Minnesota Town Team Recollections

By Bob Greeley

2018 Shakopee Tri-Chairman

This continues a series of news stories, human interest pieces, or general info, all pertaining to the 2018 State Tournament host site communities.

I was raised on a farm east of Kimball, Minn. on the Fairhaven Road, aka, Stearns County Road 44. My Greeley grandparents lived up town next to the ballpark and railroad tracks. Summer Sunday afternoons as a youngster were a bike trip up town and operating the 7-Up manual scoreboard in straight-away center field, approximately 360 feet from home plate for the successful local nine. I garnered a quarter for my efforts and have on-going, in-game conversations with the talented Kimball center fielder at that time, Steve Brower. Sometimes my childhood best friend Tom Marquardt (MABHOF 2009) would help me. The Sunday afternoon league road trip games were with local baseball fan and family friend Donna Steichen.

The ballpark did not have a home run fence until the late 60s/early 70s. First a snow fence, then a chain link fence in the spring of 1975. The “open field” ground rules were interesting with the scoreboard operator in the field of play. Let’s just say that the field was not taken care of well back then. With the locally sponsored carnival taking over the field in mid-summer for three to five days, and the entire community’s rainfall and debris runoff converging onto the field each spring and summer, investments into the ballpark were limited. Ducks on the pond actually happened here.

I watched my local baseball heroes on Sunday afternoons in the shade of the center field box elder tree (state tournament entries in 1968, 1970, 1971 and 1972). They were good. Very good. Gary Palm, Steve Brower, Dick Weber, Bob Vincent, Jon Haapajoki, Dan Jensen, Art Dingmann, Larry Jensen, George Jensen, Howie Pennertz Jr. (draftee from Eden Valley, MABHOF 1999), Steve and Dan Fuchs (draftees from St. Augusta), Mark Kunkel (draftee from Pearl Lake), among others. I dreamed of playing for the local nine someday. My someday came in 1974-1980. I attended most of these state tournament games. The first I attended in 1968 was in Springfield (a road trip with the Jim Marquardt family), Kimball lost to Dakota on Sept. 3 (located in Winona County) in a tight, second-round pitcher’s duel 3-2. They defeated Fulda in a first-round game 3-2 on Aug. 30. Kimball’s starting pitcher was the hard-throwing Dan Jensen, ace of the St. Cloud Huskies. The Dakota starting pitcher played for the Winona State team. Dassel-Cokato won the 1968 state tournament with an 8-3 victory over Miesville.

The team (no official nickname back then) played in the Central Valley League (still does today). League powers were St. Augusta, Eden Valley and Kimball. The rest of the league had competitive teams that included Pearl Lake, Luxemburg, Rockville, St. Nicholas and Watkins. St. Augusta played in the state tournament from 1973-77 and 1980. Litchfield became a league member and played in 1978-79. We couldn’t get over the hump in those years. We had our many chances. We just didn’t get it done. Lots of great memories back then. Of course, after I graduated from college and moved away to my first fulltime job 150 miles away in Breckenridge, Kimball qualified for the state tournament in 1981. Figures. They finally landed a quality catcher and hitter in the lineup. Kimball has appeared in 11 state tournaments through 2017. The ballpark in Kimball is much nicer and well-kept than back in the day. Much credit for the ballpark’s improvements in recent years and the team’s success goes to Kimball Express manager Tom Marquardt. Tom and I graduated from Kimball High School in 1976. And, we played ball together from Little League through 1980. He was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. Becoming the Class C 2017 state champions was not a fluke. They have been very good under Tom’s leadership for many years. Former Kimball Schools Activities Director Leo Wirth (MABHOF 1996) also worked on a lot of the ballpark improvements. He is the Region 11C commissioner.

I recently participated in a Q and A with some of the Kimball players and managers from 1968-72.

What is your best MBA state amateur baseball tournament memory from 1968-72?

Steve Brower: As a young guy, it was just a great opportunity to be able to play with these older players that I looked up to. Playing in the state tournaments were always a fun time, especially to bat against some really good pitching and just the environment with the town support was always crazy.

Dick Weber: In the summer of 1968, between my junior and senior year in high school, I had the privilege of being a member of Kimball’s first baseball team to every play in the Minnesota state amateur baseball tournament.

Art Dingmann: During that 1968 season I was on the mound in relief and the game must have been out of reach, either way we were way ahead or behind. I remember hitting a batter with a pitched ball. He took offense and made a number of steps toward the mound. Big Jon Haapajoki came trotting in from first base in my defense and I was happy when the batter decided to turn away and make his way to first base.

