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Kittson County Museum preserving our history through stories: “Baseball”

League All Stars – Mid 1950’s game played at Karlstad.  Karlstad was #1 in League and played the League All Stars.

Sitting on ground:  Jerry Szczepanski, Bat Boy

Kneeling left to right: ??, Florian, ?? Florian,  ?? Florian, ??Kennedy, Earl Clow, Lancaster, Bobby Holm, Lake Bronson, Scotty Matthew, Kennedy

Standing left to right: ???, Hallock, Tommy Potrament, Kennedy, Sheldon Carlson, Lancaster, ??, ??, Oriel Norland, Lancaster, ???, Florian, Stan Szczepanski, Manager, Florian, Larry Bogestad, Donaldson, Donnie Oistad, Kennedy.

If anyone knows who the ? are – please feel free to share with us!!

Editor’s Note: These stories are provided to inspire you to write your family, business and town history for an upcoming Kittson County history book. Watch for more information about the book and how you can volunteer to help in upcoming issues of the Kittson County Enterprise.

By Scott Matthew
“Our Northwest Corner” 1976 (red book)
The early settlers in northwestern Minnesota had very little time for recreation as we know it.
Baseball was a sport that soon emerged as a test of many skills. It did not require much basic equipment except a ball and a few gloves. Even catcher’s equipment was not considered a necessity. Sometimes a bat was hewed from a piece of hardwood and the baseball was sewed up as the threads frayed out. Any comparatively smooth field was used as a diamond and practically anything was used as a base. The game was played at nearly every gathering and soon teams began to be organized from various corners of the county where the population was thick enough to round up nine people.
Transportation was always a problem as the distance to be covered could only be measured in how far a team of horses could travel in an hour or two. Sometimes there would be neighborhood ball teams within a mile or so and the rivalry was very high.
In the early 1900s, teams appeared at St. Vincent, Humboldt, Orleans, Lancaster, Red River, Hallock, Kennedy, Karlstad, Halma, Pelan and Northcote. The tempo of interest within these towns rose and waned with the strength of each team.
Across the Canadian border many teams were organized including Ridgeville, Emerson, Tolstoi, Dominion City, Letellier and many others. The teams on the U.S. side played these teams and the spirit of friendship and fellowship is well remembered by the old timers who are still around.
With the advent of the automobile, baseball became a way of life in these towns. The pump hand car was sometimes borrowed from the section boss to travel to play teams along the railroad.
The quality of baseball also improved. Practices were organized and equipment bought. Most of the teams played 30 or 40 games a summer and tournaments were held involving six or eight teams. Picnics were an annual affair at Humboldt, Orleans, Northcote, Lancaster and Joe River. The main attractions of the celebration were the ball games. Hundreds of people gathered at these affairs. Families came with the necessary food and drink to last a day.
At these picnics, races of every description were run. There was always a dance at night to top off the day, which was attended by young and old.
An early pitcher of importance was Eli Gooselaw, who had a fast ball, plus a change up with some curve and good control. Henion, who had speed to burn, plus curves and change up was supposed to have been on the roster of the Washington Senators, but due to a drinking problem was released. How he came to Pembina and N.W. Minn. is something I do not know, but it does illustrate the caliber of baseball being played in this area at that time. Ernest Turner was a pitcher who saw steady work on the mound. He was fairly fast and had good stuff on the ball in all directions. Lem Jenkins, a left hander from Humboldt, had an excellent fast ball and control, a good change up and a crafty head that was one pitch ahead of the batters. He played from Humboldt and Hallock and later played in Portland, Ore. Levi Diamond, from Humboldt, was another left hander with craftiness and tantalizing hooks and changes of speed that won him many hard fought games. Other excellent players were Stanley and Clifford Younggren, Lomas Matthew, Mickey Maxwell, Fred and Lawrence Gooselaw, the Thompson Boys, Art Sylvester and many others that space will not permit.
Northcote relied on Stanley Younggren, Lancaster had Johnny Walner and later Conkey Johnson, Orleans had Harold Clow, Karlstad had Loyal Oistad. Pelan had Axel Lofgren, Joe River had Larry and Earl Lang behind the plate. Emerson had two or three good pitchers in Irish Unsworth, Frank Foy and Saunders. Dominion City had Dunc Mercheson and later Normy Solnes, who was also an exceptional catcher. Halma had one of the Spilde boys as an early pitcher and later, in the 40’s, Glen Spilde plied his catching trade wherever he could find a ball game. Kennedy relied on Harry Pearson and later, Ronald Larson. Catchers of exceptional ability were Bugs Berg, Al Berg and later Claire Davidson. Other area pitchers were Mike Chesko of Tolstoi with fast breaking stuff, Chink Jerome of Leroy, N. Dak., and Lawrence Rainey of Pembina. Willie Tom from Dominion City was a good pitcher and from St. Vincent comes Wire Gooselaw and later Naz Gooselaw.
After the end of World War Two baseball again flared up in the area. On the Canadian side there was little let up throughout the war and 12 and 15 team tournaments continued. On the Minnesota side many of the former players played on teams in the Service and could be classified as playing in very fast company.
One of the promoters and enthusiasts in the sport after the war was Jerry Diamond. He picked some of the best players in the area and outfitted them with his own money. He named his team the Kittson County All Stars. Players on this team, as far as my memory permits were as follows: Elliot Hunter, catcher, Scott Matthew, pitcher, Normy Solnes, pitcher and catcher, Clarence Beck, first base, Mickey Lund, second base, Larry Lund, third base, Archie Sele, short and third base, Bob Bouvette, center field, Wally Nelson, outfield, Arlo Johnson, outfield, Willard Sele, outfield, Charley Matthew, outfield.
This team chocked up many wins against many exceptional teams. International Falls, Warroad, Winnipeg teams, Crookston and many Canadian tournaments. One of the games that illustrated the caliber of baseball was against the House of David at the Hallock Fair. The battery was S. Matthew and Elliot Hunter. The new grandstand was full holding 5,000 fans. In the last inning the House of David was ahead two to one when Willard Sele connected with a homer that scored a runner ahead of him. The House of David team told Jerry Diamond that they had no idea they would run into that kind of baseball in N.W. Minn. They played to win as the purse was 60-40. This was in 1950.
Baseball in the county is still being played. There are teams at Karlstad, Kennedy and Lancaster. The spirit of the game has lessened and the interest of the fans has decreased. There is very little rooting by the spectators, which was a big thing for many years. It is a good thing that interest is such that the sport continues as it would be kind of sad to see a game that meant so much to the people of the county just fade away in oblivion.
Note: Scott Matthew, the author of this story, was also a very notable pitcher who played for many teams in the northern Red River Valley. Posters for the games would promote to come and see Scotty Matthew pitch.

Scott Matthew, Kennedy, pitching in 1947.
(Submitted Photo)

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