Baseball Once Meant A Lot in Norway
ALSO: HALL OF FAME INDUCTION WEEKEND LEAVES LASTING MEMORIES
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Did you know…
Key relief man Michael King (elbow fracture) is lost to the Yankees for the season with an elbow fracture . . .
David (Big Papi) Ortiz had 20 walk-off hits, third in major-league history but first among designated hitters . . .
As a youth in rural Cuba, Hall of Fame electee Tony Oliva learned to hit with a bat he made out of a tree branch . . .
Jim Kaat, Oliva’s Minnesota teammate, lost several starts (and a potential shot at 300 wins) after cracking his kneecap sliding into third after Phillies manager Danny Ozark used him as a pinch-runner for Greg Luzinski . . .
After failing to make Pittsburgh’s pitching staff at age 45, Kaat hooked on with the Cincinnati Reds as pitching coach before becoming a broadcaster . . .
Minnie Minoso, the first black Cuban in the majors, has been dubbed the Latino Jackie Robinson . . .
Gil Hodges was around long enough to win three Gold Gloves at first base but would have won many more had the award been created sooner than 1957 . . .
Buck O’Neil spent almost eight decades in professional baseball as player, coach, manager, scout, and good will ambassador . . .
Buck Fowler, born before the Civil War, was not only considered the first black ballplayer but the first African-American promoter, finding players, creating teams, and organizing leagues.
When Baseball Departs Small Town America
By W. H. Johnson
There are words in the English language that magically take many of us to a place of happiness and warmth.
Community is such a word, often evoking grainy nostalgic images of an earlier age.
Baseball is that kind of word as well, and within the collective narrative of Americans over the age of 50, frequently meshes with community.
The two are largely inextricable for some.
Whether that image is widely shared or not, Norway, Iowa, a town just 15 miles east of Cedar Rapids, is such a place.
A village of fewer than 700 people, Norway’s citizens have communed over baseball for more than a century.
As the long-time residents still repeat, “Norway is baseball. Baseball is Norway.”
The game, as much as the railroad and the farms that encircle the community, shaped the town’s collective perspective, and gave it a unique ethos. Even today, in 2022, three decades after the high school closed and removed its remarkably successful baseball team, the echoes of the game’s influence still resonate.
Norway fostered a society shared by families who relaxed – in part – by playing and watching baseball.
Weekend contests in the early 20th century were community events, often including picnics and outdoor music, and not only fanned local pride but also afforded residents an interruption to the work routine and an opportunity to congregate in a purely social setting. The games nurtured an identity independent of individual occupation or wealth.
The seasonal cadence of baseball complemented the farming and school calendars as well. The typical school year included a two-month fall term followed by a two-week break for harvest.
The winter term was another four months and also concluded with a two-week break, this time for planting.
Finally, the spring term was two months, and rolled into summer baseball before the cycle began anew in autumn.
Boys growing up in and around Norway in the 1930s and 1940s – and earlier – were, almost without exception, introduced to baseball before even beginning their formal education.
From impromptu ‘three-on-three’ games between seven-year-olds at the town diamond (or off at some remote corner of the field once the older boys showed up to play), through high school and town teams, and even at the semi-pro level for a time, baseball – almost as surely as the planting and harvest cycles – was the metronome that kept the cadence for the community. The cycle survived economic meltdown and global conflict.
The religious life of the town intersected with the game as well.
Father Joseph Krocheski, in bridging baseball and the church, united the community in a way that few external forces were able.
After his arrival in 1960, he would – on occasion –conduct ecumenical services that mixed the Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic parishes, and he also attended every youth, high school, and town ball game that he could, even using a bit of extra church money to buy some of the more expensive baseball equipment for catching.
Gary Volz, a high school and town ball pitcher in the late 1960s and early 1970s, laughed whenever he remembered Father Krocheski – a light sheen of perspiration on his bald pate, gleaming in the sun, glasses jostling, and middle-aged paunch bouncing – as he showed the younger boys how to run the bases.
He used baseball to scale otherwise impenetrable walls between people, and when he departed in 1969, the grateful town bought him a new car in appreciation.
By the 1970s, baseball was omnipresent in Norway.
Some children’s school projects wove the game into their classwork. At the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway, there is a photo of an entry from a school ‘values’ poster contest in which the entrant chose to illustrate ‘sportsmanship’ with the following: “Sportsmanship – Never gets mad if strikes out or flies out or grounds out.”
In the 1980s, one of Norway’s favorite sons, Mike Boddicker, made it to the World Series with Baltimore, and Norway high school baseball made it to ESPN while racking up seven state titles over the decade. By the time the school program closed in 1991, nine alums had been either drafted or signed minor league deals, and four others had played in the major leagues.
But the school did close, and the game moved out of town.
The local team in the Iowa Valley League, instead of being filled with old high school teammates, is now populated by college players seeking additional summer experience.
Several businesses in town do still sell Norway Baseball memorabilia, and in 2006 a new scoreboard and fence were installed for the filming of the movie The Final Season.
