By Bob Greeley
Fifty-nine years ago the 1959 Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament was held in St. Cloud at Rox Stadium. Eight teams in Class A used a double-elimination format and 20 Class B teams competed in a single-elimination format.
The tournament began on Friday, Sept. 11 and ended on Sunday, Sept. 20.
Shakopee, which finished with a 25-4 season record, opened the 1959 Class B competition with the tourney’s first-played game, defeating Lake Henry 4-1. Fulton Weckman threw a two-hitter and had 14 strikeouts. On Monday, Sept. 14, Shakopee defeated Pipestone 5-2. Jerry Meyer allowed six hits in the win. On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Shakopee defeated Virginia 4-3 in a nail biter. Weckman scattered nine singles. On Friday, Sept. 18, Shakopee played St. Bonifacius in the semifinals and won 7-0. Meyer allowed seven hits with eight strikeouts. And, on Sunday, Sept. 20 in the Class B championship game, Shakopee defeated Springfield 3-2.
Weckman threw the first eight innings, giving up only three hits, while striking out 12. Shakopee’s Fred Kerber hit a two-run home run with two outs on a 1-2 count in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game at 2-2. What happened next is best explained by the next hitter in the lineup after Fred’s home run, Howie Heller:
So Howie, what happened next?: “After everything had settled down a bit after Fred tied it up with his shot over the concrete left field wall; (The pitcher threw him a curveball and Fred drilled it.) I stepped into the box and coaxed a walk. Our manager, Butch Kreuser, shared with the team that we were going for the win; so I got the steal sign and I proceeded to steal second base. I thought the ball beat me to the bag; but the base umpire called me safe. He had called me out earlier on a steal attempt in the game where I thought I was safe; but he had called me out. Things even out I guess. On the next pitch, Jerry Meyer (now the pitcher of record) hit a slow-roller to the third baseman. With two outs, I was running on everything. The third baseman hurried his throw to first base and promptly threw the ball down the right field line. I scored standing up. I leapt into the air hitting home plate on the way down. Ballgame. State championship. Bedlam. It was unbelievable. We had a great contingent of fans that followed us up to St. Cloud to watch us play. They were into it.
“Our pitchers did a superb job keeping us in the games; giving up only eight total runs in the five games we played. They were all masterful. Eighteen-year-old lefty Fulton Weckman, a draftee from Jordan, carried us big-time. He ended up receiving the state tournament MVP award. So was draftee Jerry Meyer from Savage. He was also top-notch. Draftee Tom Preston from New Prague caught our region and state tournament games. A very nice player. Butch Kreuser was our player/manager.
“We made our way back to Shakopee. The Shakopee fire trucks met the caravan right outside of town; and we drove past the ballpark and into downtown Shakopee. We all stopped at Ables Bar. I needed to be at work the next morning at 5 a.m. at Rahr Malting, so my stay at the bar was a short one.”
What do you remember about the 1959 season and the run you guys made toward that state championship?
Howie: During the regular season, John Freund and Fred Kerber were both tough pitchers and hitters for us. Our player/manager Butch Kreuser was solid behind the plate catching. We drafted Weckman, Meyer and Preston from our league for the regional and state. We were a family, got along very well and loved baseball.
Fred: The 1959 team played together so well. John Freund beat out an infield single hit to their second baseman to help extend our ninth-inning rally in the state championship game. He was on base when I hit the home run. I could not believe how fast John got down the line on that play. By the way, I had to be at work the next morning at Rahr Malting just like Howie.
Butch: A bunch of dedicated guys. We practiced a lot. We did a great job the entire season. Our goal was to get to the state tournament and win it. Everyone contributed to our success.
Chuck: It was a great experience; one that I will never forget.
Review with me the players you guys had on your team roster that 1959 year?
Howie: Everyone brought something to the ballpark. Everyone knew their role. Don Clemens ran like a deer in center field. He could catch anything. Just a great group of guys that loved playing ball.
Fred: Like Howie said, Don Clemens ran like a deer in center field. He got to anything that was still in the park. He would run out of real estate too often when I was pitching. (Fred still owns the record for number of pitching wins in Shakopee town ball history with 102). John Freund was tough as nails.
Butch: Our infield play was solid. Howie nailed it in his response. Don got to anything hit into the gaps.
Chuck: A great group of guys that enjoyed playing the game.
Your three drafted players from Jordan, Savage and New Prague proved to play important roles, correct?
