Northside vs. Southside: Game under lights brings back memories
It was the game under the lights. One that drew a crowd of 500 people. One that people still remember and reminisce about.
It was Sept. 4, 1950, and the Northside Eagles were taking on the Southside Colonels at Washington Park. Admission was 25 cents for adults and free for children. It was Detroit Lakes' two kid teams pitted against each other.
"It was quite a thrill," Wendell Stonelake said of the two teams facing off.
"For that time and place, it was a big deal. It was a really important thing growing up there," Nels Anderson said.
Marvin Anderson was catching that night, under the lights. The batter hit a foul ball directly back toward the backstop.
"I turned and went for the ball but my shin guards tripped me and I went flying forward face down and both arms extended. I had no idea where the ball was at this point, but somehow it fell directly into my catcher's mitt for the out. Guess the crowd actually thought I intentionally dove for it," he said.
To make it even more sensational, on the same play, his right throwing shoulder had been hurt. There was a Colonel runner on first, so he went to the mound and told pitcher Curt Joy that he couldn't throw the ball to second if the runner wanted to steal.
"We agreed that I would throw the ball to the mound softly unless the runner was going to steal and then I'd throw to the mound hard as possible. On the third pitch, the runner took off for second, I threw to the mound hard as I could, Curt caught the ball and threw out the runner at second."
That play is still talked about.
"The players from both teams blanketed downtown and our neighborhoods to sell tickets for this game, and a sizeable crowd of adults turned out," Southside's Phil Meyer said. "It was an exciting contest won, happily for us, by the Southside Colonels."
Baseball back then wasn't like baseball today.
"Us kids did most things. There was no parents telling us what to do or when to bat," Stonelake said. "That was a good era of my life."
Stonelake played outfield for the Eagles.
"In itself, it was a joy to play. That was the main event," Nels Anderson said. He played first baseman for the Northside, and is brother to Marvin.
Eagles take flight
Nels Anderson said he's not sure how they decided to form a team, "it just sort of happened."
"It was a spontaneous effort, came out of nowhere basically. It was a kids' initiated (program)."
Norm Wendt was the knowledge behind the team though. He was a bit older than the team players, being a freshman in high school.
He served as manager of the Northside Eagles his freshman through junior years of high school. He played baseball and basketball for the Lakers, and he also played Legion ball, so he knew the ins and outs of the game.
"I lived on the north side, and the kids needed something to do," Wendt said.
So Kennedy Field was formed.
"We built that field, everyone chipped in. I'd wait for everyone to show up and then go over there an play all day," Stonelake said, who lived kitty-cornered from Kennedy Field.
"Left field was lower than right field. It was kind of an uneven field," Wendt said. He's not even sure the bases were spaced evenly. And sometimes, the kids used scissors to cut the grass.
"We listened to Norm. He was our hero," Nels Anderson said.
"We sure kept busy doing that (playing baseball). When not playing, we ran pretty hard. We worked them pretty hard," Wendt said. "We had a lot of fun as kids."
The Andersons lived on Currier Avenue, and the group met in their basement, which served as their clubhouse.
To make money for the teams, Wendt said the kids would hang out in the Andersons' basement and make wooden lawn ornaments to sell. They also collected bottles and returned them for the deposits.
"We'd ride the ditches from Detroit Lakes to Callaway on our bikes with gunny sacks," he said.
They'd collect pop bottles and return them with no problem.
The beer bottles were a different story.
"We'd wait until someone went in and have them tell the bartender there was a bunch of kids outside wanting to sell him some bottles," Wendt said.
The team had plans for lights on Kennedy Field, but "we didn't get enough bottles, I guess," he added.
Kennedy Field was located at the southeast corner of Curry Avenue and Highway 34, Marv Anderson said. Home plate was also at that extreme corner. In early 1949, there was no backstop, so whenever a "wild pitch" would go by the catcher, it would cross the highway and head into the cattails in Crovisier swamp.
"I'd cross the highway, find the wet muddy ball, clean it up, take it back to the pitcher and express my thoughts about his control," Marv Anderson said.
During one of their meetings in the clubhouse, the guys recorded their meeting. In 1948, there weren't recorders really, but Nels and Marvin's mother had a record player that "cut a groove in the vinyl record. It was truly before its time," Nels Anderson said.
"(We) had a party in the basement clubhouse, which we recorded on my mother's machine, but we knew nothing about recording speeds so we ended up with three different ones," Marv
Once the team was formed, they needed a name. Marv Anderson was the driving force behind the Eagles name.
"I suggested Eagles because my cousin just returned from Korea and gave me a patch of an Eagle, which I was sure we could get more of, which did not happen.
"It turned out to be the patch of the 101st Airborne. After that failed, I took one of my T-shirts and a bottle of Mom's red finger nail polish and began painting NS Eagles on it. Well, that did not work either because the finger nail polish ran out. So, no uniforms in 1949," he said.
Attention: Colonels formed
"The railroad track through DL determined if you were a northsider or a southsider," Marv Anderson explained.
"The northside kids ran around together and the southside kids ran together," Stonelake added.
Once the Northside was formed, there weren't enough guys to make up two teams, so Wendt talked to Phil Meyer on the southside.
"Phil put a team together called the Mudhens, which was quickly changed to the Colonels," Marv Anderson said.
