Monday, March 24, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ballgame on Highway 83

Corbett Field, Minot, ND. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Late last summer, I wrote a Highway 83 Chronicles blog on Dave Almany’s book about three Highway 83 high school football teams: Prairie Blitz. The road and its communities have a rich history when it comes to football.
That is even more true for baseball, I have found. And since Opening Day is this week, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the national pastime and its connection to U.S. 83.
Starting north to south, here are some of the highlights.

The Minot Mallards
Minot, N.D., once hosted the Minot Mallards, an independent team in the 1950s that played in the ManDak League. Many former Negro League players spent their twilight years playing for the Mallards until the league folded in 1957. Corbett Field where the Mallards once played is still in use today.
Check out Minot native Bill Guenthner’s excellent website devoted to the history of the team. CLICK HERE.

Satchel Comes to Bismarck
The legendary Hall of Fame pitcher LeRoy “Satchel” Paige spent two summers in 1933 and 1935 playing for the Bismarcks, a local independent team made of local white players and former Negro League players Red Haley, Roosevelt Davis and Quincy Trouppe. Owned and organized by businessman/manager Neil Churchill, this was long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Paige agreed to pitch in North Dakota after getting into salary disputes with the owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gus Greenlee. Paige’s dramatic arrival in Bismarck just in time to pitch against cross-state rival Jamestown is a chapter in my book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas.
A more detailed account of this pioneering team can be found in Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line by Tom Dunkel.

Zane Smith
Dozens of lesser known baseball players have been born or raised in Highway 83 communities over the years. Zane Smith lasted longer than most in the Bigs. A major league left-handed pitcher from 1984 to 1996 with a 100-115 record, Smith was a graduate of North Platte High School in 1979. He pitched for the Braves, Expos, Pirates and Red Sox. He’s not well known, but he’s a 3rd cousin of mine. (although I have never met him). So I’m doing a little name dropping!

Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove and the Liberal BeeJays
Mike Hargrove hails from Perryton, Texas, and got his nickname, “The Human Rain Delay,” for the interminably long pauses he took between at bats. The 1974 Rookie of the Year went on to play in 12 seasons and compile a .290 lifetime batting average. He managed the Indians, Orioles and Mariners.
He returned to the area, when he managed the Liberal BeeJays for three seasons 2007-2009.
Credit: Stew Magnuson
Liberal’s semi-pro team comprises college players and plays in the Jayhawk League, which is part of the National Baseball Congress. The team has existed since 1955, and 165 of its alumni have reached the majors. Ian Kinsler of the Tigers and Hunter Pence of the Giants are two former Liberal players who are currently in the majors. Yankees pitcher and Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry is another notable alumni. Hargrove played on the team during the summer of 1972.
The BeeJays play from about the end of May until the first week of August at Brent Gould Field at the Seward Community College.

John Lackey
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey was born and raised in Abilene, Texas. He lettered in baseball, football and basketball at Abilene High School. He has compiled a 138-107 record since his debut with the Angels in 2002. Last year, he was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series helping the Red Sox to clinch another ring. He also won Game 7 of the World Series for the Angels in 2002 in his rookie season.

Rogers Hornsby
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
One of the greatest hitters of all time, Rogers Hornsby was born in Winters, Texas, in 1896, and lived there until he was six years old. He had a phenomenal lifetime .358 batting average over 23 seasons, which is second only to Ty Cobb. The St. Louis Cardinal had 2,930 hits, 301 home runs and seven batting titles over his career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1942. Like Cobb, he was notoriously hard to get along with and not well liked by other players. I’ve driven through Winters twice looking for a “Birthplace of Rogers Hornsby” sign, but saw none.

Laredo Lemurs

Fans can catch independent baseball games at Uni-Trade Stadium in Laredo, Texas. Part of the American Association, the Lemurs open their season May 15 and play until Aug. 28.


To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, now available at in paperback, or Kindle eReaders. To learn how to order signed copies, message him at stewmag (a)

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