Land of 10,000 Stories: Back yard batting cage is field of dreams

1:44 PM, Jul 22, 2013   |    comments
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MINNETONKA, Minn. - On a screens-open summer morning, starlings, sparrows and robins typically provide the wake up soundtrack. But down Minnetonka's Clear Spring Road, folks awaken to a different beat.

"You would be laying in bed," smiles Lisa Pettersen, at the thought of it, "and you'd just be like, 'That's so awesome!'"

If music can come from the smack of a bat on a ball, a back yard batting cage has become the neighborhood concert hall.

Rick DesLauriers is both the brains and the back behind the cage.

"I've had a lot of crazy ideas; this one worked out well," he says.

His batting cage took shape 18 years ago from netting and some old phone poles discarded during a nearby road project.

Cages are normally meant to keep things in, but from that point forward, Rick couldn't keep the neighbors out.

"Crazy spreads really fast," smiles Rick.

From across the street came Griffin Powell -- and not just once.

"Probably once a day," Griffin says, "for the first 15, 16, 17 years of my life."

This fall Griffin will head to college in Mankato on a baseball scholarship.

From two doors down came little Derek Branson. He's now Minnetonka High School's reining baseball MVP. Come fall, he'll trade Rick's cage for a baseball field at Southwest Minnesota State University.

From just behind the cage -- in a house not more than a throw to first away -- came Luke Pettersen. Luke went to the state baseball tournament with Derek and Griffin this spring. As a junior, he was named to the all-tournament team.

It's so much baseball talent from three houses, just steps from each other.

"It can't be a coincidence, can it?" asks Andy Powell, Derek's dad. "It's not all the same genetic pool. We're not related."

What they do have in common is a neighbor so devoted to the neighborhood kids, he expanded the cage as they grew, by buying the house next door.

"He purchased the home. The city came out, re-plotted his land, so he had enough room," explains Paul Pettersen, Luke's dad.

Rick later tore down the house next door and resold the lot, minus the 30 feet he kept for his batting cage.

It wasn't the first time he'd reconfigured a property. Neighbors still talk about Rick moving his garage door to the other side of the house to make room for a ball field.

"It was like, why is he ripping up his driveway? Well, it was like there wasn't room for all the bases," laughs Lisa Pettersen.

Rick's obsession worked out nicely for Elliot Powell, the boy from across the street who now attends Concordia University on a baseball scholarship.

According to Rick's son, Mike DesLauriers, things could have turned out differently. He points to the batting cage.

"My memory was this or a swimming pool," he said.

Mike is certainly glad his dad opted against the pool. Not only did he play baseball for Gustavus University, he set, and still holds, the state record for hits in a high school career. For good measure, Mike shares the state record for most hits in a season with a guy named Joe Mauer.

"The boys, it's not inaccurate, they've literally grown up in the cage," says Andy Powell.

Actually, that's only accurate if you count among the "boys," Brittany Stewart -- a neighbor from across the street who earned a softball scholarship from Winona State University.

"This is where we all hung out, this yard," says Brittany, who ended her college career with a regional championship with the Winona State Warriors.

In the cage they squealed and squabbled -- and once summoned the cops when a wayward deer got ensnarled in their net.

"My son AJ has his senior picture in front of that batting cage," says Lisa Pettersen.

After posing for that picture, AJ Pettersen went on to take a few others, first with the Minnesota Gophers baseball team and then as an infielder currently working his way through the minor leagues with the Minnesota Twins.

So it takes no convincing to get 12-year-old John DesLauriers into his Uncle Rick's batting cage.

"Everybody that's older than me got great here," he says while taking pitches from his dad, "and I want to do the same thing."

Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew loved to tell of his mother's concern over the sorry state of their lawn. His father responded, "We're not raising grass, we're raising boys."

No one will be impressed with the state of the grass in Rick DesLauriers' back yard.

He's raising a neighborhood.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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