Three generations of barns, ballfields

Mickelsons continue tradition of farming and baseball


LEAVENWORTH, Minn. — Parked down the first baseline at the Leavenworth baseball field are a couple of farm trucks. The first faces the diamond, creating seats for Jim and Elaine Mickelson for this Wednesday night game in Brown County. Just a short distance further to the outfield fence, their son, Larry, and his wife, Rhonda, are surrounded by grandkids and in-laws.

The families are there to support the third generation of Mickelsons to play ball — Larry and Rhonda’s two sons, Jaden and Zach, who are members of the Leavenworth Orioles.

As they watch the game, rich memories of their time on the field flow from the minds of Jim and Larry.

The Mickelson family has milked cows near Leavenworth for over six decades and have been playing baseball nearly that long. They currently milk 35 cows in a stanchion barn and farm 600 acres of land. Even now, their traditions of farming and baseball hold firm.

Jim donned a baseball uniform in 1958 when he was 13 years old. After starting out on a young team in Leavenworth, he continued to play for the amateur team for many years.

“I played all my life in Leavenworth, about 32 years total,” Jim said. “I mainly caught and played third, probably had a .275 batting average.”

Jim learned to enjoy baseball from his mother’s brothers and jokes that he was “the first Mickelson to play ball in Leavenworth.” While he did not inherit baseball genes from his dad, he did learn a liking for farming.

Jim bought his first cows in 1968 at a farm sale, three years after marrying Elaine. Together, the two started the dairy farm while making sure on Sundays to let Jim take the field.

“I was always pretty busy before the ball games because of working on the farm, but we somehow made it there,” he said. “Generally, we were done by 5 or so, went home and did chores, and then if there was beer left, we came back and drank that.”

This routine continued until, eventually, the passion was transferred to Jim’s son, Larry, who started playing the sport when he was 10 years old.

“Back then, it was get done with work (chores) and head down to the diamond to play ball,” Larry said. “I loved playing with friends and family and just getting together, it was fun.”

He continued to play throughout high school at Sleepy Eye High School and started playing amateur ball for Leavenworth when he was a senior, primarily as a catcher.

“It was fun being with teammates and staying competitive, and you get to know a lot of people from other towns too,” he said.

Jim also knows these connections from his years of playing, and how important baseball is to the small, surrounding communities.

“We call this the Highway 24 baseball road because there are so many ballparks down here,” Jim said. “They’re all pretty competitive teams because everyone just wants to win for their town.”

Larry’s competitive drive carried him back to farming with his father and eventually led to a partnership that at one time milked 140 cows.

Eventually, the time came for Larry to pass the cleats to his two sons, Jaden and Zach.

Zach started playing when he was four years old because the five-year-old team needed another player. As they grew older, Zach remembers playing on his home field in Leavenworth.

“Me and a neighbor boy would come down to the field and hit, and when you’re running the bases as a five-year-old, it feels like the major leagues,” Zach said. “It’s pretty cool to continue the tradition.”

His brother, Jaden, played for the high school team in Springfield, helping them to three state tournament appearances and one championship. Jaden said he also values the importance of baseball in the small town.

“It’s pretty cool when you drive by and think about how long people have been playing,” Jaden said. “I have so many memories of (baseball here).”

Both sons continue to be attached to the farm, heading out to the barn whenever their dad or grandpa need help.

“When you grow up on a farm, it’s just embedded in you and it’s your life,” Zach said.

All three generations take a break from the farm for baseball games, this time, with Zach and Jaden on the field and Jim and Larry cheering on the side.

As Larry watches his boys hit while he is flipping burgers at the concession stand, he always sees his dad out in the truck.

“I like looking at him watching my boys play and just feeling proud,” Larry said.

As Zach starts his own family with hopes of bringing a fourth generation of Mickelsons to Leavenworth baseball, he said he is not quite ready to hang up the cleats.

“Every year, I tell myself I’m done,” Zach said. “But something about this game keeps dragging me back year after year.”

As Jim sits and watches in his truck, cheering for his family and the sport he loves, he lets the smells of the field and the sound of the ball take him back.

“Baseball in Leavenworth really keeps our community together,” Jim said.


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