Gary Palm: The second-round game in the 1968 state tournament versus Dakota, in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 2-2, I was on second base with one out and Jon Haapajoki at the plate. He hit a long fly ball to right field and I was tagging. The right fielder dropped the ball. Third-base coach Leo Wirth sent me home as the potential winning run. The throw was a little late and I dove for the plate, hitting the middle of the plate with my left hand. Game over. However, the catcher tagged me after I stood up and the umpire called me out. He had not seen me touch the plate. We went on to lose the game in extra innings 3-2. I have been sick about the play my entire life. I think we had the horses to win the tournament. Palm was the player/manager of the 1968 team.

Dan Jensen: 1968 first-round game pitching against Fulda with Kimball winning 3-2. This was after my freshman year at SCSU.

Bob Vincent: Any day playing and beating St. Augusta.

Leo Wirth: Sharing of time with the team members. Wirth managed the 1971 and 1972 teams. 

George Jensen: George managed the successful 1970 team and helped coach 1971 and 1972 state tournament teams.

Jerry Bremer: Springfield had a very nice ballpark and our draftee Howie Pennertz Jr. from Eden Valley was outstanding.

Mark Kunkel (draftee from Pearl Lake): 1968 second-round game versus Dakota in Springfield. The game ended in a very heavy rainstorm. The game should have been delayed but it wasn’t. I pitched three innings of relief of Dan Jensen. The mound was so slippery from the rain. It was so hard to even stand on it, much less pitch from it. Howie Pennertz Jr. was the catcher and Dakota bunted to advance a runner from first to second, and both of us slipped on our butts trying to field the bunt.

Shortstop/manager Gary Palm brought in draftee Dave Krueger from Eden Valley and he gave up a hit on his first pitch and the game was over.

I recall the practices with Kimball and the bus ride down to the games and back home. It was a great time to be young and athletic and playing the game I loved, baseball.

Howie Pennertz, Jr. (draftee from Eden Valley): Simply being asked to play with Kimball. It was my first regional and state tournament playing experience. It was also my first time catching, as I was always an infielder. I had the opportunity to catch very good pitchers like Dan Jensen and Dick “Whip” Weber. So, it was playing in the 1968 tournament, having lots of fun with that, and learning a lot, also. Howie Jr. played town ball in Minnesota from 1963 to 1991. The teams that he played with were: Kingston, Dassel, Eden Valley, Rosen, Kimball, Litchfield, and St. Augusta (draftee).

What is/was the nicest Minnesota town team ballpark you ever played or coached on?

Steve Brower: The nicest park I’ve played on was probably at Red Wing. Such a nice setting.

Dick Weber: Cold Spring.

Gary Palm: Cold Spring was the nicest field that we played town team ball on. The ivy covered walls were pretty unique for the time period.

Dan Jensen: Cold Spring was the crown jewel for me. I played in the NAIA College World Series my sophomore year at St. Cloud State. The tournament was played at St. Joseph, Missouri. Their field was awesome. I pitched and we beat Grand Junction, Colorado.

Bob Vincent: Rox Stadium in St. Cloud.

Leo Wirth: Mini Met in Jordan.

George Jensen: St. Cloud Rox Stadium and Cold Spring. They both were really nice with the grounds crews doing an awesome job in maintaining them.

Jack Hokkanen: Rox Stadium in St. Cloud.         

Jerry Bremer: Springfield’s ballpark was great.

Mark Kunkel (draftee from Pearl Lake): Rox Stadium in St. Cloud. There was something special about playing in the completely enclosed cement walls of the park and playing on the same field that many future major leaguers played on. I recall even hitting a home run there in a playoff game.

Howie Pennertz, Jr. (draftee from Eden Valley): Rox Stadium in St. Cloud and the Cold Spring park.

Who was the best Minnesota town team player you ever played with or against? And why?

Steve Brower: With: In my early years, it was the “Whip” Dick Weber. He hit like crazy and would pitch 50 innings in a row if you wanted him to! Against: Dale Decker from Maple Lake. He was a tough pitcher, a good first baseman, a great hitter and really good competitor!

Dick Weber: With and Against: Howie Pennertz, Jr.  I had the privilege of playing ball both with and against Howie. As a teammate, his sportsmanship, knowledge of the sport as well as his ability to play any position, always challenged me to work harder, to become a better baseball player.

