Information updated October 2019
The tradition of success for the Howard Lake Orphans amateur baseball team continued in 2019. For the past 25 seasons, the Orphans have a winning season as they reache
d the Class C State Tournament once again in 2019. With their appearance this past seas
on, the Orphans have now reached the state tournament in 12 of the past 14 seasons.
The Orphans had a new look in 2019 as Mike Dockendorf took over the role of manager, Last
season was Mike Gagnon’s last year as manager for Howard Lake, and the Orphans didn’t miss a beat under Dockendorf in 2019.
Howard Lake finished with a 13-7 record in the North Star League this past season, helping them earn a spot in the Region 12C Tournament. With wins over Maple Lake and Buffalo at the Region 12C Tournament, the Orphans clinched a spot at the Class C State Tournament once again.
Throughout the season, the Orphans had several young players fill and step up. Those players gained valuable experience this season, and will be key pieces to the success of the organization going forward.
Town team baseball in Howard Lake goes back a long way, starting in 1905, when the team was named the Blue Sox.
Throughout the early 1900s, Howard Lake eventually lost the name, but gained a new one in 1947.
Playing their home games in Cokato that year, as their field was being refurbished and couldn’t be played on, they started getting called the Orphans, and the name stuck.
The Orphans made their first state tournament appearance in 1951.
Town team baseball in Howard Lake ceased from 1942 to 1946 due to World War II, but the Orphans took back to the field after the war and thrived until 1967, when the team folded.
The 1970s and 1980s were a dark period for town team baseball in Howard Lake, as they had no team, with many players playing in neighboring towns.
The team did try to come back in 1991, and also fielded a team in 1992, but then folded again.
That is when a group led by current manager Mike Gagnon, and Kevin Gruenhagen started the Orphans back up, and it has been a success ever since.
Howard Lake has advanced to 14 state tournaments, with its first one coming in 1951, followed by 1995, 1998, 2001, and finally 2006 through 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014, and 2017 and 2018.
The Orphans play their home games at Memorial Park in Howard Lake, which is located on the shores of Howard Lake.
Over the past decade, the park has seen a number of improvements, including added seating behind home plate, a batters’ eye, and a grass infield, among other improvements. In 2018, Memorial Park saw new bleachers added once again as they were dedicated to Mike Mitchell and his family. Mitchell was a big part of the Orphans in many ways. Throughout Mike’s time with the Orphans, he was a bat boy, worked the scoreboard, a ball shagger, a player from 1957 to 1969 and then again from 1963 to 1968. Once his playing days were done, Mike became the team’s president and held that position from 1995 to 2018. During that time, Mike was
also the Memorial Park grounds keeper, and was a member of the Howard Lake City Council from 2013 to 2018.
A new plaque was unveiled in Mike’s honor before a game against the Delano Athletics, and will be proudly displayed at Memorial Park for years to come.
Don and Dorthy Mitchell’s family also donated new bleachers in front of the press box at Memorial Park. Those new bleachers were also dedicated Friday night as the Mitchell family were the first ones to take in a ball game in them.
All of those improvements, along with more to come, have made Memorial Park one of the best baseball fields in the area.
Prior to the 2009 season, new dugouts and a new backstop were added at Memorial Park.
In 2011, due to high water conditions on Howard Lake, Memorial Park’s outfield was flooded, which forced the Orphans to move their playoff games to Loretto. Work has since been done to fix the flood damage to outfield.
Orphans & Fox 9 Town Ball Tour
The tradition of amateur baseball is special across the state of Minnesota. In Howard Lake, that’s no different.
Memorial Park, home of the Howard Lake Orphans, was on full display as the Orphans shared their field
and story with the rest of the state as part of Fox 9’s 2019 Town Ball Tour this past June.
After starting their tour last summer, Fox 9 hit the road once again this summer to feature some of the top town ball parks in the state. Memorial Park in Howard Lake was the third of seven stops for Fox 9 this summer.
As part of the tour, Fox 9 broadcasted live from Memorial Park as part of their normal broadcast. Following the game, Fox 9 broadcasted live once again.
The Howard Lake Orphans hosted the Cokato Kernels that night. In a extra inning affair, it was the Kernels who outlasted the Orphans 7-4 in 15 innings.
Although the game didn’t start until 7 p.m., fans were invited to come out to Memorial Park early to take in the atmosphere. Admission to the game was free for everyone.
During Fox 9’s live broadcast, several people involved with the Orphans organization were featured as part of the telecast.
Back in 2018, Orphans’ outfielder Steve Boger was named Fox 9’s Top Teacher. Boger’s kindergarden class was one of the highlights featured by Fox 9 during their broadcast. Each summer, Boger invites his students and their families to the ballpark for a special day in which they get to run the bases. Many of Boger’s students from the past few years were in attendance for the game.
Also being highlighted by Fox 9 was Mike and Wanda Gagnon. The duo have helped lead the Orphans’ organization to where it is today, and the Orphans took the chance to thank and express their appreciation for their time and commitment to the team over the past years. Mike and Wanda both retired last year, but will always be a big part of the Orphans’ organization.
Other topics that Fox 9 dove into are long-time Orphans fans, Howard Lake Mayor Peter Zimmerman, and the history of the Orphans.
The Orphans boast one of the most unusual nicknames in amateur baseball, and there’s certainly a story behind it. In the 1920s, Howard Lake had a team called the Blue Sox that lasted until the 1930s. Town ball was discontinued during the World War II era, ending the Blue Sox’s organization.
Under the leadership of Don Mitchell in 1947, baseball returned to Howard Lake. Although they didn’t have a home field, there was baseball once again. One player mentioned that “we’re just a bunch of orphans,” since they didn’t have a home field and played every game on the road. The name stuck, and the Howard Lake amateur baseball team has been called the Orphans since.
Baseball was back in Howard Lake until the team disbanded once again in the late 1960s. Flash forward to 1995, and the Orphans came together once again. With a handful of players from Howard Lake and Waverly, the Orphans were not only back, but also tough to beat.
They made the state tournament in their first year back, which is very rare for first-year teams. If that’s not enough, the Orphans haven’t had a losing season since 1995, and have
qualified for 11 of the last 13 state tournaments. They reached the Final Four in the Class C State Tournament twice in that stretch.
In 2002, the Orphans became orphans once again as having their field located next to a lake can be tough sledding sometimes. The field was unplayable from June of 2002 until May of 2003, following 16 inches of rain over a seven-day span. The entire field of Memorial Park became part of Howard Lake, forcing the Orphans to play their games elsewhere.
When the field dried up the following spring, fish carcases were everywhere and cattails were growing in the outfield.
Over the years, several improvements have been made to Memorial Park. Just last year, the Orphans added new bleachers behind home plate in honor of Mike Mitchell and his family. Mitchell was one of the pioneers of Orphans’ baseball.