In Owatonna, baseball really was life

Photo: Roy Koenig, Townsquare Media/KRFO Radio. Used by permission.

If you’re a kid and you’re lucky and you like baseball, you grew up in Owatonna, because then you probably learned about the game from Chuck Fuller, known as “Mr. Baseball” around those parts. Fuller died on Saturday at 76, the Owatonna People’s Press reports. If you didn’t know him, maybe you knew someone like him in your youth, again, assuming you were lucky.

“He told me that when we got married, ‘Baseball’s no. 1, you’re no. 2,’” Bev Fuller, his wife of 55 years, told the paper. “When our children came along, he said, ‘Baseball’s no. 1, our children are no. 2, and you’re no. 3.’ I never took him seriously.”

His love of baseball started in the ’40s, in a neighborhood environment that has virtually disappeared.

Every day, Fuller and his buddies would meet for a morning of baseball in Dartt’s Park. At noon, he’d head back home for lunch, then return to the field in the early afternoon where he and his friends would play until it was dark.

“That was our life,” Fuller told the Owatonna People’s Press in a 2012 interview. “There were 14 or 15 kids that all lived in the neighborhood, and that’s where we hung out.”

Fuller’s love of the game spilled over into his family life as well, where he enlisted his children to help out at the field — acting as bat boy, changing the scoreboard manually, painting the bleachers, and even using water vacuums on the fields on the Fourth of July to dry the field out for the next day’s game.

He wore number 17 for the Aces because it was Bev’s birthday and the way he could remember the date.

Even Mother’s Day had to take a backseat to the game. He always scheduled tryouts for the Aces on Mother’s Day because that way he could see how many were devoted to the game.

He coached the Owatonna Aces, the town ball squad, until 2002 when only eight players showed up for a game so he inserted himself in the lineup rather than forfeit a game, missed a play, and decided it was time to quit. He was 62. Most of the players were under 30.

When the St. Paul Saints held a barnstorming tour game at Chuck Fuller Field last year, Fuller threw out the first pitch to the Aces’ lead-off hitter — his grandson.

On Monday, the team honored Fuller by sweeping a doubleheader featuring a no-hitter.

Fuller’s funeral will be held on Friday. It’ll start with the National Anthem and conclude with a singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Beneath the suit in which he will be buried, Fuller will wear a T-shirt that says, “Baseball is Life. Everything Else is Details.”

(h/t: Roy Koenig, KRFO Radio 1390)