As baseball season begins to heat up, Tim ‘Shoe’ Sullivan takes a look at how it all began
By Tim ‘Shoe’ Sullivan
1952. The Age of Innocence. Harry Truman in the White House with Dwight Eisenhower on deck. The Great War had ended a few years before, and Stevens Point, like the nation, was settling in to peace and prosperity.
Aside from some rumblings in Korea, 1952 in Stevens Point was a time of movies at the Fox Theatre, sock hops, pogo sticks, nickel beers, drive-ins, James Dean, root beer stands, and neighborhood grocery stores.
And, while many in the city were gathering around those new things called televisions, a group of civic leaders named Don Copps, Nick Jelich, Roy Menzel, Fred Lewis, and Reverend Dominic Eichman of St. Peters got together and laid the groundwork for bringing Little League baseball into our fair city.
Baseball has a rich tradition. Ruth and Gehrig. The Black Sox Scandal. Tinker to Evers to Chance. Who’s on First?
In 1952 Stevens Point, it was Don White and Jim Shuda vs. Gil Molski and Bill Bablitch. The Jaycees of Dave Roman, Jared Redfield, and Rick Reichardt taking on the likes of Wayne Jinske, Don Rutta, and Jimmy Zimbauer of the Kiwanis.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Donald Copps Municipal Pool? K.B.Willett Arena? Quandt Fieldhouse?
Don Copps and Roy Menzel spearheaded the effort to bring Little League to Stevens Point. K.B. Willett was the master of ceremonies at the Mead Park Diamond Dedication. Hale Quandt was the first manager of the Lions’ team.
Some of those kids from 1952 became farmers or worked for the railroad. Others moved on to become lawyers, insurance executives, coaches, meat managers, funeral home directors, judges, UPS drivers, bowling establishment owners, bar owners — you name it. And all 60 of the original players proudly marched in the June 8, 1952 parade prior to the season-opening doubleheader at Goerke Park.
Wayne Jinske of the Kiwanis scored the first run in the history of Stevens Point Little League as his team nipped the Lions, 4-1. The Jaycees throttled Rotary, 10-1, in the second game of the doubleheader as Dave “Puffo” Roman and Jim Bohm of the Jaycees combined for a no-hitter. Roman struck out eleven enemy stickmen and walked nine. Jim Shuda, with seven strikeouts and five walks, was saddled with the loss. Both pitchers almost made it to the major leagues.
Gil Molski of the Lions still recalls those glory days of the summer of ‘52.
“There were some darn good hitters, but nothing like that Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies today,” Molski said. “The pitchers dominated in the early going. Our Lions had Bob Shafranski and Ray Orlikowski. The Kiwanis went with Dave Crosby, and Jim Shuda was really tough for Rotary. Heck, Dave Roman and Jim Bohm of Jaycees combined for a no-hitter on opening day.”
The stats show that Molski was correct. The opening day pitching lines: Crosby: 10 strikeouts and three walks. Shafranski: eight strikeouts and only allowed two hits. Shuda: seven strikeouts and five walks. Roman: 11 strikeouts and nine walks. Those kids were throwing some serious heat in 1952.
Molski added, “All of those pitchers were really hard throwers. I remember one game when I batted against either Roman or Shuda. I hit about five fouls before striking out and the crowd gave me a standing ovation just because I hit the ball.”
Yes, Little League in Stevens Point had quite a journey from Goerke Park in 1952 to St. Pete’s to Mead Park to Korfmann Field to Morton Park. And what a ride it was.