For years, the Royal Bavarians, out of Germany baseball (aka Bundesliga's) 2nd league, didn't even have a real field to play on.
Füssen, where they're located, is a hockey town. There are ice rinks dotted across the country's southernmost city. Soccer is also, of course, pretty big. And one of its main claims to fame is that it's the cradle of European violin-making.
"When I first started playing in Füssen, we literally played in a parking lot," current player Daniel Mendelsohn said.
"Yeah, our old field was just like an all-gravel soccer field," team chairperson Michael Stephan told me in a phone call.
But Stephan, who'd been playing baseball his whole life and grew up watching Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. mash home runs from seven time zones away, had dreams of something more.
He had visions of a state-of-the-art ballfield his team could be proud of. A place where fans would want to come, a complex where he could develop both his organization and youth teams for generations to come.
So, he went about raising money to build a new field in a wonderfully scenic spot in a mountain town with, well, nothing but wonderfully scenic spots. It was a difficult process to get the funding for a sport that was not super popular in the area, but once Stephan came up with the money, he broke ground on the new field in 2019.
The plot of land was located right next to the old gravel pit they'd been playing on for years. The views are hard to even imagine unless you're there yourself: The small village of Füssen sits off to the right, the amazingly blue Lech River twists around the back end of the diamond along left field and the Bavarian Alps rise up beyond the outfield fence. It looks like an illustration out of a childhood folk story. A scene J.R.R. Tolkien might write up rather than a real, actual place.
"From the scenery and stuff and the way it's positioned, the landscape, it's really in like a prime spot of the city," Stephan told me. "It's right next to the road that goes to the city center. So many people pass it."
Speaking of folklore, there is an element of the scene that is exactly that: The Neuschwanstein Castle can be seen perched on top of a hill way out past the field's outer dimensions. You can see it pretty clearly in the background of this youth team photo.
What is the Neuschwanstein Castle? It's the inspiration behind Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland. So yes, there's literal Disney magic hanging in the air above this ballpark.
King's Field officially debuted in 2021, and teams and players took notice of the new grounds right away.
"Oh yeah, visiting teams, when they first come out, take their cameras out for pictures," Stephan said. "Everyone is amazed just standing there looking at the mountains and castle. It's pretty cool."
Fans also flock to the park whenever possible. For the size of the town (about 14,000 people) and the second-league status of a sport people probably wouldn't rank No. 1 or 2 or even 3 on their list, Stephan says they get very good numbers. The building crew is still in the process of adding more seating to King's, but by the time it's all done, it should hold about 5,400 people.
Along with now having a diamond that his team is proud to play on, the beauty of King's Field is it provides another way to help spread the sport of baseball in a region of the world where, little by little, it has been growing. Kids might see videos or photos of the field and have an instant interest in learning more about the game. There are youth baseball teams at King's, and even from just 20 years ago, Stephan is in awe at the skill level of the younger generations.
"I'm amazed at how much better the level of play gets as the kids age," he said. "It's crazy."
You can also see it at the national level: Germany is in the midst of hosting the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Regensburg and could advance to the final rounds in March 2023 to take on powerhouses like the Dominican Republic and Team USA. Max Kepler, born in Berlin and a player Stephan coached on a U-15 state team back in the day, is a star player for the Minnesota Twins. The future of German-born players playing in the Majors also looks bright.
"I think we have three signings already this year to pro teams," Stephan told me. "You can really see more and more players going over there."
Although they might someday get a chance to play in the big leagues in front of 50,000 screaming fans, it's hard to imagine they'll set foot in another place with such fantastical confines as the little Bavarian town in their own home country.
*All photos via Michael Stephan *