The Boys Of Summer

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:40 am
By: Doug Lund
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I received another jolt of reality over the weekend; a not so gentle reminder that time travels at warp speed once you reach a certain age..like mine. 

When I heard that Duke Snider, one of the greatest major league baseball players in history and key member of my beloved Dodgers, had died, my mind  immediately transported me back to Gruseth Field in the days of my youth. It was a make-shift ball diamond located on my cousin, Grouse’s farmyard just outside Volga. Most summer days we’d get enough guys together for an all-day game..breaking only for a glass of nectar and a few freshly baked cookies from Aunt Esther’s oven. The field’s dimensions were rather quirky to say the least; 200 feet to the home run fence in straight-away center..over 300 feet to the barn roof in left but right field was considerably shorter because of a big granary building and hog house in the way. We were all discouraged from hitting in that direction because nobody wanted to climb over the wooden fence into the pig yard to retrieve a ball which more often than not had landed in a pile of swine scat. Another old storage building served as a backstop. A sure way to bring more groans from the players was when the batter would hit a foul tip back over the roof and into the trees behind. Since we usually had but one baseball we all had to go hunt for it. Our our day was done if it wasn’t found lying amongst the leaves and branches.  Anyway, Grouse and I were die hard Dodger fans. I wanted to be just like Gil Hodges and he was “The Duke.” 

The Boys of Summer..Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson

The Boys of Summer..Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson

 I’m not quite sure how such devotion developed other than through collecting baseball cards and watching the Saturday game of the week on TV which often featured either the Yankees or Dodgers. Unlike a lot of broken hearted fans in New York, our loyalty continued through the Dodgers controversial move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. Grouse and I both loved the new L.A. Dodger logo and were delighted with the replicas which my Aunt Leila cut out from a piece of felt and sewed on our caps. Unfortunately, neither of us developed into the kind of hitters that would lead to Hall of Fame careers like our heroes Gil and Duke but there were a few times when all the planets were in alignment; we’d get a perfect pitch right in the strike zone, make an equally perfect swing and “CRACK” the ball would meet the bat exactly on the barrel sending it soaring toward the barn and off the silo’s metal roof. There is no feeling in the world like it!

The other boys of summer. That's me on the motorcycle, cousin Bob is on the left holding what I believe is a chicken.Next to bob is friend, Dixon Hoberg and that's Grouse on the right.

The other boys of summer. That's me on the motorcycle, cousin Bob is on the left holding what I believe is a chicken.Next to bob is friend, Dixon Hoberg and that's Grouse on the right.

Gil Hodges was sill in his forties when he died of a heart attack in 1972 but ol’ Duke made it to age 84. 

Linda asked me what I was blogging about today and I said the death of Duke Snider… to which she replied..who?  Sigh.  I’ll bet she doesn’t even know that they’ve started playing actual games at spring training in Florida and Arizona meaning the beginning of another season is so close you can almost smell the brats and expensive beer. Hard to imagine, though, when there’s still mountains of snow piled high on so many home fields including the most memorable one of my childhood.

16 Comments

  1. mark koch says:

    funny how we can all think of a ball diamond from our youth…wether it be the city lot or a farmyard diamond….we all remember playing the game somewhere….heck, i remember during practice…us farmboys would rocks for bases and the outfield would slope down a bit (since it was the corner of a pasture)…but we all had fun…i do remeber that….r.i.p. duke~

  2. FOSH says:

    I remeber the days with all my neighborhood friends on those hot, summer days. My family, as well as many of my friends, lived within blocks of the baseball diamonds in Huron. We spent countless hours in the sweltering heat trying to make it to the big leagues. We always played on a field which we had definitely grown out of, and there was a house that sat across the street just behind the left field fence. We got many tongue lashings from the little old lady who lived there when the baseballs would roll into her garage. We always made the youngest in the group go get the baseball when that would happen. My favorite player growing up was Kirby Pucket. Good memories. Thanks for the story Doug!