Art Dingmann: With: Gary Palm was our manager, best hitter, shortstop, hitting practice pitcher, head groundskeeper. He did it all.

Gary Palm: With: I had two favorites. Dan Jensen and Jon Haapajoki. Danny had a great fastball and an awesome curveball. Jon had a super glove at first base and was a power hitter at the plate. He turned many games in our favor. He hit towering home runs into the trees in left field. My son Jerry was only 6 when we left Kimball, but he was always at the ballpark with me. I coached baseball for many years at St. Anthony Village High School after leaving Kimball. When my son was a senior, I called Leo Wirth the Kimball AD and set up a high school game at Kimball so Jerry could play on the Kimball field. In his second at-bat, he hit a towering shot into the tree in left field and as he rounded third he said to me, “just like Haapajoki.” It brought tears to my eyes. It was amazing what kids remember from their youth.

Dan Jensen: With and Against: Steve Fuchs at St. Cloud State as my teammate and St. Augusta as a Central Valley League foe. It was amazing playing with and against him. His junior year at St. Cloud State, he led the nation in hitting, nearly at a .500 clip. We won the NIC league title against University of Minnesota-Morris and Greg Starns with his hitting and pitching.  

Bob Vincent: With: The best player I played with was Gary Palm. Against: A tie between Steve Fuchs from St. Augusta and Howie Pennertz, Jr. from Eden Valley.

Leo Wirth: Against: Joe Sczublewski from Upsala in 1984 at Maple Lake. He hit three home runs against us. Upsala beat us 8-5.

George Jensen: With: Dan Jensen (great curveball and good fastball with excellent control), Jon Haapajoki (power hitter), and Gary Palm (all-around player). Against: Howie Pennertz, Jr. from Eden Valley.

Jack Hokkanen: With: Dan Jensen was the best pitcher I ever caught.

Glenn Morford: With: Dick Weber, Dan Jensen and Gary Palm. Against: Steve Fuchs from St. Augusta and Howie Pennertz, Jr. from Eden Valley.

Jerry Bremer: With: Gary Palm and Howie Pennertz, Jr. when we drafted him. Against: Howie Pennertz, Jr. from Eden Valley.

Mark Kunkel (draftee from Pearl Lake): With and Against: Steve Fuchs from St. Augusta. Steve also played professional softball with the Minnesota Goofy’s for a few years. In his younger years, he pitched and could throw BBs. He was also a great hitter, could run like a deer and was one of the staunchest competitors I ever played against.

Howie Pennertz, Jr. (draftee from Eden Valley): With: I had the privilege to play a few games with my dad, Howie, Sr. He was past his prime, but could still hit very well. I played short, he was at second. He was very good. He had a minor league contract, but did not sign because of family. He was the 1939 state tournament MVP that was played in Shakopee. With and Against: Dick “Whip” Weber from Kimball. A hard-throwing pitcher with good control and very solid at the plate. He was very competitive as well as a great teammate.  

Share with me a baseball story a game or situation that stands out. Perhaps a unique story, as a player, coach (and scorekeeper) from those 1968-1972 years.

Steve Brower: I played until I was 38 years old mainly in Buffalo where we made it to the state tournament a couple of times.  I had a lot of fun playing baseball and did fairly well with a nice town team career. (Steve was inducted into the North Star League Hall of Fame in 2003.)      

Dick Weber: Over the span of my amateur baseball playing time, I was fortunate to be included in several state tournament teams. It was a given that umpires who were unfamiliar with my under-handed delivery style, which didn’t include a momentary pause before releasing the pitch, would invariably call a balk. The team manager would have to make a trip out to the umpire, arguing that this was my normal delivery style, after which things would settle down and the game would continue on.

Art Dingmann: We were a very young team in 1968. The youngest being Steve Brower at age 16 in center field. Dick Weber at age 17 at second and myself at age 17 at third base.

Gary Palm: An away town team game at Eden Valley. I was managing and playing short. Dan Jensen was pitching very well. In one of the middle innings with two down and a runner on third for Eden Valley, Dan threw a fastball by a right-handed batter. The batter took a vicious cut and missed the ball. His right hand came off the bat and the bat came around again on the follow through. The ball had hit Bob Vincent’s glove and popped out. The batter’s follow-through hit the ball on a line drive into the third base dugout. There was a base umpire standing right next to me at short. He saw what had transpired just as clearly as I had. I thought, “No problem…they will get this straightened out.” The two umpires conferred and the home umpire waved the runner home from third. I calmly approached the plate, thinking that they would get this figured out. The home plate umpire said that the ball had hit the catcher’s mask and went into the dugout. I still stayed composed and asked him to talk to the base umpire. He refused to and the base umpire could then not over-rule the home plate umpire. I lost it.

