Well folks, most of you know that I have a real passion for baseball, especially the kind that was played in the 40s, 50s and 60s when town team amateur ball was at its best.
Games were played on fields that are covered with forests now, fields that have been covered with farm buildings for decades and fields that are just a memory, where the ghosts of those who have come and gone linger.
The Aitkin fairgrounds had just such a field back in 1949, where on July 7, two teams with legendary rosters came together to battle for bragging rights in front of over 2,000 fans. Yes, I said over 2,000 fans. It was on a Monday at the conclusion of a Centennial celebration on a wet field on a hot day. The previous day the temperature had reached 102 degrees when Connie Lueck, a Hall of Fame-er pitched nine innings in Great Central League action. He was ready to go again in this contest played against the best of the Upper Mississippi League All-Stars. The Stars boasted a lineup of guys with names like John and Don (Shanks) Davies; Howards; Orjala; Reno Koivisto, the starting hurler; Gordy Pasell; and three Marons from McGregor.
They were coached by another Hall of Fame-er, Herman Woock.
Aitkin had a who’s who of baseball lore with Lueck; Bill Cline; yet another Hall of Fame-er, Roy Elmeer; Al Westerlund; Jim Killeen; and even a Woodrow (not me of course, I wasn’t born yet). The game was a nine inning beauty with Lueck going the distance and fanning 12 hitters while each team had six hits. Lueck was 2-3 at the plate and knocked in the winning run while Elmeer had the other Aitkin run batted in while Lester Maron knocked in the only All-Stars run. It was a great game that held the huge crowd spellbound to the very end, a final strikeout by the big left-hander.
This game was written up in the Independent Age the following week. I got a lot of the info for this column but I had quite a connection to a number of the players involved. I was in attendance at the induction of both Bill Cline and Connie Lueck into the Minnesota Amatuer Baseball Hall of Fame and I was a neighbor of DeVere Alexander and his mother, who rented a spot on our yard for their mobile home while he was growing up. He scored the first run for Aitkin on a hit by Elmeer in the fourth inning. One of the three umpires in the game was George Smith, our neighbor to the west and was a veteran behind the dish. As I grew up I met many of the players in this great game and listened to their stories over the years. Most are gone now but it’s our job to keep their memory and their memories alive.