If someone had a question about amateur baseball in Minnesota, they could turn to Fred Roufs for an answer.
“We all knew what was going on around the state because of his contacts. Fred just had this drive to find out what was going on around the state. He had people he called, communicated with, to understand it all,” said Mark Forsman, who served on the Minnesota Baseball Association for 20 years with Roufs, this past year as vice president.
On Tuesday evening, Jan. 12, 2021, Roufs, longtime MBA vice president and current president, passed away at the age of 73.
After a bout of COVID in November, he was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre Syndrome. He was at a hospital in Sioux Falls, rehabbing to again have the ability to have full movement of his body.
Forsman said he was notified of Roufs’ death on Wednesday morning.
“What’s heavy on my heart is the last report I got on him, Fred was getting a little better. He was moving his arms. You think Fred will be back in a couple of months, maybe we’ll see him around some more in six months when baseball really gets going. And then I get the call,” Forsman said.
Forsman, now acting president of the Minnesota Baseball Association, called Roufs’ phone Tuesday evening to take in his input on some key issues being discussed at the next state board meeting in February.
“He was a great ambassador for amateur baseball. He was so passionate for it. Summed up, he was the true president for all of the state board and all of Minnesota baseball,” Forsman said.
The show must go on. And Roufs made sure of that in 2020 with Minnesota Amateur Baseball.
“He busted his ass to get us to play baseball last summer,” Forsman said.
With longtime MBA president John Richter announcing his resignation May 2, along with board secretary/treasurer Dave Hartmann, Richter’s right-hand man in Roufs stepped up to the plate to keep the game going.
There were countless conversations with league directors and health officials, and pleas to the state government to allow for baseball to be played during the pandemic. After all the hard work and considerations put into place, June 21 was the official opening day for Minnesota Baseball.
“Without Fred Roufs, we don’t have amateur baseball (in 2020). Simple as that. The guy was not going to take no for an answer. He would sit in at every New Ulm meeting. He was the first guy to volunteer to go wherever to push for baseball to be played. His passion really strengthened all of us board members to work together to make it happen,” said Mike Nagel, MBA secretary/treasurer.
With the original state tournament host New Ulm unable to fully commit, a July 27 emergency meeting was held in Glencoe. New sites were selected in Milroy and Springfield (the original third site) for Class C, and Shakopee for Class B.
The state board, with new board members Jason Kuerschner and John Gerads, had quite the challenge ahead of them to pull off the 2020 State Tournament.
Despite a cap of 250 fans per game, the 2020 event registered 14,313 fans, only a slight decrease from four previous years in which the attendance topped 15,000 for the first time since 1998.
“He was the driving force behind it all. It feels weird because it seems just a short time ago we were toasting each other for getting through a safe and successful state tournament. Fred lived amateur baseball. Jerry West is the poster boy for basketball, well Fred is the poster boy for amateur baseball in Minnesota,” said Nagel.
GOOD FOR THE GAME
Bob Roepke, chairman of the Chaska Cubs, called Roufs, of Mankato, a “true champion of amateur baseball.”
“Nobody showed up like Fred. He visited our ballpark many times. And it was not for a special occasion. He would just be passing through and would stop in and talk with everyone. He was always available. He was a rock for amateur baseball. He’ll be missed,” Roepke said.
Nagel said Roufs would plan out a weekly schedule, visiting ballparks and taking in games multiple times a week.
“We were short a room at a hotel one night and I offered to bunk with Fred. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. He just kept talking baseball. I remember saying to him, you can keep talking, but I’m going to sleep. It was 3 a.m. I fell asleep to him talking about what we needed to do. What we needed to get done. He never got tired of it. He had this huge fire inside of him for amateur baseball. You just don’t replace a guy like Fred Roufs,” Nagel said.
For Forsman, an “elder statesmen” on the MBA board along with Roufs and Dennis Brennan for 20-plus years, the 2020 baseball season showed the type of leader they had in their new president.
“He wanted to make some changes for the betterment of baseball. He really wanted to get everything up-to-speed with the 21st century. He was really looking forward to being the president for awhile,” Forsman said.
“He had a great relationship with everyone on the board. He was the president that let everyone speak their peace, give their input. I really felt everyone was going down the same path last year,” he added.
It is that path, one of high expectation and excitement, that the MBA will follow in Roufs’ honor in 2021.
“Fred was on the ballot for the hall of fame in 2020 and they didn’t get a chance to vote. I really hope this year they honor him. He needs to be in the hall of fame. Nobody meant more to amateur baseball than him. If it were up to me, I’d love to see a FR patch worn on uniforms this year. It’s that big of a deal,” Nagel said.