If baseball is America’s pastime, River Falls was the nation’s capital city of fun Friday night, June 13.

After over six years of planning, three years of fundraising, countless hours of volunteer labor, and the ever-growing enthusiasm of an entire community, an estimated 2,000 people flocked to First National Bank of River Falls Field at Hoffman Park for opening night at the gleaming new 315-seat facility.

The evening featured live music, speeches, surprise guests and at least one smile for each of the 2,000 hot dogs sold at the concession stand.

Oh, there was also a ballgame between the River Falls Fighting Fish amateur team and the Post 121 American Legion team.

“I was blown away,” former UW-River Falls player and original member of the Fighting Fish, Nathan Brom, said. “I was expecting it to be nice but this was incredible. To have 2,000 people come out to watch the Fish play the Legion is awesome.”

Former River Falls High School English teacher Joe Paatalo was just as impressed. The 51 year-old former Wichita State University player once faced Roger Clemens as a collegian, and after playing sporadically with the Fish the past few seasons donned the uniform one more time for the ballpark’s inaugural game.

“I’ve been playing amateur baseball 30 years,” he said. “In all those years I’ve never seen anything like this.”

People started arriving as early as 4:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. start, and by game time were packed into the grandstand and lined 8 to 10 people deep down both foul lines.

Patti Lindquist of River Falls got to the park at 4:45 p.m.

“I just couldn’t sit at home any longer,” she said. “I wanted to get out here and get my seat.”

Not just any seat, mind you. Lindquist wanted to make sure she sat in the seat with the little silver plate with her name engraved on it. The one she paid $200 for as part of the ballpark’s fundraising effort.

So was it worth it?

“I don’t think I could have had any more fun,” she said.

See the June 19 print edition of the River Falls Journal for the rest of the story.