Sports Memories: A little hardball history

Published 8:51 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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Sports Memories by Tom Jones

On a warm late afternoon when you drive near the west end of Clark Street in Albert Lea you often get the aroma of a hamburger cooking in the air. There must be a baseball game being played at Hayek Park.

Tom Jones

When did baseball start being played in Albert Lea, and what were some of the early highlights of this wonderful game are the subject of my column this week.

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According to the 25th anniversary edition of the AhLaHaSa that was published in 1937, baseball was started at Albert Lea High School in 1913. It did not prove to be popular, with the students supporting if off and on until the sport was finally dropped.

In 1934, a sport called diamondball was started and Albert Lea won three straight championships at the yearly tournament held at the eight Big Eight Conference towns. The sport didn’t prove to be popular with the students, and the article noted that baseball was again coming back when diamondball ended in 1938.

The 1939 season saw the team back in play, with their first game being a 14-5 win over Freeborn. Another AhLaHaSa article from April 24, 1941, noted the locals were preparing for their season opener with a hard-hitting team from Freeborn. The Bengals, as they were called then, were coached by E.S. Burrington and C.G. Hawksford. A new feature was added to encourage students to learn more about the game with a season ticket good for six home games being sold for 25-cents.

In 1943, Albert Lea won its first district title with the pitching help of Chuck Reed, who pitched three victories, a one-hitter, a no-hitter and a two-hitter.
Legendary coach Roy Maas took over the team in 1944 and led them to a four-win, three-loss season. Russel Esson guided the team in 1945 when they won four and lost three. Another coaching change in 1946 saw Ralph Summers take over the team that won three and lost four.

In 1947, the team made it to the finals of the Carleton Invitational, which was equivalent to the state tournament. That season they also lost in extra innings to Mason City, the state champion of Iowa. The Albert Lea team included Bobby Dolan, who went on to play Class AAA baseball and Dick Balfe, who also pitched professionally.

After the 1948 season, baseball was dropped as the feeling was the school should focus on one spring sport and track was chosen. Track meets were mostly held on Saturdays which didn’t interfere with school.

Ralph Summers offered an intramural team for the boys who wished to play and in a couple years an all-star team was picked to play in the district tournament. In 1954, they lost by one-run to Austin, who went on to win the state championship.

A campaign by local baseball enthusiasts resulted in the sport resuming play at the high school level in 1959 with Paul Ehrhard at the helm. He guided the team to a 3-4 conference record with the team mostly playing non-conference games.

Albert Lea has seen some great baseball over the years, starting with the Bengels/Tigers then going on to a very successful run of the Albert Lea Packers in the mid 1940s. When you smell that grill going this spring and summer, make sure you stop and watch some baseball action. I hope you have enjoyed this look back in time of Albert Lea High School baseball.

Alumni update

Albert Lea’s Jake Thompson, who has split time this season between the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the Beloit Sky Carp continues to tear up minor league pitching with a .359 batting average through 69 at-bats. He is a 2016 graduate of Albert Lea High School.