“…how baseball is supposed to be”: The grand ol’ game is being done right in Rippey IA.

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

RIPPEY, Iowa, June 2, 2024 – In 2012, old East Greene High School – which had served the communities and areas of Grand Junction, Dana and Rippey – closed to begin a consolidation with the Jefferson-Scranton Schools to the west.  When that happened, you had to figure that the classic little ballpark where the East Greene Hawks had played baseball here in Rippey wouldn’t last long.

The town had a population of 285 then, and only 217 today.  With no school using Walt Anderson Field as its home, it seemed like there’d probably only be some freshman or junior varsity games.  Who’d maintain the wooden grandstand and dugouts, the outfield fence, the grass infield, the lights for night games and the rest of the infrastructure?  Wouldn’t it all likely deteriorate and go to weeds?

Well, it’s clear now, a dozen years later, that such skeptics were wrong. 


They undervalued the love of baseball in this community where the game has been played since 1880.  They didn’t know the pride the community once had in having a ballpark built in 1940, and one of the first in the area to add lights – in 1949.

Most of the naysayers didn’t know or had forgotten that the Iowa High School Athletic Association regarded the Rippey field so highly that four state tournaments had their championship games here – in 1953, ’59, ’60 and ’62.  And it wasn’t just for the small schools.  Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson won titles three times here, beating teams from City High in Iowa City and St. Mary’s High in Clinton.

The National Anthem to start Friday evening’s game at Rippey’s Walt Anderson Field, named after a banker and great supporter of baseball in the community.

And nobody had expected that in 2015, the baseball wizard Mel Murken would decide that in retirement, he would move back to Rippey.

A native of nearby Boone, he graduated from Drake University in Des Moines and, in the early 1960s, began his teaching and baseball coaching career at East Greene High School.  After a couple years here, he moved on to Ankeny, where he taught and coached baseball for 32 years.  He and his Ankeny Hawks made five trips to the state tournament, won the state title in 1992, finished runner-up three times, and he built a phenomenal career record of 620 victories and 430 losses.  In 1999, he was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

In 2015, when the new Rippey townie Murken did a walk-around on Walt Anderson Field and saw the deterioration that was underway, he decided he needed to do some more baseball coaching.  He coaxed a buddy, Merle Jackson, into helping him round-up other volunteers, and they started renovating, rebuilding, painting, mowing, fertilizing, getting the lights in working order.  They put-in thousands of hours of volunteer time.  They rounded up thousands of dollars in donations.

Their tremendous effort is now being enhanced.  In the past year, the Greene County Community Foundation awarded a $10,815 grant to the Rippey Ballpark Commission, which consists of Murken, several of his volunteers and other good people of the community.

Mel Murken, the Hall of Fame baseball coach, now head groundskeeper and one of the “commissioners.”

But, who would play here?

When the pandemic was clearing up in 2020, Bruce Thome, an accountant, umpire and baseball fanatic in the Des Moines area, joined a team of players middle-aged and older to play in the Mid Iowa Baseball League – which has age divisions.  Another of the players on that team was Dave Hick, a native of Rippey and a good player on earlier East Greene Hawks teams.  When the players were looking for good ball fields in fun locations where the team could play, Hick said he knew of one that would be perfect – Walt Anderson Field in his ol’ hometown!

Since the 2021 season, a number of those teams – coming from the Des Moines area as well as Kansas City, the Twin Cities and Chicago – have been coming to Rippey a time or two each season for a “Rippey Ruckus” tournament, as they call it.  And Rippey has come up with its own team for the “Ruckuses” – the Rippey Demons.

In one of those events a couple years ago, one middle-aged player on the field seemed to be in a lot better shape and had superior skills.  Most in the crowd were shocked when that player was introduced – he was Benj Sampson, who had played for Coach Murken at Ankeny High School and eventually pitched for the Minnesota Twins in Major League Baseball!

One of my favorite touches at the classic ballpark in Rippey is this wire corn bin out behind the grandstand, featuring the patriotic bunting this year.

On top of all that fun, high school baseball teams have rediscovered the joy of playing in such a classic little ballpark in a spunky small town.