  3. Tom Lawrence says:

    We grew up on ballfields, swinging bats and chasing fly balls. My brother, sisters, cousins and neighbors all played. We loved to play and spent hours and hours outside. We were almost all rail thin and I am sure there is a connection there.
    At 52, I still play softball and welcome the return to spring and the baseball season. What were once homers are now triples or doubles and stand-up doubles are now singles, but it’s still fun to swing the bat in the sun.
    The Duke of Flatbush was a great hitter and fielder. The handsome center fielder was also on a few TV shows, like other Dodgers such as Don Drysdale. You can spot Duke in a “Rifleman” episode with his one-time teammate, Lucas McCain himself, Chuck Connors.
    Here’s a link to a picture of the two old ballplayers in western duds:http://www.riflemanconnors.com/duke_snider-the_retired_gun.htm

  4. hardass555 says:

    rip duke…..oh….my…..god, doug…….i think you grew up in a pretty well-off life, though i haven’t gotten that feeling before today….always seemed you were like the rest of us “average” south dakota kids….you were sitting on a MOTORCYCLE!!!…in my years growing up we did see a couple in the county, and they belonged to kids whose parents had money to light cigars with!!…so richie, (rich), what kind of bike was it (looks like a triumph or an old bsa) and how much tantrum-throwing did you have to do before the folks took you out to get it and dry your tears?….just asking, spoiled brat!

  5. grouse says:

    It is indeed a dark day for those of us who despite enjoying the exploits of other teams will always bleed Dodger blue. The Duke was all class. Who can ever forget the boys of summer, Campy behind the plate, Hodges at first, Robinson at second, Pee Wee at short, What’s his name at third, Furillo in right, Duke in center and Whatcha macallit in left. On the mound, Drysdale, Koufax and a few other guys. At Gruseth field, the true test of power hitting was hitting one off the silo in deep left field. It was first accomplished by our cousin Mike Howard. We could only watch in awe as the ball soared over the windmill and made a permanent imprint on the metal top. Doug hit the silo top next, followed by me. I’m pretty sure we were the only three living former baseball players to accomplish this. No youthful Yankee fan ever was up to the task. Tomorrow would be a good day to wear a number 4 on your going to work attire. When you’re a Dodger fan, all things are possible

  6. Cam Lind says:

    Doug, I too was a huge Dodger fan when they were in Brooklyn. I switched to the Cards when the Dodgers moved west. I did so because we could get the Cards on KMOX in St. Louis. I have a collection of tons of baseball stuff, featured by a Jersey “THE DUKE” signed for me in Hawaii in 1981. RIP #4.

  7. Jack Schmieder says:

    My older brother was a serious Dodger fan as well. We saw a game in LA (in the Coliseum) when they played the Cubs. Bums lost 4-0.

  8. Dave says:

    Doug and Grouse, Dave Nelson here. Before you dis Yankee fans too much, I also hit one over the center field fence. I never hit the silo, but I was younger (minor leauger). The Yankees usually had the last laugh didn’t they. The gettogethers for baseball were quite intense @ Gruseth memorial stadium. I remember Mike and Steve Howard, Boyd and Paul Parker, Bob and Lawrence Gruseth,Doug and Tom Lund, myself and occasionally my sister Debbie would play. Sometimes some ringers from town would show up. One thing Doug mentioned, lost baseballs, put an end to the games. Most of the times there was only one decent baseball. Bad tempers between siblings also shortened games. We’d go in the house and watch I LOVE LUCY or listen to Boddy Holly records.
    By the way, I’m no longer a Yankee fan. No more Mickey Mantle. Go Twins.

