Apr. 10—The Free Press
NORTH MANKATO — Watching ball games has long been crowd-pleasing entertainment in North Mankato during spring and summer months.
In 1936, Bill Tanley, a bottler for Key City Beverages, came up with the idea of building a baseball field near the corner of Monroe Avenue and Center Street, where Monroe Elementary is now. Originally called Key City Park, the ballpark was renamed after its founder in 1937.
Within two years, Tanley Field had expanded to include more seating, showers, dressing rooms, covered dugouts, lighting for night games, a press booth and loudspeaker equipment. The improvements helped make the ballpark popular for regional games.
In 1947, when North Mankato hosted the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament, Tanley Field set a record for attendance. That same year an electronic scoreboard was installed.
In April 1951, the ballpark facilities were completely flooded, along with many homes and businesses in lower North Mankato.
The Mankato Merchants, who used Tanley Field as its home field, dissolved shortly after the flood, said longtime area resident and former baseball coach Bob O'Brien.
The ballpark was torn down in 1958 to make room for the elementary school. Baseball fans began attending games across the river at Mankato's Key City Park (later renamed Franklin Rogers).
North Mankato became a popular destination for softball fans after city officials in April 1985 proposed a plan to build a four-diamond softball complex. City Council members chose to name the site in honor of a man who'd been a public address announcer for area baseball games in the 1940s through the 1960s.
Kenneth W. Caswell was better known by his nickname "Bud." He was a big promoter for area baseball who'd served as announcer for Mankato Merchant games at Tanley Field and later for the Mankato Mets at Franklin Rogers Park.
In 2013, construction of an addition to the Caswell sports complex was completed to serve the needs of youth soccer in the region. Adaptive baseball games also are played on Fallenstein Field's diamonds within the complex.
The complex has become a well-known sporting facility that's been host to many local, state and national tournaments. City officials in 2016 touted its success in The Free Press saying the complex had drawn more participants — and dollars — for sports events than ever before.
As a result, the city rebranded Caswell Park as Caswell Sports.
Events played at Caswell include the U.S. Youth Soccer Minnesota State Cup, the North American Fastpitch Association World Series, and various competitions, triathlons and 5K races. Caswell Park, as well as Caswell North Soccer Complex, have drawn crowds that top 60,000. Fans and participants have spent millions locally on hotels, restaurants, gas, shopping and groceries.
After all the soccer matches and softball tournaments are done at Caswell this fall, constructions crews will move in to begin major renovations to the original 35-year-old softball complex as well as the newer Caswell North soccer complex.
The City Council in March approved setting up the financing package to move ahead with $5 million in upgrades to the park and to finalize design plans for an indoor recreation facility. The funding will come from $2.3 million in local sales tax funds, a $2 million grant awarded by the state last year, and $700,000 donated by local softball and soccer user groups.
About $2.65 million of work will be done on the softball complex, including replacing all fencing and backstops, shading for spectators, lighting upgrades, an expansion of the size of two fields, six new scoreboards, video-streaming upgrades, additional spectator seating and expansions and upgrades to the concession stand and restrooms, including making them ADA compliant.
(This column includes information compiled for the centennial publication, "The History of North Mankato" published in June 1998, and the city's website.)