What's the Ruckus about?

The Rippey Ruckus and the place it calls home

At the Minnesota Twins fantasy camp down in Florida, Bruce Thome had the time of his life. A week of baseball, meeting Twins icons, getting the big league treatment. One of the highlights was meeting other guys that were there for the same experience. Creating bonds and talking about their mutual love for the game. 

When Bruce was back in Iowa, preparing with his Urbandale Twins baseball team for the upcoming Mid Iowa Baseball season, he asked his teammates if they'd be interested in playing a road game against Dale Bjerke's Crystal Cubs up near the Twin Cities. Dale and Bruce knew each other from the fantasy camp and had talked about having their teams play. The team agreed that it would be fun and looked forward to it throughout the summer season. 

That plan came to fruition in October of 2020, when Bruce and the Twins made the trip up one weekend and played against the Crystal Cubs and Brooklyn Center Dodgers. 

Everyone there had a great time. It is baseball after all. Once the playing was through, while talking, eating and drinking, it was suggested that they should do it again. Have a friendly get together with baseball as the catalyst. Only next time, it was decided that they should meet in Iowa, where it might be a bit warmer in the spring. It was here that the idea for the Ruckus was conceived.

Bruce went back to his home in Urbandale, Iowa with his mind on baseball and the task of organizing the next meet up. 

Bruce was brainstorming ideas for the get together. His first thought was to host the teams right there in Urbandale. He began discussing his ideas with his teammate, Dave Hick. Dave had not been able to make the trip to Minnesota, but Dave knew just the place they were looking for.

I know a place

Dave grew up in the small farm town of Rippey, Iowa, not far from his current home of Urbandale. He used to play on the town's baseball field as a kid all the way up through his high school playing days for East Greene High School. He thought it would be the perfect spot to host their friends for a day of baseball. 


Small is a relative term. I'm from California and live in a small town of 2000 people. That's pretty tiny by California standards.

Rippey, I think could be considered a small town by any standard, with a census population of just over 200 people and a footprint just under 1 square mile. But as we all know, from small places can come big things. 

I had never heard of Rippey. It was through an interview with Bruce Thome on BT⚾️P Live back in June that I was first introduced to the name of the town. It's also the first time I heard of the event the town would host, the Rippey Ruckus, organized by Bruce  and Dave. The event wouldn't have happened without them. But it also couldn't have happened without the community and embrace of baseball in Rippey. 

Being a lover of all things baseball, especially amateur ball played across the country, I wanted to learn more about the Rippey Ruckus. And I have to say, I've fallen in love with a town I've never been to. 

"Rippey has always been a baseball town."

That is the first line on a plaque, embedded in a rock at the base of the flag pole, just beyond the outfield fence at Walt Anderson field (formerly Martin Field), on the western edge of Rippey. The baseball history of the town supports this.

Rippey came into being in 1870, a place where railroad tracks, coal and farming came together in Greene County. Always a small community, the embrace of baseball started early in the town's life. 

Rippey's first baseball team, the Hard Scrabble, came into being in 1880. Back then, playing barehanded and hitting with bats made from whatever wood you could get your hands on was still the common way games were played. Gloves and standardized bats were only just coming on the scene in someplaces but hadn't reached most ballplayers yet. In Rippey, willow branches were a common choice for a bat. 

The town's baseball field moved around a few times over the next 60 years. Funds were raised to build a new field and in 1940, the place, where baseball is still played over 80 years later, was opened with a double header on June 23. The field was named Martin Field as an honor to a man known as "Grandpa" Martin, the last Civil War veteran living in Greene County. 

The field would go on to serve for youth, community, high school and semi pro games. Through fund raising, the Rippey ball park became one of the first fields in Iowa to add lights, ushering night games to the community. In 1959, an electronic scoreboard and wooden press box were added. 

While Rippey may be small, it had a big reputation for baseball. So much so that in the 1950s and 1960s, 4 high school state tournaments were held at Martin Field, bringing teams from throughout the state. 

In the late 50s, the town ball team was formed. Originally called the Rippey Merchants, they soon took on the name of the Rippey Demons after securing uniforms from a Des Moines team that was changing their name to the Iowa Oaks (later to become the Iowa Cubs). The team played on for years and in the 60s would play in the semi pro championship only to fall just short of the title.

Rippey High School would call the field home until they were consolidated with another school. In 1962, Martin Field became the home field of East Greene High School and retained that honor for 50 years until the school was consolidated in 2012. 

In 2003, the field was renamed Walt Anderson Field, for Walt Anderson, a longtime supporter of Rippey baseball. He played a role in securing those uniforms for the Rippey Demons. He was a general lover of both baseball and Rippey. 

