A multi-sport athlete, Tink Larson came to love baseball
(Editor’s Note: Clint “Tink” Larson is a Kasson native well-known throughout southern Minnesota for his love of baseball. This is Part One of his story.)
Clint “Tink” Larson was born in Kasson and, after moving to Stewartville for two years, started school in Mantorville. The family moved to different towns, including Hastings, Zumbrota, and finally, moved back to Kasson.
His dad, Levern, was a hired farm hand so the family would move to where the jobs were. It also meant making new friends when he started at a new school. After leaving farming, Levern worked at grinding feed at the local feed mill, which was a very dusty job. The normal retirement age was 65 but the mill allowed him to keep grinding feed until he was 75 because no one else wanted to do it.
Tink got his nickname when he started school. His dad spoke with a Norwegian accent and the nickname he had for Tink may have sounded something like Tinker so the kids at school just shortened it to Tink, which most people know him by.
While in elementary school at Mantorville, Tink was always impressed watching Phil Bradford make his arching shots at Mantorville, but he commented how small that gym was when he visited it years later. He remembers when the Mantorville football and baseball teams played a home game on Mantor Field, just north of the old school, and the teachers would take the students out to watch the afternoon games as they didn’t have lights at the field.
Larson was on the first K-M wrestling team
Tink was on the first K-M wrestling team in 1955-56 when he was in the 8th grade. He got the first win in school history when he won the first match at 95 pounds in a tournament in Mankato, a pin over a wrestler that ended up being a state runner-up. After three wins, he lost in the finals of that tournament to a future state champion and that was the only loss he had in two years. He hurt his knee in the last regular season match so his first season ended before the district tournament.
His undefeated 9th grade season ended when his Adam’s apple was pushed in by a teammate right before the district tournament and he ended up in the hospital. Tink thought he had a shot at a state tournament berth that year as in scrimmages he had tied the region champion and defeated the region runner-up. The following year, the new M wrestling coach heard about his injury so he didn’t push Tink to continue wrestling, and even though he really loved the matches, he disliked the practices so he gave up wrestling. He tried basketball in the 10th grade, and played on the B squad in the first game played at the new high school in 1958.
Tink went out for football his sophomore year, but got an ear infection and didn’t go back to playing after it was healed. He tried Golden Glove boxing in Rochester and never lost a welterweight match (147 points) that year. Matches were held before large crowds at the Mayo Civic Auditorium. He broke his thumb during a match just before tournaments started and that ended his boxing career.
When his family lived south of Kasson, he would ride the bus in the morning, but walked the six miles home (unless he was fortunate to catch a ride) after the sports practices as his folks were at work.
One time he walked 12 miles to Dodge Center just for a town team baseball practice.
He said that when he was growing up there was limited summer youth baseball, but he did play Midget ball after his freshman year and later for the Legion team and town team. He played baseball his sophomore and junior years, but was ineligible to play his senior year.
In his sophomore year, the team lost to Winona in the district championship game, 7-6, after having an early 6-1 lead. Winona had also beaten K-M in overtime in the district championship game.
Tink graduated from K-M in 1961. During his high school days he worked at Anderson’s Grocery in Kasson, first as a carry-out boy and shelf stocker, and later he worked in the meat department.
At Mankato State he lettered
He attended Mankato State College, lettering in baseball for four years, and he played one year of junior varsity basketball before seeing that he wasn’t good enough to play varsity basketball. Mankato qualified to play in the very first NCAA Division Two Region Baseball Tournament and ended up in second place, losing to Luther College.
He said his parents never saw any of his games in high school or college until after his second year in college as they worked long hours. He majored in physical education/health and social studies and graduated from Mankato State College in 1966.
In 1962, the Kasson town team was looking for a manager and at age 19 he was offered the job. That year he also coached the Legion and Midget teams. The town team won both the regular season and playoff championships that year.
In 1963, Tink played at Owatonna in the Southern Minny League and he also managed the Kasson town team. The next couple of years he played at Rochester in the Southern Minny. In 1965 they lost the State Championship game, 3-2. He said that was probably the best town team he ever played on. Only one starter was from Rochester as they could have outside players at that time.
While attending college, Tink ran the Kasson summer recreation baseball program and coached the Legion team for six years. He feels one of the best Legion teams he ever had was in 1965 when they won the First District Small Post championship and lost to Winona in a series to go to the state Legion tournament. He said he had one of his best-ever pitchers on that team in left hander Mick Shelstad.
Larson even played against legend player Satchel Paige
A baseball highlight occurred in 1965 while he was playing for Rochester. Tink played against baseball Hall of Fame legend Satchel Paige. Rochester played against a traveling “barnstorming” team, the Kansas City Monarchs. Paige played third base and pitched one inning, but Tink did not get to bat against him. In September of that year, Kansas City Athletics owner Charley Finley brought Paige up to pitch for the Athletics and he pitched three scoreless innings for the Major League team at age 60!
For five years while going to college Tink was also a part-time policeman during the summers. It was hectic whenever the Kasson police chief, George Weinknecht, would go on vacation. Tink would work every night for two weeks, and most nights he would only get two hours of sleep each night. He would go on duty as soon as he got home from playing or coaching a game and he would work until 4 a.m. He got to bed by 4:30 a.m. and got up at 6:30 to be at work by 7 a.m. He didn’t dare sit down at the noon hour or he would fall asleep!
It was pretty quiet when it came to law enforcement in those days. The biggest problem was kids climbing over the fence at the swimming pool at night and going for a swim. One night when he approached the pool, everyone took off running except one person still lying flat up on the high diving board. It looked suspiciously like his brother-in-law and his car was parked on the street in front of the pool. Tink took the keys out of the vehicle and the brother-in-law had to walk downtown and find him to get his keys back!
A chance meeting leads to marriage
Tink met Sharon Fjerstad by chance at the drive-in across the highway from the K-M School when he was home from college. He had first met her in first grade Sunday School and knew her during high school, but that was about it. When he was driving into the drive-in, she was driving out. They stopped and talked for a bit. He asked if she wanted to go to a movie sometime and she agreed. Tink said if there had been a car behind either of them they wouldn’t have stopped to talk and who knows if anything would have developed further as he would have been going back to college.
But, as it turned out, the rest is history as that visit turned into 50 years of marriage.
After college graduation, Tink signed up to attend a professional baseball umpire school in Florida. The next two years he was an umpire for minor league games in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The pay was low and he was married with two children with one on the way, so he looked for other opportunities.
Sharon saw an ad in the paper for a history teaching position, plus head baseball and assistant basketball coach, in Waseca, and she told him about it. Tink always thought when driving through Waseca that it looked like a nice community, so he sent in his application for the job.
(In Part 2, Tink Larson interviews for the job and moves on to the next step in his career.)
Photo: Submitted Photo Clint “Tink” Larson’s love of baseball started when he was a student at Kasson-Mantorville and has continued to the present day.