By PATRICK SLACK
Sobieski amateur baseball rose from modest beginnings.
In the early 1960s, a group of local baseball players dreamed of having an amateur team of their own to play for.
All they needed was a place to play.
So, in 1963, the city of Sobieski purchased a parcel of land from Joker Trutwin for $1,500, turning the gravel pit on the hill in town into a baseball field.
A team was formed and began playing at the Sobieski Ballpark a year later, yet spent nine years without a formal nickname until its first trip to state in 1973.
A half century later, the city has been the home of sluggers and aces, Poles and Skis and 14 state tournament teams.
Starting June 9, it will also be the home of the Sobieski Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, with the induction of the inaugural class of standouts.
Nine inductees from Sobieski’s history will be honored in a day-long celebration, starting with a legends alumni game, the Hall of Fame ceremony and capped by Sobieski taking on Flensburg in Victory League action.
Becoming the Skis
Upon qualifying for its first-ever state tournament in 1973, Sobieski was notified by the state board that all teams needed to have a nickname for the state tournament program.
The tale goes that after a region baseball game that year, a gathering took place behind Herbie’s Bar, with those present feeling the Skis nickname would be appropriate because of the town’s Polish heritage.
The Skis played alongside the Poles from 1968 – 1987, when the Poles franchise folded.
“The tradition of amateur baseball means a great deal to the people in the community of Sobieski,” current Sobieski Skis manager Brad Czech said. “It’s fun to look back at the history and tradition that so many people have helped create regarding the game of amateur baseball in our town. There’s definitely a sense of pride in wearing the uniform, because you know how much it meant to those who have played the game.”
Selecting the Hall of Famers
A 10-member Hall of Fame committee was formed in March, with the intent of selecting members with outstanding individual achievement on the field, outstanding contributions to amateur baseball off the field and longevity.
“It’s been a neat experience being on our Hall of Fame selection committee and having the opportunity to hear stories from the players from the 1960s and 1970s about the games they played in,” Czech said. “Amateur baseball is a game of history and tradition throughout central Minnesota.
“It’s interesting being able to hear about some of the ballparks that were around at that time, many of them being nothing more than a patch of grass cut out of a corn field,” he said. “These places gave these players an opportunity to play the game they loved. You can definitely tell that these individuals had a great dedication to the game, a tradition that they still carry with them to this day.”
The 2013 inaugural class will be comprised of Ernie Bartkowitz, Mike Brady, Ed Bzdok, Butch Hennes, Duke Maslowski, Todd Olson, Joe Sczublewski, Kenny Sczublewski and Ed Waltman.
“We are very proud to induct these members,” Czech said. “They have all made large contributions over the past 50 years and in many different ways. June 9 will be an opportunity for all of us to honor and celebrate their dedication and accomplishments. This will certainly be the most important day in the 50 years of Sobieski amateur baseball.”
A day of celebration
The June 9 festivities will start with a legends game at noon, pitting former players against one another, followed by the announcing of every former Sobieski player present that day.
The induction ceremony will take place at 2:30 p.m., with Sobieski playing Flensburg to conclude the afternoon.
“It should be a fun day at the ballpark,” Czech said. “It’ll be a day where generations of local ballplayers and fans will be able to gather together and celebrate the accomplishments and dedication of these people.”
In recent years, the Sobieski Lions organization has built a trophy case inside the community center adjacent to the ballpark, filled with old hats, jerseys, programs, trophies, plaques, bats and game balls.
Fans are invited to check out the display and bring their own items to donate to the display throughout the day, which will also be the home of the Hall of Fame moving forward.
A crowd of about 700 – 800 is projected to be in attendance, Czech said.
“There could be fewer and there could be more, but we expect a fun day to be had by all who are there to take in the experience,” Czech said. “I think the overall feeling of the crowd that day will be one of appreciation. We’ll all have a chance to visit with players from decades ago.
“It will be fun to hear their stories from the past as they reminisce about the great game of amateur baseball that gave them so many fond memories,” he said. “These people have given so much over the past 50 years to help establish and maintain the tradition of amateur baseball in our community. The day is really all about them. It should be a great time.”