Meyer became the playing manager for the Colonels. He played second base.
"Norman (Knobby) Wendt approached me in 1949 saying he was manager of the Northside Eagles and urged me to organize a team of Southsiders," he said.
He organized the Southside team with kids who regularly patronized the City Recreation facility in the city park.
"The initial name of our team was the Southside Mudhens. We were all fans of the AAA American Association as well as the major leagues, which had only 16 teams then, and none west or north of Chicago and St. Louis.
"The Toledo Mudhens were a mainstay of the American Association. For some reason that I don't recall, we changed our name in short order to the Southside Colonels. The Louisville Colonels were also in the American Association and were probably doing better in the standings than the Toledo Mudhens."
Meyer said there was always a friendly competitiveness between the two teams, although both teams took the games seriously because neither obviously wanted to lose.
"We were always competitive about it," Wendt said.
"Our umpire, Gordy Blacketeer, was kind of our in house ump. At times he would be the only official on the field making all calls," Marv Anderson said.
Fast forward: Since then
Stonelake still lives in Oregon since moving there with his family in 1951. He hadn't seen anyone since moving in 1951, but he got in touch with Marv Anderson a few years ago, played a round of golf with him in South Dakota, and has kept in contact with him since.
He said back then, it was different than Little League because the Eagles and Colonels kids played on a full-size diamond. He played Little League in one of the first organized teams in Portland when he moved there. It was different because of the smaller field and the fact that he couldn't wear cleats.
He continued to play baseball and softball through high school, college and even some senior softball that he just finished within the last few years.
"I don't follow it (baseball) like I used to because it's overpaid athletes," Stonelake said.
Wendt lives in St. Francis, Minn. He was drafted into the war, and eventually got an education in accounting and went into the private sector. He was doing an audit for an ice cream company, and eventually went to work for them as a controller. Years later, he bought the company and eventually sold it to Kemps and worked for them until retiring.
He played group baseball (and basketball) in the service.
"My highest endeavor was the Northside Eagles," he said with a laugh.
Most of the guys hadn't kept in touch, but a few years ago, after moving, "one day Marv just knocked on my door. He's kept us alive, I guess," Wendt said.
Nels Anderson lives in Durham, N.C. He went on to play baseball in high school and college.
Marv Anderson lives in rural Yankton, S.D., and played four years at Concordia in Moorhead.
Phil Meyer lives in Chantilly, Va., and has been in the Washington, D.C, area for 45 years. He is a retired financial journalist and consultant on federal regulatory policy affecting banks and other financial institutions.
Besides the Colonels, he played baseball, and other sports, in high school and was on the roster at the University of Minnesota.
"I didn't participate in any games, as players better than me won the NCAA championship my freshman year, and were highly ranked nationally the following year," he said.
He played in the Army and later in Virginia until he took up golf.
"Detroit Lakes was a good place to grow up as a kid," Stonelake said. "If it wasn't for fishing and baseball -- that's what we did as kids."
"In 1949, we were a bunch of kids that Knobs (Norm Wendt) put together to have some fun and we earned our own way. In 1950, it was different in that we had Bill Landt as a sponsor, and with that came a backstop, level playing equipment and new uniforms. I think Little League baseball is good for today's young, but I know where my heart is," Marv Anderson said.
"One thing that distinguishes it was it was created and run by kids," Nels Anderson said of Kennedy Field. That four to five year period "imprinted our lives. It's all good memories. It was a fun thing growing up."
"Looking back on it, the most remarkable thing was that the Eagles and the Colonels had absolutely no adult involvement. We had no parental supervision, no adult coaches, no 'soccer moms' with minivans escorting us around. This was 11 to 14-year-olds organizing the teams, managing the lineups and game strategy, raising their own money for uniforms and equipment, setting their own schedules and transporting themselves to and from the games," Meyer said.
It's been a few years since that game of 1950, and most of the guys haven't kept in touch, but maybe, it'd be fun to have a rematch of the Eagles versus the Colonels under the lights once again.
"We never had a reunion game, and all of us are probably a little too old for that now. Hitting and fielding might not be a problem, but running and throwing might be a bit challenging," Meyer said.
Items at Museum
A couple years ago, a few of the men got together and loaned several items from the Northside Eagles and Southside Colonels to the Becker County Historical Society to be displayed in the Museum.
Some of the items include various original photos, three records cut in the Anderson basement, hand-written list on cardboard of what each member was to bring to the party and cost, Wendell Stonelake's glove, original records kept by Wendt of game statistics such as batting average, RBI, errors, pitcher win and loss, scores, season total, all star selections, NS Eagle uniform -- "which might be that of Russell Landt because it is large and has a patch on one knee sewn on by a sewing machine which his mother had, " Marv Anderson said -- newspaper clippings, original Labor Day Kids Classic flyer for under the lights game at Washington Park -- "the field was wet on Sept. 3, 1950, so the date was changed to the 4th," Marv Anderson said -- 101st Airborne patch from which the Eagles name came, and a 1950 team photo at Kennedy Field of the Eagles with new uniforms,
"There is a picture at the museum of a cross-handed batter and me catching way-way behind him. He batted right handed but would have his left hand on top of his right so each time he swung the bat it would come around and hit me," Marv Anderson said.
Unfortunately, the museum has misplaced the items -- although employees say the items are likely in inventory -- so they are not currently on display.