Howie: Absolutely. They were our pitchers and catcher during the entire regional and state games. We needed them if we were going to be successful. I was 21 years of age in 1959 playing third base. I usually batted seventh or eighth in the batting order. Weckman was a lefty who threw hard and had a super curveball. Meyer was smart, crafty and threw strikes. Preston was a smart catcher; called a great game.
Fred: Definitely. Great guys.
Butch: Weckman was so mature for his age. Great poise. He was impressive. Meyer was also a very good hitter. Preston handled the pitchers masterfully. All three were great additions and a good fit.
Chuck: Yes. Our drafted catcher from New Prague, Tom Preston, did a very nice job handling our pitchers. Weckman was a really tough pitcher.
Who were your league and region rivals?
Howie: Prior Lake, Jordan, Savage, Belle Plaine and New Prague were our rivals in league play. We beat Lakeville twice and Northfield in Region 6B to qualify for the state tournament.
Fred: They were all our rivals.
Butch: Agree with Howie. We also played Miesville and St. Benedict that summer in non-league games.
Chuck: I agree with the other guys. They are spot on. To me, Savage was our No. 1 rival.
How did you guys finance the team? (paying for umpires, pay for the home field lights, uniforms, field improvements, etc ...)?
Howie: Game ticket sales, concessions and advertising on the outfield fence. After the home and away games we ventured into Vic’s Place and Ables Bar, both in downtown Shakopee about a block away from each other. Not too far from the ballpark.
Fred: We had a great baseball board. Admission gate, concessions and sponsors. Vic’s Place and Ables Bar were great.
Butch: Also, our local businesses were great supporters. Money was not a problem. Our local baseball association board helped a lot. People like Jim Stillman and Howard Heller were huge supporters on the board that make my job that much easier.
Chuck: We had great support from our community and our baseball board. Just fantastic.
Did you guys carpool to away games?
Howie: Yes. Did lots of that. We had to be at the ballpark by 12:30 p.m. to take hitting, etc ... before the 2 p.m. game. Our girlfriends, wives, family and friends arrived closer to game time.
Fred: All the time.
Butch: Absolutely. That’s how it was done then.
Chuck: Yes. Al Schmidt picked me up for our away games.
Did Riverside Park flood out quite a bit during the season being right next to the Minnesota River?
Howie: During the season, the river would creep into the outfield grass once in a while.
Fred: Not too much in the summer. In the spring, yes.
Butch: Yes. This was a common occurrence. This is one of main reasons why the ballpark was abandoned and moved to the current location.
Chuck: Of course. That was a given.
How were the mosquitoes and gnats at the ballpark?
Howie: Oh, god yes. They were bad, especially at night. The team provided big canisters filled with bug spray and our fans would take those and walk around the park and grandstand spraying. We had a big cloud of bug spray hover in, around and over the ballpark. It was quite hilarious.
Fred: They were bad.
Butch: Summer evenings could be pretty tough with the bugs competing with you at the ballpark. I figure the bug spray was 90 percent DEET. I guess I didn’t inhale it too much; as I am still around.
Chuck: That was tough. The bugs needed to eat too!
Any games or situations stick out for you that season?
Howie: I was 21 years old in 1959. Born in 1938. Dating my future wife. I dreamed of being in a game like this since childhood. Freddy got a curveball and just nailed it. Wow.
Fred: During the regular season, I threw a pitch to our catcher Butch right down the middle. The umpire called it a ball. I walked up near the plate and asked Butch where the pitch was. Butch said it was a good pitch. The umpire said that he missed it and that he usually misses three a game; so you have two left. I had to chuckle about that.
Butch: Well, I was on the city council from 1958-1961 and because of baseball; I missed a lot of city council meetings. We practiced a lot during the week, had weekday night games and played on Sunday afternoons. But, we represented our community and that wasn’t much of problem. I served after that as a school board member also.
Chuck: I warmed up the pitchers during the games. I got Jerry Meyer ready to go for the top of the ninth inning in the bullpen during the state championship game.
Nice ballparks back then that you played on?
Howie: Riverside Park in Shakopee was excellent. Jordan and Belle Plaine had nice parks. All three fields had lights; as did New Prague.
Fred: Riverside obviously. Jordan, Belle Plaine and St. Cloud Rox Stadium also. All great memories.
Butch: I believe our ballpark, Riverside Park in Shakopee, was the nicest park I played on. Jordan was No. 2 and Belle Plaine and New Prague tied for No. 3.
Chuck: Our Riverside Park was quite nice. The setting was special. Then, I would have to say the Mini Met in Jordan and Rox Stadium in St. Cloud.
Seasons you played with town ball with Shakopee?
