Sports Memories: Albert Lea started townball in 1912

Published 8:51 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Sports Memories by Tom Jones

Last week I took a look at the history of high school baseball in Albert Lea, and this week I am looking back at what is commonly called townball and its history in Albert Lea.

Tom Jones

In 1968 Albert Lea Tribune sports editor Howard Lestrud reported that a gentleman named George “Dutch” Brundin helped organize the first salaried baseball team in Albert Lea in 1912. The team was managed by Tony Nystuen while Brundin was the secretary of the team until World War I broke out.

Email newsletter signup

In 1914, the team was now managed by Joe Lynch and consisted of a roster of 12 players, who on average were being paid $80 per month with the top players making up to $125 per month. Early on, the attendance at Hayek Field averaged 1,000 per game and the gate receipts along with funds solicited locally paid the salaries of the players.

According to Brundin, good baseball didn’t return to Albert Lea at this level until 1938 when Shanty Dolan moved to town. Jimmy Demont’s article on Dolan in the October 1946 Albert Lea Community Magazine said that Dolan was listening to a game on the radio between Austin and Emmons in his first summer here which brought him interest in getting a team going in town.

In 1939 a group of local businessmen led by Ray Moulton and Len Kelly, with an interest in having a local team in town offered the managerial job to Dolan who guided the Albert Lea Packers to 13 wins and 10 losses in his first year. Dolan went on to lead the team until 1949 and during that time Albert Lea won four state championships and had a streak of six straight Southern Minny League championships.

Some of the great names that donned the Albert Lea uniform over the years included Bobby Dolan, Del and Rollie Marquardt, Mike Sichko, Gordy West, Stan Sevaldson, Jimmy Delmont, Charles Johnson and John and Walt Menke, who came up from Bancroft Iowa. Walt Menke’s son Dennis had a 13-year career in Major League Baseball with Atlanta, Houston and Cincinnati.

The Community Magazine article of 1946 article noted that the players were paid $715 for their five months of playing. They paid taxes of $142, equipment costs were $50 and other expenses were $75 leaving a balance of $448, or $8.60 per game. A pitcher received $50 per game.

Managing the local team through the 1950s were Jimmy Carson, Bud Burns, Babe Jensen and Bill Ankoviak. The players gradually lost interest and the team, now known as the Albert Lea Colonels, folded in 1965 with the team being $200 in debt. Manager Jack Sprenger hoped that with a college coming to town, it might create interest in forming another team in the future.

Brundin noted that the local team at one time was paying up to $4,000 per month in salaries, and he didn’t think that salaried baseball would ever return to Albert Lea.

Another version of a local town team began in the early 1980s that apparently didn’t have a name and ceased play in 1985. A new Colonels team emerged in 1990 under player/manager Ray Keating with Rick Carlson also managing the team after him. This team ended play with Bill Trygstad as manager, who began with the team in 1995 and ended when the team quit play in 2010.

Local signings

Addison Dirkes, who graduated from Albert Lea High School Friday night has committed to play volleyball this fall at Gustavus Adolphus while her fellow classmate Elizabeth Willett will continue her women’s hockey career at Concordia College in Moorhead.