by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Over 40 former town-team baseball players, mostly from era’s when big crowds came to the games, gathered at Orono Park last Saturday for a reunion picnic.
Bruce Schmidt of Elk River, who played in the 1960′s, organized the event by making dozens of phone calls, and was pleased at the turnout of players, wives and friends.
“It went pretty well for only working on it for a short time,” said Schmidt. “We will get started on it earlier next year.”
Elk River players from every decade since the 1940′s were in attendance. A few men who played at nearby towns were also on hand.
Mayor John Dietz, who played in the 1960′s, attended with wife Jayne, who took lots of photos.
“Town team baseball was very big in Elk River in the 50′s, 60′s and early 70′s,” said Dietz. “Then softball moved in and baseball seemed to fade.”
Just a hundred yards from the picnic, the Sherburne County Fair was being held. The fairgrounds parking lot was the ballpark site when Dietz went to games as a kid.
“The field was later converted to a softball field, and I remember one year they had the demolition derby on the field,” said Dietz, “and players were picking pieces of old cars out of their butts when sliding.”
Three members of the 1949 team that enjoyed the best season in Elk River baseball history — 36-4 with a 26-game win streak that ended with a loss in the state semifinals — were on hand.
They were Orie Sachs (third base), Jim Carlin (second base) and Roger Eull (catcher). Seven of the 17 players from that squad are still living, said Sachs, who was 19 that year.
“We had crowds as large as twelve hundred in that era, although I’m not saying for every game,” said Sachs, who played at the fairgrounds site.
Besides visiting with guys from his era that he sees fairly often, Sachs said he enjoyed chatting with players more recent decades at the picnic.
“I know all the names, because I always read the Star News cover to cover,” he said, “and when I saw their name tags I just introduced myself.”
Schmidt said he plans to make this an annual event, and will ask the county fair board about including them in the parade.