  9. Per Pål P says:

    Growing up in a small farming town in Minnesota….summer baseball was fun. We played “work up”…or 500—A batter would bat the ball to the “outfielders” so many points for a caught fly ball…or so many for a grounder….if missed, the points were “deducted” as I recall…(a game that usually ended in a argument about who pushed who etc.) On hot summer afternoons….most stores had a radio going with a baseball game from somewhere. And Sunday’s always had area towns playing against each other…with plenty of “ice cold Hamms and Schmidts—pulled from a tank of ice. As “they say”…Another great memory…. Go Twins…. Per Pål…

  10. Mike Howard says:

    When I scream ” you #@#@’n Pitcher puncher” at a Twins player, or more truthfully at the TV it always gets a smile from my wife, she dosen’t get it, but it makes her smile. I stole that from you Doug.

  11. john mogen says:

    Baseball was a big deal to Waubay boys, too. We’d play most of the morning at the sand pit field while coaches Leon (Toot Toot) Tobin and Arnie Anderson encouraged us. After riding our bikes home, the Pischke, Evenson, and Mogen boys would gather at the neighborhood field following lunch. A long fly ball launched to deep rightfield would sometimes roust a sleeping Native from the abandoned car left in right! Sweat turned to shouts of joy when we piled in the Mogen stationwagon and headed for a swim in Blue Dog Lake.

  12. GMAX9 says:

    At our house in the middle of Aberdeen it was whiffle ball in the back yard most every day. My dad took years after we left to get the “diamond” obliterated from his lawn. Of course hitting it over the fence was no big deal but if you could get it over the fence, across the alley and over the neighbors fence, well, that was something. As the only girl playing it was, of course, necessary to hit ‘em higher and harder than the brothers and sometimes I actually did. Girls weren’t allowed in Little League then but sure would have liked to have played.

    Older brother Dave was a huge Dodgers fan and spent hours with his baseball cards – he knew all the stats for all the greats. Know he wonders where all those cards went but I don’t have the heart to tell him my son got them and they weren’t cared for so ended up in the trash.

    Of course my first memory of baseball is of Dave’s friend showing me (at the age of 5) just where to stand so he could instruct me in the fine art of hitting the baseball. Next thing I knew I woke up in my bed with my first concussion! It was a great time to grow up – even if it did suck to be a girl. :o )

  13. Bob says:

    We too had a baseball field right next to our house. Actually it was our yard so the field was rather narrow but very deep. Everyday in the summer neighbor kids would slide their gloves across the handlebars and ride as fast as they could to the field. Our bats were cracked bats the town team would give away to us kids. We would take them home and tape them up with electrical tape. I had a Jackie Robinson (with the fat handle) now that was a bat. Teams were divided up and the team that got to hit first was determined by placing you hand on the bat that the other guy would put his on top until you reached the top of the bat. Of cours “Eagle Claws” would always win out. The only way we would stop playing is if mom would yell at us saying there was some loose Bantee Rosters running around and we should round them up for dinner or if on a rare occasion someone would get hurt. Played for hours and hours. Remember when fall arrived and you played football, the end zones were the burning leave piles. I can still smell them now. Great times.

  14. fsl says:

    Has anyone read ‘The Last Boy’ ? The book is about Mickey Mantle, his biography ?
    Such talent, but so sad he drank away his talent & his family relationships.
    Baseball is such a unique sport, but ahh I guess its played by humans.
    Remember the ball games @ Volga, (softball probably), and the tonwn mosquito fogger machine that got rid of the skeeters but probably exposed us to a few toxins too. ~fsl

  15. hardass555 says:

    still want to know what kind of bike it is…looks like about a 650 whatever

  16. Hemmingsen says:

    These old timers are, like the rest of the greatest generation, fading fast. My daughter and her husband were in a Tampa barbecue place. They were among the few to notice another patron, Dodger rival Yogi Berra. My daughter says he was just a little old man and didn’t stand out because there are a lot of little old men in Florida. Yogi seemed happy when a few people did greet him as he was leaving. She figures he was there for the opening of Yankees spring training at nearby Steinbrenner Field. I looked it up. The Yog is well into his 80s. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” I guess when he came to the fork in the road, he took it.

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