Living in the town of Slater in the 1950s was a special time for anyone with a hankering for baseball. That’s because the town was known, near and far, as “a baseball town” — a place where good baseball was played.
The reason for that reputation was the town’s baseball diamond and semi-professional team, the Nite Hawks. The diamond, stashed away in the west part of town, sat just east of the north-south bound railroad tracks. It wasn’t uncommon for the trains to slow to a crawl as the passengers and crew tried to absorb the action taking place just a few yards away.
The lights went on June 11, 1948, the lights at the Slater Memorial Baseball Park that is. It was on that night more than 800 fans came to see the Nite Hawks play their first night game on their lighted diamond. It was nestled in amongst the agricultural fields south of the town’s big business: the Slater Cooperative Creamery.
At the time, lighted ball diamonds were not commonly found in small communities. The town folk had come together to make it a reality. From the very get-go their team, the Nite Hawks, made its presence known, thanks to an uncommonly talented base of local athletes and the very supportive town. That tradition carried on for decades as the team racked up an abundance of trophies and championships statewide and nationally.
Last week, members of the Nite Hawks from the 1950s through the 1970s gathered at the Nite Hawk Bar & Grill for their fifth reunion. It also honored the 70th anniversary of the now-named Nite Hawk Field.
Organizer Bob Locker (1958-1975) said 26 former team members and associates were present for the festivities. It drew folks from all across Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado.
The next day, I met Locker at his home in Slater to discuss his memories of the years he spent as a Nite Hawk.
Locker remembers helping out at King Schaudt’s service station back when he was still in elementary school. King’s Service was the gathering spot for the male residents, young and not so young, where baseball was the main topic of conversation.
“King’s is where I started playing ball as a kid,” Locker said as a smile began to creep across his face. “We’d tie up grease rags and hit them. Then we migrated up to wiffle balls. If you hit one off the island, you had a home run.”
Locker grew those baseball skills throughout grade school and high school and then on to Iowa State, where he played four years for “Cap” Timm. Surprisingly, the year he graduated from Iowa State there were three Lockers on the team. Slater’s Bob Locker was the starting catcher and one of the starting pitchers was a Bob Locker who later pitched for the Chicago White Sox. Slater’s Ron Locker (Bob brother) was on the team as well.
Before, during and after college, Bob also played for the Nite Hawks, along with several of his fellow college players. It was during these times that Bob remembers so well the team’s manager — King Schaudt.
One of the most unusual road trips Locker recalls back then was to Oskaloosa. On the way home, King was driving his pickup with several aboard. The local grave digger, Bert Larson, was one of the passengers. Larson took a taste of some liquor and got sick. “He stuck his head out the window and lost his false teeth. King whipped the pickup around and we actually found them alongside the road.”
Looking over team photos from many years gone by, Bob’s mood darkened. “There are a lot of good guys. Many of them are gone now.”
Then, to change the subject, he said, ”You know where my house stands right now was once part of Frank Roznos’s cow pasture. Back in the 1970s, we took the turf off of it and used it to cover the infield at the Nite Hawk diamond. There was a big bull out in the pasture that was mean. Marvin (Roznos) finally got him out of there.”
Bob paused and then added, “It’s still a damn good ball field!”