Fred: I started out playing town ball in Shakopee while I was in high school. We did not have a summer American Legion team then. Playing with the older ballplayers was a quick lesson in learning how to play the game the right way.
Butch: I played town ball from 1949-1961. All of those years with Shakopee, with the exception of one summer each with Prior Lake and Jordan. I managed the Shakopee team from 1957-1961.
Chuck: I played one championship season with the Indians in 1959. Then, I played for the Shakopee Cubs beginning in 1960 until the late 1960s. I played lots of softball after that.
Position played and hit where in the lineup?
Howie: Third base and batted seventh or eighth in the lineup.
Fred: When I wasn’t pitching I played left field. I also played some second and third base. Probably fifth or sixth in the batting order.
Butch: I was the catcher and played right field also. I usually batted sixth in the lineup.
Chuck: Catcher and right field. I was player/manager Butch’s backup catcher.
Any dominant players on the 1959 team or your opponents that stand out for you?
Howie: John Freund and Fred Kerber for us. Lots of nice players in our league. Busch from Jordan was quite the hitter. Hilgers also from Jordan was very good. Warren Stemmer was quite the ballplayer. Our three draftees of course also.
Fred: Busch from Jordan. I did strike him out four straight times in the same game once. He told me afterward that he would get me the next time. The next time we played them he hit three home runs off me. As he was circling the bases he said to me, “I told you didn’t I?”
Butch: Marv Hartman from St. Benedict was a home run hitter. Right-handed stick. I agree with Howie’s assessment. All excellent players. A privilege to play with and against them.
Chuck: Fred Kerber’s and John Freund’s pitching and hitting. And, Fulton Weckman’s pitching was lights-out. He threw hard and had a very tough curveball.
Shakopee High School graduate or somewhere else?
Howie: SHS 1956 graduate.
Fred: SHS graduate. I am two to three years older than Howie.
Butch: SHS 1949 graduate.
Chuck: SHS 1956 graduate.
Played high school and legion ball?
Howie: High school, yes. We were average. I played third and pitched. No legion ball back then. No organized little league. We organized our own neighborhood games up the hill near Shakopee Avenue and Sommerville. Our house was a few blocks away on 6th Avenue and Holmes Street. Played high school basketball also up on the stage.
Fred: High school, yes. Pitched and played where I was needed when not pitching. No legion ball then. Like Howie, we organized our own makeshift games where we could find an open field. I was brought up on 7th Avenue. I also played high school basketball up on the stage.
Butch: High school and legion baseball. Also played football and basketball. We played baseball all the time wherever we could find a space to do so. The St. Mary’s and St. Mark’s kids went at it all the time on the makeshift fields.
Chuck: I played high school baseball. I was the catcher. I was an offensive guard and linebacker in football and guard in basketball. I was brought up in the house at 231 W. 5th St. (now the Scott Government Center campus). Our makeshift field was at 10th Avenue and Shumway.
As discussed earlier, you played your home games at Riverside Park. What was it like playing there? (This site host Minnesota Amateur Baseball state tournaments in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1948)
Howie: The city of Shakopee took care of the field. We didn’t have to touch it. That was nice.
Fred: Our baseball board really kept the park nice. Riverside was a gem … but the flooding Minnesota River proved its demise. We had a great following with full grandstands even for home regular season games.
Butch: We had great fans. It was a different era. It was church, baseball, movie theatre, shag balls and collect pop bottles at the ballpark and get money for that. Listen to a lot of radio.
Chuck: The park had a great atmosphere. Just a nice place to play.
Did any of you attend the 1948 state tournament games played in Shakopee like Tom Melchior did?
Howie: No. However, I did as a youngster shag foul balls at home games quite often. One time, for a home 2 p.m. Sunday game, the game went 24 innings. When the family dinner time came (had to be home at 5:30 p.m. for dinner); I walked home … ate dinner …. and went back to the ballpark. I think I got home around 9 p.m. that night following the game.
Fred: Not that I can recall.
Butch: Yes. I attended that Class A championship game played between Winsted and Belle Plaine (Winsted winning 6-4). Shakopee had gotten beat by Winsted 5-4 in the semifinals. I sat along the third-base line seats. This was the 25th or silver anniversary tournament. An attendance record of 34,280 was set.
Chuck: I don’t really remember. Probably. I spent lots of time at the park shagging balls and collecting bottles.
I understand you guys played a few more games post state championship game a few days after, correct?
Howie: Yeah. We played two additional home games at Riverside Park. One for the state mythical championship against Fairmont (we lost 8-1 before 1,600 fans) and the other against the Wisconsin state B champions, Wisconsin Rapids (we lost 4-1 before 650-plus fans).