Teams from the neighboring school districts – Greene County and Perry – have played a couple of their rivalry games in Rippey.  In 2023, Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson and Union High in La Porte City played in Rippey to honor the 70th anniversary of the 1953 state championship game played here.  In that long ago title game, Tee Jay defeated little Dysart, which is now part of the Union High consolidation.

This summer’s prep games at Rippey have included Des Moines Roosevelt playing Ankeny Centennial, Pleasantville vs. Bishop Garrigan of Algona, Interstate 35 vs. Iowa Falls-Alden, Roland-Story vs. Ankeny Christian Academy on June 18 in a doubleheader, and this past Friday evening, Creston vs. Williamsburg.

(The best way to follow the schedule of games at Rippey is to follow the “Rippey Ballpark Commission” on Facebook.)

Admission to the games is cheap – it was $5 for Friday evening’s game.  The concessions are terrific, with volunteers staffing the grill and sales stand.  You can sit in lawn chairs on the grass outside the diamond’s fences, but you’re nuts if you don’t sit in the covered grandstand and get the full feeling of Americana that’s there.

You can also get surprised at ball games in Rippey.

A year ago, I paid my admission, parked my car and walked up to the concession stand.   Mary Weaver, the concessions chief that night, waved me over and said, “What are you doing here?”  I said, well, I came to watch a ball game. “Will you first drive down to Perry to pick up some more bratwursts at Fareway for us?” she said. “We’re running out.”  Of course I did.

Grandstanders: Baseball fans Kathi and Larry Zimpleman, both graduates of Williamsburg High School, joined me Friday to watch their alma mater’s Raiders play the Creston Panthers at Rippey.

Late this past week, as I noted the Williamsburg vs. Creston game was going to be Friday evening, my wife Mary Riche was busy hosting a retirement party.  I remembered that good friends of ours, Larry and Kathi Zimpleman, who are business and philanthropic leaders in the Des Moines area, are both graduates of Williamsburg High. In fact, Larry Zimpleman – nicknamed “Zip” back then – played second base for the WHS Raiders baseball team.  I called the Zimplemans and invited them to meet me in Rippey.

When they parked on the hillside at Walt Anderson Field, Larry took a quick look around and invoked a line from a rather famous baseball movie, “Is this heaven?”

We ate brats and hamburgers, drank sodas, shared our favorite baseball tales, and cheered both teams in a really good game, which Creston won 7-5 by scoring two runs in the seventh inning.

Kathi Zimpleman had the best line of the night.  It came as we sat high in the grandstand and looked out on a beautiful ball diamond in a small town with a whole lot of heart.

“I think this is how baseball is supposed to be,” she said.

You can get a full view of it in the photos and captions below here.

Another great look at a classic ballpark.

The dragging of the infield continues while the Williamsburg Raiders do their pre-game stretching.

Chatting in the Creston dugout.

Harve Rice going for a sweep.

Bruce Thome preps the mound.

Kevin Hick working up the home plate area.

Lining up at the concession stand.

Mary Weaver and Mary Hick taking orders from Creston players and fans.

Mary Weaver (in blue), Mary Hick and Dave Roberts keeping up with the orders for concessions.

Gary Weaver, the ballpark’s grillmaster.

Fans lining one of the fences as the game is near starting time.

Home plate umpire Richie Chieves, of Huxley, one of the best umps working high school games in Iowa, had terrific style in calling strikes. He’d take a Caitlin Clark-like “stepback” from the catcher, point his right hand and finger toward the horizon, and in a loud shrill voice bellow, “Steeee-EEEEEEEEE-RIKE!” You could hear him all over the southwest corner of town. It was so fun, some fans down the rightfield line started imitating him after each call.

In the tiny press box, at the rear top of the grandstand, Richard Bardole (foreground) handled PA duties while Jerry Lawrence (in back) worked the electronic scoreboard.

A front view of the press box workers.

The traditional handshake line for the teams, post-game.

You can comment on this column below or write the columnist directly by email at chuck@offenburger.com.

One thought on ““…how baseball is supposed to be”: The grand ol’ game is being done right in Rippey IA.

  1. Great to hear that the Rippey field is going strong. Played some town team games there back in the day.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *