New Brighton mayor throws first softball pitch, welcomes spring


Solomon Gustavo photo • Johnson and softball player Scott Ranfranz chatted before the game — Johnson said the idea of the her, the mayor, throwing out the first pitch started as a joke, but then she decided it would be a fun thing to do.

Solomon Gustavo photo • New Brighton Mayor Val Johnson delivered the ceremonial first pitch to start the season for a city-run men’s softball league May 1 at Freedom Park in New Brighton.

“Two weeks ago, it was a blizzard,” said New Brighton Mayor Val Johnson the evening of May 1 as she walked toward the backstop at Freedom Park in New Brighton to throw the ceremonial first pitch for a city-run men’s softball league. “Now, it’s a dry field in great shape.”

The setting sun crawled behind overcast clouds as the towering park lights slowly lit up. Players from each team — Boom Island vs the Greenman Boys — hovered near their respective dugouts, warming up while waiting for the season to start. 

Johnson walked up to player Scott Ranfranz, who handed her the game ball and said the mayor made his teammates feel pressure to win because she was there. 

“Yeah, they should feel pressure,” Johnson deadpanned. To the umpire, who was also standing there, Johnson said, “You better make sure I throw a strike.”

“Well,” said the ump, “that’s your problem.”

Ranfranz announced Johnson’s approach to the mound and the teams, along their respective smattering of supporters who were relaxing on the bleachers, gave her a cheer. Johnson, who has played in softball leagues herself and practiced her throw with Ranfranz the night before, threw a pitch a bit high and outside. And with that ceremonial ball, the season began. 

The idea of the mayor throwing the first pitch came one day at work, said Johnson, when a few employees who play in the league said it would be funny if she did it. 

“It started as a joke at work,” she said, “then, I thought, ‘You know what, how fun?’” 

Johnson said that this reluctant spring is a great time because all of the city fields are being used and teams are out finally enjoying the nice weather. She added that Lions Park will have lights added for an adult-sized field that will be ready in about another year. 

The Tuesday night men’s league is one of at least six New Brighton softball leagues. Ranfranz said he’s played in city softball leagues on and off for nearly 20 years. 

Tony Wallerius, a public works staffer in the sewer department and a New Brighton Department of Public Safety firefighter, was recognized by Johnson and the two had a little conversation. 

“He’s got the most important job, lemme tell ya,” said Johnson of Wallerius’ sewer duties. He said he normally plays for the firefighter team but said he joined the guys last Tuesday because they needed a ringer. 

After her ceremonial pitch, Johnson sat in the bleachers to watch the game. “Go, go, go,” she hollered as a batter who hit a pitch into the right gap rounded first base. 

“Lets go, Scott,” said Johnson as Ranfranz walked to the plate. He roped a ball that squeaked over the left field fence for a home run, the first of the season, on his first pitch.

Shortly thereafter, another right-hander hit another home run, looping an opposite field fly ball over the fence.

“Maybe we should extend the fence?” laughed Johnson.    

  

— Solomon Gustavo

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