Fred: Yes sir. My memory is not the best on these two games. However, our state championship game victory stays with me. I have the photo on my mantle (he showed me) of being hoisted up and carried around the field after the championship game.
Butch: These two games were really anti-climactic following our state championship. We played Fairmont during the week and Wisconsin Rapids on the weekend. We had nice crowds for both games.
Chuck: Nothing to really add. It was anticlimactic.
Still follow baseball, right? (Twins, Indians, Coyotes, High School, Legion, etc ...)
Howie: My son Mark takes me to a few home Twins game each year. That’s a lot of fun. I watch the Twins on TV all the time. Not so much anymore with the local baseball teams.
Fred: I watch the Twins on TV a little. They are not playing very well right now; so, I find other things to watch.
Butch: I follow the Twins. I’ve been to Target Field. Boy, that is really a nice ballpark!
Chuck: I follow the Coyotes, Sabers high school baseball and watch the Twins on TV. I’ve been to Target Field a few times. Nice. Very nice.
Anything else to share?
Howie: Back in 1959, we stayed a few nights in St. Cloud during the tournament at a local nearby motel, Swiggen’s Motel, I believe was the name. Also as a young kid and into high school, I delivered the afternoon Minneapolis Tribune newspaper either on my bike or walking my route. It usually took me an hour to deliver the paper.
Fred: I really learned to pitch by playing catch with my neighbor friend as a youngster. I threw all the time. Both my mom and dad encouraged me to play baseball. I listened to baseball games a lot on the radio. Vic’s Place was a nice place to visit. I got a few free meals and beverages during my baseball playing days there.
Butch: I’ve got a few. In 1959 before we played our first state tournament game in St. Cloud vs. Lake Henry; the local baseball board gave me a check for $1,500 to cover our expenses throughout the tournament. I guess they thought we would be playing a few games.
I played in the first game played at the new Rox Stadium in St. Cloud. Our Shakopee American Legion baseball team played against another team. I can’t remember who the other team was. This would be the summer of 1948. The game was played before the actual “dedication” game played by the St. Cloud Rox minor league team.
I worked for SuperValu for 45 years. I started with them in 1956. I managed the first Burnsville store
beginning in 1961. Today I still work at the Shakopee Cub store 15 hours a week.
Chuck: My father-in-law Paul Nevin served on the 1948 state tournament host committee. My wife, Pat, was the volunteer chair when we co-hosted the state tournament in 2008; and my son, Dave, was a Shakopee tri-chair for that same tournament.
Thank you guys for sharing with us. Super. Any last thoughts?
Howie: My dad took me to Minneapolis Millers games at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis (31st Street South and Nicollet Avenue). I saw Willie Mays play for them before he got called up by the New York Giants. It was a treat as a 13-year-old watching him play in 1951; even if he only played for the Millers for a couple of months (May 1, 1951 was his Miller debut as a 19 year old from Alabama).
Fred: My dad took me to Chicago when I was 10 or 11 years old to see my first major league baseball game. I played ball with Joe Schleper when he first came to Shakopee from Belgrade. He had the left-handed stick and could he really whack the ball.
One home game at Riverside, I gave up a monstrous home run as Don ran out of real estate in center field. After I got out of the inning and getting back to the dugout; I mentioned to Don that “someone needs to call up Chaska … the ball should be arriving shortly.” I think that ball is still going after all of these years.
We had some temporary parking set up behind the left field fence at Riverside. I shared with my teammates when I was pitching that you probably didn’t want to park your vehicles there. Sure enough, I would give up a blast to left field and wham … cars would get hit. I can still hear the glass windows breaking on those cars.
Butch: It was a pleasure to play against Jim Pollard when he was playing ball for Jordan. Six-foot, 8-inches and could he really hit the long ball. He played third base. He hit a ball well over the railroad tracks in Jordan. That ball is still going.
I also played with Dick Siebert in Shakopee. He treated everyone the same. A great guy. Dick played first base and pitched also. I got to catch him for two innings when I was 16 years old. That was fun.
I got to see Ted Williams and Duke Snider play for the Millers and Saints, respectfully, before they made the show. Ted and Duke were studs.
Joe Schleper would really be proud of his boys. They have really taken care of the ballpark. We all have a lot to thank these young Schleper boys for doing this.
Chuck: My brother-in-law Mike Nevin was also on the 1959 team. He was a 1958 SHS graduate and he pitched for Dick Siebert at the University of Minnesota. Mike officiated Big Ten football and basketball for many years.