I can remember telling the home plate umpire that you could throw a million baseballs off a catcher’s mask and never get a single line-drive, let alone one that travels 60 feet. We lost the game 1-0. It was the only time in my long career of playing or coaching that I was ever kicked out of a game.

Dan Jensen: The 1968 state tournament Gary Palm play at the plate versus Dakota in Springfield. I threw a perfect game versus St. Nicholas at a home CVL game. I had 21 strikeouts in this nine-inning game. (Dan played for 28 years at Kimball, Benson and Waseca. 1966-1973 Kimball, 1974-1982 Benson, and Waseca 1983-1993.)  

Jerry Bremer: In 1968, we were underdogs in our region before qualifying for state. Gary Palm hit a late-inning home run to right field in the regional that propelled us moving forward.    

Mark Kunkel (draftee from Pearl Lake): On one Sunday (baseball season opener), I finished up playing in a men’s softball tournament championship game north of Sartell and immediately after the game, hustled my way via back roads, changing uniforms along the way to Watkins. I arrived 10 minutes before game time and was the starting pitcher. I pitched the entire game, throwing a one-hitter and struck out 19. Our manager Roy Loesch was not a happy camper.

Howie Pennertz, Jr. (draftee from Eden Valley): A funny story. I was playing for Kimball then and it was a home game. A passing vehicle on nearby state Hwy. 15 was hit in the windshield by a foul ball. He came into the park demanding several things, including contacting the sheriff. A Stearns County deputy (former town team player and manager Bob Kunkel from Pearl Lake, I believe) happened to be at the ballpark. He calmed him down and there were no lawsuits. More small town baseball connections.    

Bob Greeley: For me, it would be running the scoreboard for a home game pre-home run fence. Kimball first-baseman Jon Haapajoki could really hit the long ball. He hit a Killebrew-like blast to deep left field through the top of the big elm tree, and it one-hopped off my Grandpa Greeley’s garage door. Jon barely made it home safe with an inside-the-park home run. He was not a speed merchant. After the game, I went and measured off the distance from home plate to my grandfather’s garage. It measured 460 feet.

Thank you to Tom Marquardt, Leo Wirth, Art Dingmann and George Jensen in providing stellar research with the information and photos for this MBA web submission.

Photo 1: 1968 Team Photo  (Springfield)

Front row: Kevin Lang, bat boy; Mark Lang, bat boy.

Middle row: Lee Ruotsinoja, Howie Pennertz Sr., Dick Fladung, Steve Brower, Leo Wirth, Chuck Jensen, Art Dingmann, Glenn Morford, Larry Looman.

Back row: Gary Palm (player/manager), Bob Vincent, Jon Haapajoki, Howie Pennertz Jr. (Eden Valley draftee), Mark Kunkel (Peal Lake draftee), Dave Krueger (Eden Valley draftee), Dick Weber, Jerry Bremer, Dan Jensen.

Photo 2: 1970 Team Photo  (St. Cloud)

Front row: Scott Fischer, bat boy.

Middle row: George Jensen (manager), Steve Brower, Bob Hokkanen, Howie Pennertz, Sr., Gary Palm, Bob Vincent, Glenn Morford, Leo Wirth.

Back row: Dwight Maikkula, Art Dingmann, Larry Jensen, Dave Krueger (Eden Valley draftee), Steve Fuchs (St. Augusta draftee), Howie Pennertz, Jr. (Eden Valley draftee), Dan Jensen, Dick Weber.

Photo 3: 1972 Team Photo  (Wadena)

Front row: Joe Fischer, bat boy, Brad Bruntlett, Ron Marquardt, Larry Jensen, Larry Looman, Mark Hendrickson.

Middle row: Dick Juillerat, Steve Brower, Dick Weber, Jack Hokkanen, Glenn Morford, Dan Fuchs (St. Augusta  draftee), Vern Klaverkamp (Pearl Lake draftee).

Back row: Leo Wirth (manager), George Jensen (coach), Dan Jensen, Art Dingmann, Jon Haapajoki, Bob Vincent.

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