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Knute Nelson Memorial Field / Alexandria Beetles

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The smallest market in the college wood-bat Northwoods League at 10,000 residents, Alexandria may have the most passionate fans in the league as well. The team regularly draws over 1,000 fans a game. In other words, about 1 in 10 Alexandria residents attends every Beetles game -- a pretty remarkable statistic, and one most minor-league operators would be very happy to reach.

FAST FACTS

Year Built:1939/1967
Capacity: 1,500
Dimensions: 355L, 370LC, 345C, 350RC, 345R
Website: alexandriabeetles.com
Phone: 320/763-8151
League: Northwoods League
Parking: Street parking surrounding the ballpark.
Address/Directions: 503 5th Av. W., Alexandria. Knute Nelson is located two blocks west of Hwy. 29, which turns into Broadway, Alex's main street. If you're coming from out of town, take the Hwy. 29 exit from I-94, head north into town on Hwy. 29, and hang a left on 5th Avenue. The ballpark is on your right.

The smallest market in the college wood-bat Northwoods League at 10,000 residents, Alexandria may have the most passionate fans in the league as well. The team regularly draws over 1,000 fans a game. In other words, about 1 in 10 Alexandria residents attends every Beetles game -- a pretty remarkable statistic, and one most minor-league operators would be very happy to reach.

It's pretty easy to see what brings out Beetles fans to games: the family friendly atmosphere fostered by team management. Knute Nelson Memorial Field isn't the greatest of venues in the Northwoods League -- in actuality, it's the smallest and the one with the least number of amenities -- but the Beetles have created an appealing destination that has its own unique flavor. If you grew up in Minnesota -- and particularly in Minnesota's lake country, as I did -- you'll recognize the familiar here, with a town ballpark located in a park next to the town lake. Knute Nelson Memorial Field, first opened in 1939 and named after former Minnesota Sen. Knute Nelson, features a body of water (Lake Winona) directly beyond the outfield fence. It's located two blocks from Alexandria's main drag in a residential area. With its location and layout, it's the quintessential small-town Minnesota ballpark.

The ballpark itself is compact. There's a main grandstand housing season-ticket holders, while a large set of metal bleachers stretching down the third-place line. The Beetles have two party decks: the Hilltop Lumber Loft sits atop the visitors' dugout and features an all-you-care-to-eat menu, while the Tastefully Simple Terrace, located farther down the left-field line, is billed as an "upscale experience" by the Beetles and is geared for larger groups.

There's actually quite of history connected with Knute Nelson Memorial Field. The original field was opened on June 10, 1939, with Norwegian Crown Prince Olaf and Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen heading the dedication ceremonies. The baseball field opened on May 24, 1949, when Minneapolis Tribune columnist and WCCO Radio personality Halsey Hall served as master of ceremonies for a matchup between town teams from Alexandria and Glenwood. This opening drew 1,500 to the ballpark despite a steady drizzle.

The current stadium dates back to 1967, when the grandstand was constructed. The new building featured a roof, concession stands, a press box, restrooms and locker rooms. Because of the trees ringing the outfield fence, the view from the grandstand and the party deck is especially scenic. However, you'll need to be prepared to spend the majority of the game in your seats: there's no place to wander around, as the few open spaces in the ballpark -- like the area between the grandstand and the bleachers -- are filled with a smaller concession booth and in-game promotions, such as the local Fantastic Sams offering hair coloring. (By the way, it was pretty cool to watch tough 14-year-old boys waiting in line to get their hair colored.) There were a ton of kids at the game we attended, and it's easy to see why: because of stadium is so compact and totally fenced in except for the main entrance, kids can wander around the ballpark without their parents worrying too much.

Because the ballpark is so compact, there really are no bad seats. The grandstand seating sits above the press box and the announcers' booth, so you get a pretty decent elevated view of the action. The left-field bleachers aren't usually full, so you can spread out a little and relax; you'll also have the advantage of not having the sun in your eyes as you watch the pitching. No matter where you sit, there's one mandatory accessory: bug spray. The water beyond the left-field fence is known as being a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and after sundown they come out looking for blood.

CONCESSIONS
The main concession stand sits in back of the grandstand and offers hot dogs, pizza, soft drinks, beer, candy and more. You will find it impossible to resist the freshly popped popcorn by the third inning.

WHERE TO STAY
There are several hotels at the Hwy. 29/I-94 interchange. An older property, but one of the nicest hotels in town, is the full-service Holiday Inn (5637 Hwy. 29 S.), which features a large swimming pool. Also located there are the Country Inn and Suites (5304 Hwy. 29 S.), Best Inn (507 50th Av. W.), Days Inn (4810 Hwy. 29 S.), AmericInn (4520 Hwy. 29 S.) and Super 8 (4620 Hwy. 29 S.). If you're looking for something a little more upscale, check out the Arrowwood Resort (2100 Arrowwood Lane NW.), located out at Lake Darling. The resort features 18 holes of golf, swimming, boating and an indoor water park.

FOR THE KIDS
There's no specific play area for kids. Most of the kids we observed at the game were either interested in the game or chasing Ringo, the team mascot.

BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
Since the ballpark is so close to downtown Alexandria, you'll want to park there and peruse the main-street offerings. Despite the many economic changes in small-town America, downtown Alex appears to be going strong.

Old Broadway Food and Spirits (319 Broadway) is exactly the sort of restaurant you'd expect to find in downtown Alex, featuring prime rib, steak, various seafood specialties, and a smattering of other ethnic foods (Italian, Mexican, Chinese) to appeal to the widest range of customers. If you want to see the true Alex in action, head down to the Eagles Club (526 N. Nokomis), where there is live music on Friday and Saturdays and the drinks are never watered down.

You may also check out some weird Alexandria history at the Kensington Runestone Museum. In 1898 Olaf Ohman, a farmer in Kensington, Minn., found a stone entangled in the roots of an aspen tree and noted the strange symbols engraved on it. The simple inscription says that a party of 20 Norwegian explorers made their way from Vinland to central Minnesota via Lake Winnipeg and the Red River in 1362 and left this stone in commemoration of the slaughter of 10 members of their party. At one point the Smithsonian Institution displayed the stone as an artifact proving that Vikings did indeed make their way deeply into America, but since then most experts have dismissed the stone as being a forgery. Nonetheless, there's still quite the cottage industry devoted to proving the authenticity of the stone, led by the Runestone Museum and several amateur historians.