We visit Franklin Rogers Park, home of the Mankato MoonDogs and the former home of the Mankato Mets. Page 2: The Mankato Mets.
Though Key City Park opened in 1961, the city’s pro history begins in 1966, when Bismarck-Mandan dropped out of the Northern League at the end of the season. Charlie Frey, supervisor of scouting for the New York Mets, asked an old friend, Fritz Taylor, if he thought Mankato could support a pro baseball team. Frey knew the area from managing and playing for the Mankato Merchants in the Southern Minny League in the 1950s. Taylor formed a group called Mankato Area Baseball Corp. that ran the team. Taylor worked a plan to play at Key City Park, which held just 1,160 seats but could be expanded.
The Mets did their best to help promote the team. At a winter banquet intended to drum up interest in the new team, then New York manager Wes Westrum and Yogi Berra (then a Mets coach) appeared, as did Davy Jones, a teammate of Ty Cobb’s who lived in Mankato.
Despite having two very competitive teams, the Mets never caught the Key City’s imagination, drawing just 20,441 fans in its two seasons. In that brief time span, however, the Mets produced four players who eventually made it to the major leagues (Rich Hacker, Jessie Hudson, Ernie McAnally and Tom Robson). Mike Martin, who has won over 1,600 games in more than 30 seasons at head coach at Florida State, was a rookie outfielder on the 1967 team. Joe Frazier, who managed the 1968 team, eventually moved up the chain and managed the major league club in 1976 and for 45 games in 1977.
Over 40 years later, McAnally, an outfielder on that first Mankato team who later made it to the major leagues as a pitcher with Montreal, remembered his time there with a smile. “Most of us were too young and dumb to know what we were doing. Basically, you concentrated on playing baseball,” he said. “ Our president (Taylor) owned a restaurant in town (Broiler Café). We ate there a lot. That was a good thing because we were only making $550 a month.”