An outfielder with a .248 career batting average, William Ashley "Billy" Sunday was known for his speed and base running, playing most of his career for the Chicago White Stockings of the National League. In 1891, Sunday, an eight year major league veteran, turned down a $3,000 contract to begin work for the YMCA. His motivation was his desire to devote his life to spreading the message of Christianity. A convert to the faith, Sunday became a prolific Christian evangelist, traveling throughout the United States and speaking to crowds about the faith and the value of clean living for over 20 years. Ironically, Sunday's teammates with the White Stockings were quite notorious for their drinking, gambling, and generally reckless behavior. Sunday, however, even before his conversion, was not among the rowdy of the group.
In August 1897, Billy Sunday visited Fargo on one of his speaking tours. On a Sunday afternoon, the 22nd, Sunday spoke at the YMCA, and that evening, addressed a crowd at the Fargo opera house. In the days leading up to Sunday's visit, Fargo player A. J. Hessler urged residents to go see the fiery evangelist speak. With the RRVL's break up two weeks earlier, Hessler was spending some time playing for a team from Foster County in North Dakota. Hessler made a special trip from Grand Forks to Fargo to see Sunday, whom he touted as "one of the finest fellows I have met" (Sunday Argus Aug 22).