After 2012, the field was an occasional host to middle school games. But it no longer hosted High school or semi pro games. It slowly started to fall away as a baseball destination and the field was no longer given the care it had gotten for so many decades. 

About 5 years ago, Coach Mel Murken moved to Rippey after retiring. A longtime coach in Ankeny, Coach Murken, is an inductee of the Iowa Baseball Hall of Fame. He is a baseball guy, through and through.

He saw the field looking down, in disrepair and calling out for attention. He saw there was a gem standing under the weeds in the infield and chipping paint on the grandstand benches. He knew what needed to be done. 

Along with Merle Jackson, Mel got out and started giving Walt Anderson field the love it deserved. They started cleaning out the weeds, mowing the grass and fixing up the diamond and surrounding infrastructure. It was a labor of love. The community and Friends of Rippey added their support, donations for supplies and equipment, and volunteered their time to bring the facility back to its former glory. 

Rippey is and always has been a baseball town, after all. 

Great things start from a simple idea

The thought of hosting play in Rippey was appealing to Dave and Bruce. Dave knew the field had been getting some rehabilitating care from Coach Mel. There had been talk of the Mid Iowa Baseball league playing some games in Rippey. It seemed like a perfect match. 

They reached out to Mel, who is also the baseball commissioner of Rippey, about the possibility of hosting some friendly games at the ball park. At the same time, the idea for the games started to blossom into something more. Not just a group of exhibition games or a tournament, but an event. Some ideas floated around and a name was chosen.

The Rippey Ruckus was born. The teams that the Iowa players had played against in Minnesota were invited. The proposal was brought to the town council for approval and was given an unanimous thumbs up. The mayor said they could keep the lights on as long as needed. 

The Friends of Rippey became involved, as well as other supporters in the community. The event was growing from a friendly set of baseball games to a community project. Rippey is a place with a long love of baseball. And baseball was now coming back to Rippey. 

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Bruce and Dave, the beautiful field that Mel and Merle had brought back to life, the help of community organizations and the people of the town and surrounding communities, the Rippey Ruckus was shaping up to be a great new event. Community, baseball and fellowship. 

The Inaugural Rippey Ruckus

On the weekend following Mother's Day in 2021, the first Rippey Ruckus kicked off. Four teams made up the first participants; The Crystal Cubs and St. Michael Angels from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the South Dakota Jackalopes along with Bruce and Dave's crew, renamed the Rippey Demons as an homage to the town's former squad. As a side note, Bruce wears #19, in my very biased opinion, the absolute best number. 

Friday and Saturday consisted of games between the 4 teams. On Sunday the Angels and Demons faced off in the event final. Fun was had by all. 

After the games each day, the players would hang out and socialize with each other. Bbqs and concessions were run by the local community. Residents from Rippey and the surrounding community came to watch the games, like they have for decades. Some sat in the newly repainted, old style wood grandstand. Others lined the fences along the foul lines. Everyone was pleased to see games being played at Walt Anderson field again.

The rules were mostly based on those used in adult baseball leagues around the country, with a few modifications. Because this was a preseason tourney for most participants, there were no limits on having a courtesy runner. You could bat nine, the entire roster or anywhere in between in the lineup. A player could get subbed out of the lineup and come back in as long as it was the same batting position. Pitchers could sub in and out, allowed to go back in after coming out of a game, if desired. Games were 7 innings or 2 hours 15 mins to ensure all games were able to be played on the single field. 

Rule #1, and by far the most important,...HAVE FUN AND DONT GET HURT.

While the Ruckus didn't shy away from the goal of every player to go out and do their best to win, they put the emphasis of the tourney on everyone having a great time. Enjoying the game of baseball, the friendships on and off the field, and beautiful park to play on. 

The cost was $600/team per team. If you've played in adult tournaments before, you know this is an incredibly low fee for a 4 game event. From the proceeds, the umpires were paid for their role in the games. The rest went to help further fund Rippey baseball's efforts to continue field rehabilitation, maintenence, equipment and improvements. Proceeds from the BBQ and concessions also contributed to this effort. 

From all accounts, the players and community all had a great time. The first Rippey Ruckus was a success for baseball and the town of Rippey. Everyone who came together to make this happen really hit one out of the park. 

If you are wondering, the champions of the first Rippey Ruckus were the St. Michael Angels from Minnesota, after going undefeated thoughout the weekend. Congrats to them, and it's hoped they will return in year two to attempt to defend their title. 

The Aftermath 

After the success of the Rippey Ruckus, Walt Anderson field has continued to host adult games.  

Over the summer, the Mid Iowa Baseball league played there over many weekends. The different age divsions of the league carved out weekends for their chance to play there. This continued on through the course of the season. 

