Woodworking: Pasture-pitched ball played just for the love of the gameI read last month that Gopher basketball coach Tubby Smith earns $1.7 million per year in a state where grade school teachers have to reach into their own pocketbooks to buy paper and pencils for their less affluent students.
I read last month that Gopher basketball coach Tubby Smith earns $1.7 million per year in a state where grade school teachers have to reach into their own pocketbooks to buy paper and pencils for their less affluent students.
Someone said, “$1.7 million: That’s cheap compared to what some of the coaches earn.”
What’s wrong with this country?
Are we nuts?
Call me an old coot covered with primordial scales, but I’d like to see the country go back to the old days, when every little town had a town baseball team, a town basketball team made up of old hairy- and bow-legged players who remembered when their high school team almost made it to the tournament in Madison in 1938.
My father said, in the 1920s even coulee communities with no city hall or anything had their own baseball teams and played out in pastures. When I grew up, that was gone but every real town had a team.
My friend Grant Hanson recalled that he practice taught in my hometown back in 1954 and the teachers at school talked him into joining the team, which did not make him popular back in his hometown down the road, Arcadia.
One of Grant’s teammates was Ben Bergsrud, late of the UW-River Falls athletic department.
Grant remembered that one of Whitehall’s arch rivals was Pigeon Falls, population 200 back then, and seven miles away from Whitehall.
Another arch rival was the PNA team from Winona. That stood for Polish National Alliance and was captained by a guy named Max Molock, known in Norwegian Whitehall as Max Molock, the Mad Polack.
Ethnic disunities aside, town baseball was a big event before the advent of TV.
Melby Park in Whitehall was beautifully maintained and drew large crowds every Sunday before World War II. One of my fond memories was driving into town with my mom and dad for an afternoon doubleheader against Blair.
It was “Kenny Swenson Night.” Kenny was a young barber in town and a great pitcher. He was off to the wars, four years in Burma, where he barbered the troops.
When he came home in 1946, the Whitehall nine had another event, called “Kenny Swenson Night.”
Many of the players in the little towns had professional experience. In Whitehall, Len Ellison had played for Winnepeg, Bob Nehring for a Chicago Cubs farm team. In Independence, Pete Misch pitched for the St. Louis Browns.
Those guys, when they returned home, were old, but good. Ernie Rudolph often showed up on the mound for Black River Falls when the Jackson County nine played Whitehall. Rudolph had actually played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Of course those guys didn’t make any money, money that’s now showered on the spoiled brats who play professional ball these days.
In the late 1930s, the Whitehall nine won the state championship in Milwaukee. Journal columnist Lloyd Larson introduced the players to a Chicago Cubs exec and the team took the $500 it won and bought used Cubs uniforms.
Classy: All wool, gray, with black stripes.
Former UW-RF Chancellor George Field played for little Melrose, where he was teaching and remembers he was offered a contract with the Winona Chiefs, a bigtime team in the Southern Mini league.
George’s pay would have been less, he recalls, than he made at Melrose when the team split up the gate at year’s end.
But all is not lost, folks. After many years, Whitehall has a new baseball team which plays in a refurbished, concrete-yet, stadium, built in part by a local guy whose grandfather was brought to town back in the 1920s to pitch ball. He stayed on.
Of course the reconstituted Southern Mini league now plays not in Winona, Minn., but in little towns like Dundas, Minnesota, and plays well.
And what about River Falls?
We’ve got the Fighting Fish. We should all turn off our TV sets and go watch them the next time they’re home — or away.
I contacted player-publicist Nathan Brom at his office in Johnnie’s Bar and he kindly provided me with the Fish’s home games this summer.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 426-9554.