HASTINGS, Minn. — Driver? 3-wood? Or 19-ton excavator?
Audie Cole and Michael Mauti are more than golf buddies. The linebackers have been close friends since Mauti arrived three years ago in Minnesota in Cole’s second year with the Vikings. In addition to all the time they spend together in meetings, practices and games, Cole and Mauti enjoy a wide array of activities off the field.
The duo recently had a unique opportunity on an off day to build a tee box, place a basketball at the top of the pile and do a 360-degree swing of the bucket attachment of excavators in a long drive contest like no other.
Cole claimed the title, as Mauti’s drive was hampered by hitting beneath the ball. Both wound up in the sand, which is kind of the fairway at Extreme Sandbox, a heavy equipment adventures company in Hastings that is the only one of its kind in the Midwest.
In addition to the driving contest, they were also able to use the excavators to lift large sedans, spin them around and parallel park them between barrels.
“I’m not a terrible parallel parker. I learned it at an early age,” Cole said. “It was a pretty smooth one. I haven’t done it lately though. My truck is too big.”
Connected by headsets, Audie was able to give Mauti a little grief for knocking over the front barrel with a Buick, and Mauti was able to point out how his dirt piles with the excavator and bulldozer stood taller.
“I think overall it was a wash because my pile of dirt on the bulldozer was substantially larger,” Mauti said. “When you’re talking about the excavator, I would say I built up the biggest pile of dirt. That’s really what it’s about. I made a little more of a divot. I took too much off the top, but it happens.”
The idea for Extreme Sandbox originated when owner Randy Stenger and his son drove past a construction site and wondered about giving adults an opportunity to revisit their younger sandbox days on a much larger scale.
“This is a dream since you were a kid. Everybody was playing with toys like this in their sandbox and now they get to relive it as an adult,” said Adam Johnson, sales and marketing director. “For a lot of people that come out here, this is their bucket list item. They’ve driven past a construction site and thought, ‘What is it like to play on those pieces of equipment?’ We give you the opportunity to do that, and more importantly, we give you the opportunity to do that in a really safe, secure environment with a trained instructor that can help you through anything and any obstacle.”
Mauti drew Cole in last year’s secret Santa exchange between linebackers and wanted to get him an activity instead of a material thing.
The only problem is gift bags aren’t made for bulldozers or excavators.
“He comes to the secret Santa and everyone got all these cool things, and Mike was like, ‘I got this email. I’m going to send you the link and you’ll see. It’s a certificate.’
Cole said everyone kind of shrugged at first, but after heading out at last after almost six months, “we were like, ‘Why didn’t we do this right away?’ ”
“It was awesome. I think the excavator is the coolest thing,” Cole said. “It’s fun digging holes and screwing around. I wasn’t that sweet on the bulldozer. It’s a good time.”
Mauti said playing in the sandbox is some of the best “good, clean fun” anyone can find.
“You come out here, drive a bulldozer, you ramp off them, you get the excavator, digging holes, I mean, as a kid, that’s all we did,” Mauti said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to come out here and have good, clean fun.”
After playing in the box of the defense the night before, when the Vikings defeated the Buccaneers in Minnesota’s home preseason opener, Cole and Mauti enjoyed returning to Extreme Sandbox.
“I think they did incredible,” Johnson said. “This was their second time out here. You could tell they had really good hand-eye coordination. I’ve got to give it to Michael for sure on the bulldozers. That was an incredible job, but Audie crushed it over there with the golf challenge. It was great to see those guys play.”