SUMMER 2004 Page 6 The West View Glimpses of Baseball, Past and Present The Boys of Summer Recall Stories from the 1960s and 1970s By Dale J. Neilson Salt Lake West Side youth baseball has a long and storied history. Here are just a few of the many stories recalled by former west side boys: Ralph Erskine In the early 1970s, the Rose Park Lions were undefeated when they advanced to the Western Baseball Boys Association (WBBA) World Series versus a California team at the Bountiful Recreation Center. “We had one bad inning [in the loss],” said coach Ralph Erskine, who coached in the Rose Park League at Riverside Park from 1960-1971. “With 12-year-old kids, anything can happen,” he said. Maybe the Lions’ most entertaining game in their World Series run had nothing to do with baseball. When a rabbit ran across the field, Lion players chased it away. “All the kids forgot about baseball, but we still won the game,” said the coach. Erskine’s 1963 WBBA Rose Park all-stars (which included kids from league teams - Lions, Mint Café, Intermountain Theaters and Continental Bank) finished fourth in the WBBA World Series tournament. All of the players rode on a float in the 1963 Days of ‘47 Parade, which won first place in the sports division. Players decorated the float using chicken wire and stapled napkins. Erskine also praised earlier Lions coach Lenny Treadway and league president Bill Hansen as “two who did so much [for baseball], but didn’t get much credit.” Terry Lewis 3 Terry Lewis, a 1955 batboy for The Rose Park Little League Team "The Mint", (sponsored by The Mint Café) pose for their team picture in front of the dugout. Among those shown are Tom Diamond (coach) and players Joe Lewis, and Dick Nemelka, circ. 1960 for the 1950s-1960s Western Boys (15 tol6-year-old) League featurwas an “early star’ and hit 18 — ing a baseball exhibition game at homers as a 12-year-old. He later the Utah State Fairpark. It showcased a group of Utah college allplayed basketball for BYU and the stars and the Harlem Stars. old Utah Stars. “Tt was a show-off game,” he said. “Harlem was by far a better Harry Erskine team.” The Utah squad included Later, Nemelka and. Terry former basketball greats Billy Sanford, future BYU quarterback ‘McGill (University of Utah) and and son of former New York Cormell Green (Utah State Yankees pitcher Fred Sanford, were University). among “a lot of great players” to coach Tom Diamond’s Mint Café, players for the West Side,’ Lewis said Treadway was “‘the sagistic master of strategy and sixth-inning miracles.” In 1956 he successfully plotted home run star Jim Baker’s suicide squeeze bunt to score two sixth-inning runs in a 3-2 comeback league victory over The Mint. Baker and Dick Nemelka were Rose Park’s home run darlings, said Lewis. “I just remember the tremendous power [Baker] had for a 12-year-old,” because “many times his ball would still be going up when it cleared the fence,” 183 feet away. Diamond “recruited great ball said, players like Nemelka, who play in the early 1950s Pioneer Park League for 13 to 14-year-olds, said Harry Erskine, Ralph’s brother. Harry remembers a fund-raiser Ralph Steenblik During the Jordan this same River time period, was re-routed, forming Riverside Park’s western border and adding more room for sports and social events. According to longtime Rose Park resident Ralph Steenblik, re-aligning the river by Salt Lake County took about four years during the mid1950s. Several river bends and many large trees between presentday 650 and 830 North at about 1450 West were removed when the waterway was relocated westward to its present site, quintupling the park’s size. The remaining row of trees marks the former western boundary of the river. Riverside Park was not only home to baseball, but swimming, croquet, soccer, picnics and other social events. Steenblik has fond memories of a swimming hole, 13 feet deep at a river bend, now a parking lot at 650 North. “We'd Darnel "Chub" Lewis hits balls during practice to the Rose Park Lions champion Romney Field in Rose Park, 1960. Photo by Ralph Erskine team at L.C. dive off [tree] branches right into the middle of the river.’ Sometimes, around 30 kids would ride their bicycles right into the river itself. For many folks, Riverside Park became the background of their childhood memories. | Thomas Monson Former west side resident Thomas Monson remembers well his youth’s 1930s-1940s sandlot games — including the lost baseballs. Those hit onto railroad tracks were irretrievable and, thus, home runs. Others ended up in a yard next to an alleyway where Monson and his friends played. They hoped the woman living in the nearby home would return their property, but she didn’t. “She was our nemesis, the destroyer of our fun — even the bane of our existence,’ he said. “None of us had a good word for Mrs. Shinas, but we had plenty of bad words for her.” The warring factions never spoke until “perhaps two years” later. On a whim, young Monson began watering his neighbor’s parched lawn and later cleared it of leaves. Meanwhile, he hadn’t seen her in several months. One evening, Mrs. Shinas beckoned the boy into her home. She smiled, gave him a large box filled with baseballs and softballs and thanked him for his kindness. “Now we were friends,” he said. “The Golden Rule had again succeeded.” During a game at the old Horace Mann Junior High, a batter smashed a high fastball toward retreating outfielder Monson. “He won’t catch it,” taunted the player. But poise, a fleet foot and maybe even a few “angels in the outfield” helped Monson not only run down the ball, but catch it with his bare left hand. “Tt was amazing,” he said modestly. fo West Side youth baseball history is full of amazing and entertaining stories like that.