There is talk that some high school games may start being played in Rippey again in 2022.

In October, the organizers of the Ruckus put together a three team mini tourney they called the Rippey Fall Classic. Once again, Rippey stepped up to the plate for baseball. 

In the Fall Classic, both the Rippey Demons and St. Michael Angels returned while newcomer, the Kansas City Monarchs made the trip up to enjoy a weekend of baseball. Stann Tate, of the Monarchs, is involved with organization of the Negro League Baseball Museum Summer Classic, an event that had it own Inaugural tournament over the summer in Kansas City. Believe me, when I say, there will be a story on that event coming in the future. 

Bruce and Dave are already busy planning for the next Rippey Ruckus. The dates have been set for April 29-May 1. There are other possibilities being discussed. Finding ways to expand the field of teams, adding a second weekend to accommodate age divisions, and maybe even keeping the lights on over night and playing around the clock.  Nothing is set on those possibilities yet, but rest assured the Ruckus will be coming back for year two, ready to play baseball in a baseball town. 

The final 90

When I first decided to write about the Rippey Ruckus, I thought I was just going to learn some details about a baseball tournament that I'd heard about in a baseball forum. It sounded interesting and I thought the real story was about how an event like this got off the ground. The birth of the Ruckus is definitely interesting. 

I found, though, that you can't tell the story of the Rippey Ruckus without the story of Rippey itself and its baseball history. Together, I walk away with a better appreciation for both. 

To me, Rippey represents what baseball was for decades. From the beginning, the game was meant to be played on the small stage, with ordinary people as participants and residents coming out to watch their neighbors.  Baseball was what you did after work or school, on the weekends, after chores were done or after church. 

Folks enjoyed getting out on the field, not to be superstars, but because it was their favorite way to spend their summer days or fall nights. For those that weren't playing, games provided entertainment, a chance to socialize and a source of common enjoyment. Games were an occasion to forget the work day and enjoy life. 

As the world has gotten bigger and populations grow, baseball's place in people's lives has shifted. If people want to watch a game, they turn on the TV. They find other ways to stay entertained. Crowds don't show up to parks to watch little league or amateur games unless they have ties to the players on the field. As places grow, they become less connected. 

Even the MLB is struggling with how to keep  people engaged. Hard core fans are not their concern. It's casual fans. They worry about not attracting the younger generation. They experiment with rule changes and gimmicks in an effort to bring attention back to their product. But I think they are fighting the wrong battle. 

Baseball didn't become the National Pasttime because of rules or gimmicks. It became the game people loved because of community. People felt connected to baseball, playing or attending in their hometowns. They loved that every game was an event. That baseball connected them to each other and to others across the country. Baseball wasn't just for players and their families. It was for everyone.

The Yankees and Whitesox played at the iconic Field of Dreams venue in Dyersville Iowa this past summer. MLB said it was one of their most watched regular season games in a long time. It wasn't because of the teams playing. It was because fans and casual viewers were drawn to the nostalgia the game brought to them. 

That field and the movie it was built for bring back that old feeling of baseball. When it was played in small towns by ordinary people. The barnstorming teams that would travel across the country. Town teams that would play against other towns and counties. Sandlot games the local kids would play as soon as enough showed up. 

It's baseball the way its meant to be played. By the community, for the community and involving the community.

Rippey, Iowa embraces this. When Coach Murken wanted to fix the field back up, people volunteered to help. The community was supportive and wanted to be a part of the effort. When Bruce was brainstorming ideas to host the games, Dave knew Rippey was the perfect place.

Rippey embraced the Rippey Ruckus, welcoming it with open arms. They always have been a baseball town. And the Spirit of the Ruckus reflects the town as well. Its not about the trophies or money. Its focus is on the players, fans and residents. Bringing good people together for a good time surrounded by good baseball. 

The way baseball should be. 

I look forward to finding and exploring more places and events like these. I hope to one day make the trip to Rippey and their Rippey Ruckus. I wish Bruce, Dave, Coach Mel, Merle and the rest of Rippey the best of luck and thank them for keeping the baseball spirit alive and well. 

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If you enjoyed this story, please share so that others can have the chance to learn about Rippey and the Rippey Ruckus. Comments are always welcome, too!

Below are some resources if you'd like to learn more about Rippey and the Ruckus.

Greene County News

Rippey News

BT⚾️P Live

Kelley's Corner

Bee Herald

WHO13

Rippey baseball on twitter

***Photos provided by Bruce Thome and Rippey ⚾️ Ruckus Facebook group***



Comments

  1. What a wonderful and heartwarming article that captures my hometown 's baseball heritage . Thanks to Mek, Merle, Bruce, Dave and current and firmer residents who have helped to continue the rich tradition of baseball in Rippey

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