FERTILE, Minn. - At the end of a dead-end gravel road outside the small town of Fertile, Minnesota, sits a family farmstead that hasn't been occupied in a decade. But for the past few summers, it's become a hot destination for kids and families, thanks to a very unique new field.
Ryan Strem added corn to the mix this year, but the local dad is no farmer and the crop was really backdrop for the real draw: a youth baseball field of dreams.
Every Tuesday night, families from Fertile and neighboring towns descend on the farm for a baseball game that's open to boys and girls of all skill levels.
"Two years old is our smallest little guy who will be out here tonight," Strem said. "And then we go up to eighth grade."
The games are exactly what you'd expect from any small town sandlot, but the setting is the stuff baseball dreams are made of.
The field infield and outfield grass is irrigated and meticuously cut. The basepaths are freshly dragged and chalked. There's a backstop, bleachers, dugout, foul poles, and a scoreboard maintained by adults.
"It's been a great thing," said Nick Aahkus, who donated his time to paint the old high school scoreboard. "It's a lot more than baseball, it's really a fun thing to watch."
It's an idea that started three years ago when Ryan's son, Bryar, made a birthday wish.
"He said, 'Dad, all I want is a baseball game,' I said, 'Alright, invite 8-10 boys and we'll come up with something,'" Ryan said.
Ryan mowed the grass into a baseball field for the first game, and it was such a hit that the games kept growing.
"It's awesome," said Caleb Sather, who played in that first game. "At first it was just benches that we sat on. Now you've got a whole dugout."
"I never expected it to be this big," Ryan said. "I never expected that there would be this many kids that would want to come out, week in and week out."
It's not just the kids. Though Fertile has a population below 900, the last game of the summer drew more than 300. The games now feature a PA system, national anthem, seventh inning stretch and concessions that are donated for all to enjoy.
"It's becoming a community event that everybody is talking about," said Ryan's friend Tim Oistad. "Tuesday nights at Strem field."
It's a tradition that will continue again next summer, and Ryan hopes the fun continues to grow.
"You know, next year, we're talking lights. Always trying to keep improving it," he said. "This wouldn't be possible without family and community. It's here for everybody."
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