Paul Harrington keeps the Farmington Men’s League running

Written by Bob on March 31st, 2010

Older and younger players alike have been playing in the Farmington Men’s League for over 50 years.
Photos By BOB OTTO / Summer of 2006

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“…I’ll keep running the league as long as there are teams that want to play.” – Paul Harrington

FARMINGTON, MINNESOTA – The emergency call went out for a league director and Paul Harrington said, “I’ll do it.”

Back in 1975 the director of the Farmington Men’s Fastpitch League up and quit in the middle of the season. And if someone didn’t take over, the league would surely fold.

And Harrington wasn’t about to let that happen. But here’s the catch: He was just 19 years old at the time. Just a year removed from his high school graduation. Now 35 years later, he’s still running the league with no plans to step down.

After all, the Farmington league has a hallowed history to uphold. It’s been around for over 50 years.

“It’s one of the older leagues in the state,” said Harrington. “It was the only game in town at one time. There wasn’t any town team baseball or slowpitch.”

Harrington’s fastpitch career began as a 15-year-old catcher, snaring the rise and drop balls his older brother Jay fired at him.

“Jay got me going,” Harrington said. “He was one of the top pitchers in Farmington and I had to catch him. He was throwing rockets at me.”

Even while he’s been running the league, Harrington still found time to play until a knee replacement ended his career in 2006. Now you’ll find him in the coaches’ box managing Blair’s Painting – one of the leagues’ eight teams.

And the other seven teams realize that without the Farmington League, they may have nowhere else to play. And they also realize that without Harrington, more than likely the league would fold.

“He’s instrumental in keeping it going,” said Collin Versich, who manages and sponsors Versich Tax Service of Bloomington (located south of Minneapolis). “It is hard to find someone to take the reins and keep things going.”

Castle Rock is a small village surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans about eight miles south of Farmington. In 1969 the farm boys growing up around Castle Rock decided to start a fastpitch team. And they’ve had one ever since.

Ken Schonning started playing for Castle Rock in 1977 as an 18-year-old. Today he manages the team. It’s a labor of love that has continued for 33 years. The team has had much success, winning an ASA state championship and playing in three ASA national tournaments.

But the Castle Rock boys never forgot their roots. They started playing in the Farmington League from day one. And they keep coming back year after year.

“Castle Rock and Dick Taylor (Taylor’s Raiders) have been the pillars of our league,” Harrington said. “Over the past (35) years, I have come to realize how much Dick has taught me about running a league, a tournament, and a team. And I am grateful to him for it.”

But there came a time in 1982 when the league was in trouble. The league had been playing at the Farmington Fair grounds. But in the fall of 1981, the fields were torn down. Harrington had no warning. Now he had a big problem: Where to play?

Rambling River Park became the less than ideal choice. All the park had was two backstops, two skinned infields, and snow fence for the outfield fences. And no lighting.

Rambling River needed a lot of work before the first pitch could be thrown.

And that’s when Harrington showed his leadership skill.

“Paul coordinated an all volunteer group to renovate the ball fields,” Schonning said. “From installing new lights to putting up fencing and putting together dugouts, we all did it together as a league and it has lasted for many good years.

And through the years the league’s faithful volunteers have raised about $25,000 to turn the park (since named Feely Fields) into a first-rate softball facility.

“But Paul is where it started,” Schonning said. “He has kept this league going since the very beginning.”

But Harrington says the real credit goes to the league volunteers who put in over 400 hours of labor to make Feely what it is today.

“It was a huge effort for a bunch of guys working during their spare time on week nights and week ends,” he said. “It was grueling work, but a bunch of determined guys wanted it done.”

But Harrington has done more than run the league. In 1977 he started the Farmington “Bobber Tournament.” And this popular tournament drew teams from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota for 30 years until its demise in 2006.

But it’s the Farmington League that holds a special place in his fastpitch heart.

The league runs Monday through Thursday nights. Several of the teams travel from as far away as St. Paul and Henderson (near Mankato) to play. It’s a long drive for some.

So to make it worthwhile for the long distance travelers, Harrington devised a rather unique game schedule. The teams can choose a preferred night in which to play a double header.

“We play the double headers to accommodate the long drives for some of the teams,” he said. “It’s challenging setting it up and I spend a day (arranging) it. Teams pick a preferred night to play along with a second best night. Everybody’s got to give a little.”

And Harrington does everything possible so that the butts on the bench aren’t getting numb from sitting too much.

“He’s very accommodating and makes things easy for the teams,” Versich said. “If you have 12 guys on the roster, they all get to hit. And he has free substitution. Nobody wants to drive that far and sit on the bench.”

By now if you’re thinking that Harrington’s some retired guy with a lot of free time. Not so. He holds down a full time job. He’s umpired (ASA) fastpitch softball since 1975. And he’s coached girl’s high school softball for 17 years.

For the past nine years, he’s coached Totino-Grace High School, a Catholic school in Fridley, to a 151-77 record. Extra time on his hands? Not hardly.

“It’s six months on and six months off,” Harrington said. “It’s a killer schedule during softball season. I burn out and then I recuperate. I’ve told (the teams) that I will keep running the league as long as there are teams that want to play.”

Terry Dunham began playing fastpitch right out of high school in 1976. He’s played on and against Harrington teams for many years. Now retired from fastpitch, Dunham fondly remembers a time when Minnesota men’s fastpitch was THE softball game in the state.

Times have changed. The sport has lost some of its luster. But if it’s to undergo a revival, it will need more Paul Harrington’s to come to the rescue. As he did 35 years a go.

“It’s guys like Paul that keep fastpitch going,” Dunham said. “He’s been the main thrust in Farmington for many years.”

For more great fastpitch news, visit these websites:
Al’s Fastball
Fastpitch West
International Softball Congress
North American Fastpitch Association
2010 ISC World Tournament, Midland, Mich.

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