In 2008, the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway opened, and the dwindling members of the last Norway teams still head to Nevada each year to play senior tournaments.
Aging arms and creaky knees notwithstanding, the game is still in their hearts, but the families are moving away. There is no high school within 20 miles, and the love of the game is waning with each generation.
Young children still play organized youth baseball, but only in between soccer and video games and their phones.
Norway is losing its character.
In the end, Norway baseball lives most vibrantly in the collective mind and memory of aging generations.
The youngest member of the 1991 champions, an eighth-grader at the time (who went on to play at the AAA level in the Cubs’ organization), the last championship team in Norway, is now 45 and is married with three children. Those children go to the newer school two towns over.
That is the reality of 2022 and beyond and it has changed Norway’s community forever.
Baseball gave — until it was taken away.
IBWAA member W.H. “Bill” Johnson has contributed to SABR’s Biography Project, written extensively on baseball history, and presented papers at related conferences. Bill and his wife Chris currently reside in Georgia. He can be contacted on Twitter: @BaseballStoic.
Memories of Hall of Fame Induction Weekend
By Dan Schlossberg
The seven-man Class of 2022 will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow. The afternoon ceremony at Clark Sports Center will feature three living stars, four posthumous inductions, and a carnival atmosphere with a Latino flavor.
Bells will ring, horns will toot, banners will wave, and chants of appreciation in several languages will salute David (Big Papi) Ortiz, Tony Oliva, and the late Minnie Minoso, widely considered the Latino Jackie Robinson for his pioneering efforts.
Also being inducted this year are the long-overdue Jim Kaat, Negro Leagues standouts Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler, and the late Gil Hodges, who was finally admitted in his 35th try.
All are deserving, though there are still plenty of qualified candidates on the outside looking in.
As both a baseball writer and a tour host for Sports Travel and Tours, I’ve been lucky enough to witness every induction since 2014, when five of the six inductees had Atlanta Braves roots.
That was the year the Hall welcomed former pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa, and one-time slugger Frank Thomas. All but Thomas had at least a small connection to the Braves (La Russa as a weak-hitting second baseman who looked better than his batting average).
As an ardent fan of the Braves, I rejoiced in several subsequent elections too. John Smoltz was inducted in 2015, GM John Schuerholz in 2017, and Chipper Jones in 2018. That’s six Braves in five years — perhaps a record for a single team.
I wear two hats for each induction: one as a writer and the other as a host for Sports Travel and Tours, official tour operator of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The tour company, based in Northampton, MA, provides passengers the chance to beat the traffic, congestion, and concern about Induction Day seating, not to mention easier access to the Hall of Fame itself. In addition, participants get a wide variety of “extras,” including a Hall of Fame yearbook and framed commemorative plaque containing names, faces, and dates of the event. It also covers accommodations, often in Albany, the nearest air gateway.
During the two, 90-minute round trips between Albany and Cooperstown, I entertain passengers with trivia contests capped by prizes I provide. This year, I have separate quizzes on the Hall of Fame and baseball in general.
Nothing beats the experience of walking Cooperstown’s Main Street on Induction Weekend. Open to pedestrian traffic only, its sidewalks are lined with vendors — some of them former players selling signed pictures but others active authors with baseball books for sale. I’ll be in my usual spot, in front of Willis Monie Books, 139 Main Street, for a few hours between 10:30 in the morning and 12:30 in the afternoon.
In addition to all the baseball stores, which sell everything from cards to uniforms, fans will find former players in the crowd. One year, I ran into former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone four different times! I even told him he should be inside the Hall of Fame gallery, not outside like an ordinary citizen.
With so many people in town, impromptu grills have hot dogs, hamburgers, and other items for sale. Ice cream sandwiches, another childhood favorite, also go quickly — and melt quickly in the heat of the Central New York summer.
Humidity and possible thunderstorms are a potential hazard for Hall of Fame weekend but only once in my eight previous inductions has weather put a damper on the proceedings. For those of us who love baseball with a passion, there’s no better time on the social calendar.
Former AP sports editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ now covers the game as national baseball writer for forbes.com, columnist for Latino Sports, and contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly and Sports Collectors Digest. He’s a frequent after-dinner speaker too. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As a fan of baseball, you do appreciate what he’s doing at a high level late in his career. Who knows? He could probably pitch another four or five years.
— New York Mets manager Buck Showalter on Houston ace Justin Verlander
Dave Stewart (Athletics) and Fernando Valenzuela (Dodgers) became the first pair of pitchers to throw no-hitters on the same day (June 29, 1990) . . .
Here’s betting that most fans had never heard of Logan Gilbert until the Seattle pitcher notched his 10th win, tying for the major-league lead at the time . . .
Travis Hafner, designated hitter for Cleveland, was the first player with five grand-slams before the All-Star break (in 2006) . . .
An over-anxious Texas Rangers fan, 39-year-old Shannon Stone, lost his life on July 7, 2011 after he fell 20 feet onto a concrete walkway while chasing a baseball tossed to him by Josh Hamilton during a game.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.