If you ask any of our Wausa players about baseball tradition you may get a weird stare in response. Tradition to them may be nothing more than pizza and pop after every game, and what’s wrong with that, works for me.
It remains important, however, that baseball history does have value, and the very reasons we have summer programs go hand in hand with saving the game and saving it for Wausa, sounds like something ‘traditional’. I’m not sure why the program’s organizers
spend so much of their free time in putting together such a top-notch program, but it always remains without question, somebody has to do it. But WHY?
Gladstone Park has seen its share of wild and wooly games as far back as 1950, and I have to stop there since my recollection of anything before Kindergarten is a blur and even that is getting shorter by the day! But, I can tell you for sure from having grown up in a household that salivated on a steady diet of baseball in those summer months, this game was like a trip to Yankee stadium twice a week. Yes, Gladstone and Yankee stadium from my perspective were one and the same right here in Wausa. (And I encourage any interested party to talk to some our players that still live in Wausa.)
The decade of the 50′s seemed nothing short of magical for a youngster in Swede-town, and even more gratifying when you lived in a home that created so much of Gladstone’s rich baseball history. Obviously when your father is the manager of the team you become automatically a go-for with nearly every aspect of ‘making things happen’ at the park. Other than just listening to a few thousand conversations with other players, spectators and visitors, your outlook on the importance of the game itself was building. Its mere presentation to the public, along with creating a mirror image of the ‘big leagues’ for the players was creating more evidence for tradition.
What was it like? How was the atmosphere any different than what it was in the following 4-6 decades? Again, you may find a better description from our local players to have played in that era since they were playing and I was pretending, or modeling, to be like them. Being the Team’s (Swedes) Batboy provides you with another insight, one that provided as much excitement as being right there in Yankee Stadium.
For starters, the diamond was usually groomed as smooth as glass, unless a recent rain interrupted those plans. Loomis Johnson was the main guy for keeping those lines straight and the bases in place. Our bases were not modern by any stretch of the imagination but they served their purpose. They usually had a minimum of one peg in the ground and the under-straps of the base connected to it. Did that create some problems for the runners and umps? Most certainly, and so many times players would fall when running through them since the bag would give way, or spin out of position. So many times a player would slide into a base and it would kick off to the side. The ump had to be use a bunch of discretion them, which usually was followed by a steady volley of ‘boooos’ depending on who got the break! Some nasty first-basemen would actually kick the base up in the air after snagging a throw to first, thus making the runner trip. And, sometimes those same first basemen received retaliation when they came up to bat.
Usually spectators and players would park their cars up and down the main drag right behind the grandstand. When that was filled, parking spilled over into the park itself, and onto the grass-field up to the pool area. Speaking of a grandstand, and that it was, completely enclosed with a nice roof, under seating storage areas for the concessions and baseball equipment. It also was great for the ‘announcers booth’, complete with a PA system and phonograph (that’s what they were called, then). Uncle Roy was usually the play by play and set up person, since he was a committee of one. He was in charge of playing some lively vinyl tunes from the 40′s prior to the game including batting practice for both teams. That placed ‘rocked’ with polkas, Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk, and the players and fans loved it.
There were wooden bleachers down both left and right field serving at least a hundred spectators. There were usually more down the right field line due to the ability to skip having to pay admission, which was taken right at the grandstand’s entry.
When the ticket taker walked down to that area you could see a bunch either walk or run to their parked cars, but not without their beer.
And the tradition continued year after year for me until I started playing on the Town (Swede) team. My very first hit was at Bloomfield, Whitey Mumm (pitched some for NU) doing the pitching, and yes, it cleared the center field fence. This is not about me, but rather what the game did to me, and for me, and how the tradition kept steamrolling into the mid-60s (when I finished college at Wayne State).
Gladstone was the home to Wausa’s finest players, and also other players that were actually paid to play for the Swedes. I can remember Don Gilley from U/Alabama, and he worked summer construction for Bill Olson. We had a pitcher and catcher come up from Sioux City; other teams in the old Elkhorn Valley League paid a few of their players as well (usually gas money ($0.15 per gallon) plus a few extra bucks. I was lucky enough to take advantage of that scheme too when Crofton would hire me play games against South Dakota teams.
We also had Rex Barney (Dodgers), Richie Ashburn (Phillies Hall of Famer), and Bob Gibson (Cardinals Hall of Famer) spend a little time in Gladstone. My brother, Gordon, even played some Minor-League baseball for the KC A’s, and White Sox. Both Ron Nelson and I played 4 years at Wayne State, however, I don’t have any other names to add from our team or the opponents.
Wausa also hosted an all-black team for a few games and a fun(d) raiser. They were in awe of our competitive play and were even beaten a few times.
I worked with another gent, Jack Borchers (played in Cardinal organization), and he too worked construction for Bill Olson. When we shared an apartment together in Bloomfield, Jack would get up in the morning, stretch, and then holler as loud as possible, “C’mon rain”, since we didn’t have to work when it did!
Back to Gladstone. Wausa had some of the best players in the League, and finished so often sharing the top spots with Bloomfield, Osmond, Randolph and Plainview. So many of our players could have gone on to higher competitions had they taken the opportunity for such. So many of our players were not street bums, but hard working agriculture gents.
If interested, please take some time to talk with Dale Wamberg, Ron Johnson, Gerald Gunderson, Norbert Tiemann (one time Gov./Nebr.), Lowell Erickson, or my brother in Des Moines. For pete’s sake (?) I cannot remember other players like, Roger Beals, whose dad Marlin ran a Ford/Mercury dealership, with partner Milton Larson (located which is now the Fireman’s Hall). Jim Eldorado of Wausa’s HVAC company (that bldg was used as a dealership for Chevrolet owned by …Juracek). Mike Johnson, a farmer that had an arm like a noodle and could throw 25 innings if needed. Kenny Goeden was one of the most competitive and skilled of all the pitchers whose niece is married to our own Brett Carlson. I only wished my memory served me better so I could give tribute to our terrific players.
What’s really so important here as they never knew that they were creating baseball history in Wausa. The young players we have playing this summer don’t have clue that they are either. But what remains so keen to both age groups is that they all played their hearts out by committing and sacrificing their collective and individual energies to keep the game rolling along. They did it as adults and we did it as kids just b)ecause we love the game so much.
Personally, from growing up inside the game (so to speak), this game gave me a college education with what it takes in competition, strategy and dedication to survive on the diamond and in life too. We can only hope that this experience will be one to start their ‘bucket list’ of ‘must-do’s.
Whenever I go to the park to watch a game, I can still see rows of parked cars back to the swimming pool, hear the phono spin vinyls of yesteryear, and listen to the crowd cheer whenever the occasion earned it. I still remember being hauled around on Carl Johnson’s shoulder and then running to find his bat (a 36″ Jackie Robinson model with a handle nearly as thick as the barrel), running in to get the bat before the catcher throws it back at me, and chasing foul balls ($.10 per ball) risking life and limb to fund my next bottle of soda. I will always love the sound of a good ‘whack’ rather than a ‘boink’.
Parents, coaches, concessions, and players should all be so lucky to be part of the game, continuing its existence, and perpetuating the Tradition. When this Freightliner lands back in Swede-town I hope to catch (not literally) a few of your games.
I guarantee that someday, and usually around the latter part of spring, your juices will flow once again, aching to get back out on the diamond to get dirty, win some games, listen to the cheers, sweat bb’s and look forward to that ’7th inning stretch (take me out to the ballgame). Now that’s traditional too.
Have a fun and successful season of Baseball. PLAY BALL!!!
Category: Rooster Tales