IN THE "BIG INNING"

 

 

It was 1979 and a group of men who had once played baseball in Jordan got together for an "old-timers" game.

 

At age 39, Duane Gaulke, like many of the others, had not yet reached middle age. However, for the youth dominated amateur leagues 39, was considered "old". Gaulke, who had himself quit playing amateur ball two years earlier, realized how much fun everyone had playing in this "old-timers" game. "I had this fear that we'd not be able to experience this good feeling again," he said. "There was a lot of talent out there that was just a couple of years too old to compete evenly in the regular amateur baseball programs. My feeling was that as long as they WANTED to play, there should be a PLACE for them to play." That winter, he and some acquaintances, after much discussion, worked out plans to start a special program for older players.

 

Gaulke met with his brother, Dave Gaulke of Bloomington, Irv Coleman of Savage, and Mark Jacobson of Prior Lake. Taking into account that some players would still be fairly young and others might be able to play into their 60's, they developed a plan to shorten the innings to two outs and abbreviate the count to three balls and two strikes for each batter. "We never wanted to compete with the top state amateur leagues, but rather only complement them by offering something for the players who may now be slowed a step or two."

 

The Minnesota Senior Men's Amateur Baseball Association started from those humble beginnings. Originally there were no lofty illusions, no expectations regarding expansion, but expansion followed. It began gradually at first with the addition of a second league and ultimately blossoming into four leagues in an 11-year span.

 

The "2-out/1 and 1 count" rule modification startled some die-hard purists, but the first decade proved the idea to be sound. Top heavy scores caused by big innings and long games were curtailed because two outs would retire a team quicker. Furthermore, an aging pitcher found he could still "go the distance" because the batter's starting with a count of 1 and 1 could ill afford to take a strike.

 

After some brief experimentation, the four originating teams (Jordan, Savage, Prior Lake and Bloomington) played a season and organized a state tournament. Bloomington, the forerunner of the current Eagles, defeated Prior Lake in the inaugural 1980 final game.

 

In 1981, a second Bloomington team, known as Green and later as the A's, joined the league as did Shakopee. In 1982, a second Shakopee team and a third Bloomington team as well as new teams from Burnsville and Chanhassen, also joined, prompting the Association to form 2 leagues.

 

In the ensuing decade growth spread to encompass the entire Twin Cities area. From the North, Shoreview and later Anoka. From the West came Eden Prairie. From the East, Woodbury and Cottage Grove. And, from the downtown areas, came Minneapolis and St. Paul. In recent years, the rural areas of Union Hill, Montgomery and Belle Plaine have joined the ranks. In 1992, the St. Louis Park Cardinals were added as well as a group of teams from NW Minnesota representing the towns of Dent-Vergas, Pine Point, and Brainerd. In 1995 the Minneapolis Brewers joined the Metro League, the Waconia Islanders the River Valley League and the Urbank Goldtimers came on board in the  NW Minnesota league. In 1996, St. Peter Saints and the New Prague Eagles to the River Valley league and the Minneapolis Hackers to the Metro League. The year 1997 saw the emergence of the Oakdale Blue Diamonds and the Veseli Vulcans. This past year, 1999, the growth continued as we welcomed the Mayer Mudcats, and New Market-Elko-Webster Rookies to the River Valley League and the Perham Silver Pirates to the Northwest League.

 

Each year more and more 35-year-old players are expressing an interest in Senior Baseball and with "the old guys still hanging on", further expansion seems inevitable. And it all goes back to that empty feeling Duane Gaulke had in 1979. He didn't want his life to be without baseball and a whole lot of guys anxious to prove "they too aren't so over the hill" apparently agree.

 

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