expletives in his vocabulary now.
He witnessed the ‘65 flood in town, and remembers a fish caught in the outfield fence.
By the time he was done, he was helping run the concessions.
“I helped fill up all the orders for the younger people who were going out into the stands and selling the peanuts and popcorn,” Duerling said. “It really was like coming full-circle.
It taught me a lot of things. It taught me to be responsible.”
Overall, Duerling remained one thing from the time he was selling peanuts to the time when he retired from a career in education: a baseball fan. Working at the ballpark allowed him to be that even while working.
“Then of course there is the love of the game,” Duerling said. “You got to see how the community supported it. It was about the only thing around. Wow, it’s just …. I remember my grandfather coming from Baltimore and wanting to go to one of the games.
“I met a lot of people that were just lifers. Season ticket holders that I still see today.”
Like many of those who reside in Clinton, he can’t imagine a town without the LumberKings.
“A lot of great great memories, fond memories of minor league baseball in Clinton, Iowa,” Duerling said. “It would be a real shame if we didn’t get to continue that.”