UPDATED: THURSDAY 12:17 P.M.

It was no better in the morning light. The grandstand was in ruins, the concession stand where Sharon Larson spent years selling popcorn and pop to baseball fans across the state was also lost.

But Paul Larson had hope.

Much of the field that bears his father, Tink Larson’s name, was burned beyond repair Wednesday night. But early Thursday morning, Paul Larson, who drove from the Duluth area to Waseca after learning of the fire, saw green grass and possibilities.

Once the investigation into the cause of the blaze is complete, the massive, 77-year-old grandstand can be removed, temporary bleachers and a fence can be installed, and players cans be back on the field, said Larson. Yes, this season.

Firefighters were called to the field around 8:11 p.m Wednesday. By the time Fire Chief Gary Conrath arrived on the scene, flames were shooting from the center of the grandstand and rolling out from the metal overhang. Conrath believes the fire started somewhere near the middle of the grandstand.

Waseca firefighters remained on the scene until about 1 a.m. Thursday to put out hot spots and flames that continued to crop up. A police officer remained on site all evening to ensure any recurrence was caught quickly.

The state fire marshal arrived Thursday morning, but will confer with an investigator from the city's insurer before making a preliminary determination of the cause. 

Sixth Avenue resident Josh Cosens and his wife, Molly, were sitting in their living room chatting when Cosens saw what he thought was a bonfire.

"(I) thought to myself that it couldn't be a bonfire, because I can't see anything but the baseball field if I look in that direction," he wrote in an email to the County News. "I jumped up and grabbed my phone and called 911 at 8:10 p.m. It looked to me like it started in the stands very close to center, but off to the left a bit (as you look at it from the outfield). … It went up very fast from the point that I first noticed it."

Fire ripped through the concession stand, the wooden grandstand and grandstand roof, which caved in.

A photo of Sharon Larson, Tink’s late wife and a fixture in the concession stand, was saved by firefighters, said Conrath.

The chief said a breeze Wednesday night added to the difficulty in fighting the fire, as did the lumber used to construct the grandstand. And then there were the seats salvaged from the old Met Stadium in Minneapolis.

“That’s fuel like there’s no tomorrow,” he said.

The collapse of the metal grandstand roof also created problems for firefighters who needed to get water underneath it, said firefighter Craig Youngberg.

One of Minnesota's top fields

Hundreds of area residents lined the streets near the field as smoke billowed from what remained of its structure. Among them were high school athletes, school leaders and Larson, a Minnesota baseball legend, who sat on a nearby sidewalk with his grandchildren watching in disbelief.

Larson, a beloved Waseca baseball coach, served as the field's caretaker for more than 50 years.

A July 2013 Waseca County News story described Larson's longtime connection to the field at Fourth Street NE and Seventh Avenue:

"When the grandstand at the field was nearly torn down in 1971, Larson worked with city leaders to renovate the deteriorating stands. He raised money for new stadium lights and a scoreboard at the park. He purchased the first infield sprinkler system and a new mower."

Holes could be seen in the side of the structure, where area residents Kevin Walter and Roger Paczkowski said they saw firefighters busting through to get water onto the fire.

"We've all been down in that clubhouse, it's so deep with wood," Paczkowski said of how difficult he imagined a fire would be to handle in the structure.

"We all have kids playing baseball yet," Walter said as he watched the fire. "It's not going out very easy."

The field, a Waseca fixture, held a special place in the hearts and minds of area residents.

"The high school team's supposed to play a game Friday night here," Walter pointed out.

The field was built in 1939 as a project of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The park was then called Community Field. Lights on the field were first installed in the 1940s.

The field was used as the local 15U team as well as American Legion, VFW, Waseca High School and Waseca Braves teams’ home field. The Bluejays were to have played their home opener there Friday.

Paczkowksi reflected on the field’s history as he watched the firefighters work.

"This is an institution disappearing here tonight," he said.

But the following morning, Paul Larson was thinking of ways to bring back the old field.

“This was one of the top fields in Minnesota,” he said. “And it will be again.”

*  *  *  *

Fire claimed Waseca landmark, Tink Larson Field, Wednesday.

Firefighters were called to the field around 8:11 p.m., and remained on the scene for hours to put out hot spots and flames that continued to crop up.

Sixth Avenue resident Josh Cosens and his wife, Molly, were sitting in their living room chatting when Cosens saw what he thought was a bonfire.

"(I) thought to myself that it couldn't be a bonfire, because I can't see anything but the baseball field if I look in that direction," he wrote in an email to the County News. "I jumped up and grabbed my phone and called 911 at 8:10 p.m. It looked to me like it started in the stands very close to center, but off to the left a bit (as you look at it from the outfield). … It went up very fast from the point that I first noticed it."

Fire ripped through the concession stand, the wooden grandstand and grandstand roof, which was partially caved in.

Hundreds of area residents lined the streets near the field as smoke billowed from what remained of its structure. Among them were high school athletes, school leaders and Larson, a Minnesota baseball legend, who sat on a nearby sidewalk with his grandchildren watching in disbelief.

Larson, a beloved Waseca baseball coach, has long served as the field's caretaker.

A July 2013 Waseca County News story described Larson's longtime connection to the field at Fourth Street NE and Seventh Avenue:

"When the grandstand at the field was nearly torn down in 1971, Larson worked with city leaders to renovate the deteriorating stands. He raised money for new stadium lights and a scoreboard at the park. He purchased the first infield sprinkler system and a new mower."

Holes could be seen in the side of the structure, where area residents Kevin Walter and Roger Paczkowski said they saw firefighters busting through to get water onto the fire.

"We've all been down in that clubhouse, it's so deep with wood," Paczkowski said of how difficult he imagined a fire would be to handle in the structure.

"We all have kids playing baseball yet," Walter said as he watched the fire. "It's not going out very easy."

The field, a Waseca fixture, held a special place in the hearts and minds of area residents.

"The high school team's supposed to play a game Friday night here," Walter pointed out.

The field was built in 1939 as a project of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The park was then called Community Field. Lights on the field were first installed in the 1940s.

The field was used as the local 15U team as well as American Legion, VFW, Waseca High School and Waseca Braves teams’ home field. The Bluejays were to have played their home opener there Friday.

Paczkowksi reflected on the field’s history as he watched the firefighters work.

"This is an institution disappearing here tonight," he said.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-931-8567. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy. Contributing to the story were reporters Jacob Stark and Daniel Ring.

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