Korby: Why did Scanlon dominate Cloquet's Little League baseball?
May 5, 2023
For the record, in the 1960s the West End of Cloquet produced and developed most of the city’s elite young golfers and future Olympic cross country skiers and ski jumpers. With Cloquet Country Club and the new Pine Valley Ski jump located there, neighborhood kids could walk or ride their bikes to these tremendous facilities.
Central and eastern Cloquet kids had the Civic Center indoor gym on Cloquet Avenue and outside basketball hoops at Garfield, Sacred Heart, Pinehurst, Washington and Leech schools. It gave future Lumberjack hard court players a place to hone their basketball skills. The outdoor hockey rinks were mostly in the middle of town, too.
Scanlon had Sather Park.
Scanlon Grade School was still a separate school district from Cloquet in the 1960s, although Scanlon kids, post grade school, attended Cloquet secondary schools. As a devoted student, I always admired the old baseball trophies in the Scanlon superintendent/principal’s office. For years, Scanlon dominated the Cloquet Little League program.
Now, Sather Park wasn’t exactly a utopia with respect to ballfield rankings. Few Scanlon boys dared to wear shorts even on the hottest of summer days for fear of having to slide into third base at Sather. It was terribly rocky. Those who disregarded that — and slid in shorts — have permanent scars on their legs to this day.
Being adjacent to Washington Avenue, foul balls over the Sather Park backstop were a hazard for passing motorists and also kids chasing the balls. There was a pasture across the busy road surrounded by an electric fence. Getting over the waist-high electric fence was a little tricky. Players would take a 2-foot-long piece of dry grass and gingerly reach and touch the wire to see if it was live or not.
Summer games started at 9:30 a.m. at Sather, right after reruns of “I Love Lucy.” Kids came from all directions and corners of the village on their bikes, with their gloves hooked onto the handlebars and perhaps a bat in storage as well. All were welcome. Games lasted until lunch or thereabouts or if Steve Heino’s dad whistled for him to come home (you could hear it blocks away).
Scanlon players had a few bats to pick from, but some of the wooden bats had screws and electrical tape holding them together. Aluminum bats weren’t on the market yet. As in the movie “Sandlot,” baseballs were a special commodity, and to protect them, players used heavier, rubber-coated baseballs on wet or rainy days. Many kids had hand-me-down gloves from their older brothers. Opposing team players would often share gloves. Shoe oil from Burger’s shoe store could protect gloves for many years.
Did the simple act of playing every day at Sather make the Scanlon Yankees a baseball powerhouse? That was only the beginning of training.
There were neighborhood fields on cut-down hay where ball players continued to develop their swings and fielding prowess over the whole day. Games played with tennis balls, rubber balls and whiffle balls, home run derby, bunt ball, dice baseball, live pitching in garages, Eenie Einie Over … all games that involve throwing, hitting and catching balls. In the winter, to keep arms in shape, telephone poles looked like street traffic lights with round circles on them from Scanlon boys and girls taking target practice with snowballs.
Here’s an example of that Scanlon ballplayer dedication.
It was the summer of 1966. A crummy, overcast, wet summer day. At 9:30 a.m., many players were wearing sweatshirts or windbreaker jackets at Sather. After a short while, the clouds broke and it became terribly hot and humid. Most kids took off their heavier garments and some even threatened to put on shorts. All except Dave Wenberg.
He was wearing a blue windbreaker. We asked him, to be practical, to remove the jacket. He refused. Other players couldn’t bear to see him suffer and asked him to please remove the coat. He refused again. We chased him in the outfield and pulled his jacket off. We then rolled in laughter … he still had his Roy Rogers pajamas on. Wenberg went straight from bed to baseball.
Baseball was a really big deal in the 1960s. It still is, but there weren’t as many distractions or options back then. Why did Scanlon dominate the Cloquet Boys Little League program? Readers will understand, because now they know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”
Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].