Nite Hawks in the sky

Ed Rood

Many of my childhood memories center around the Slater Nite Hawks and Nite Hawk field. It was the place to be on hot summer nights. Besides, a kid might even pick up a little extra spending money. That is if he was fast on his feet.

Nite Hawk field was (and is) a lighted baseball diamond built and dedicated in 1948. From that year on, the team has created a championship tradition.

I was 8 years old in 1948, but can still remember how proud everyone was of the ballpark and of the young men who represented the town. Team members were King Schaudt, center field; Paul Boat, right field; Lowell Soderstrum, shortstop; Wayde Soderstrum, right field; John Zagar, second base; John Scott, first base; Paul Nervig, third base; Billy Houge, catcher; Art Nelson, left field; Nilus Ihle, right field; Rodney Sutter, pitcher, left field; Ralph Ray, pitcher; Dean Sigmund, pitcher; Bill Schaudt, first base and Dick Fontana, pitcher.

As pre-high school youths, we would act pretty important as we played catch on the edge of the parking lot during the games. Guess it made us feel like we were part of the team.

Among my fond memories is the refreshment stand — with its popcorn, ice cream and beef burgers.

I remember kids from all the surrounding towns would accompany their parents to the games. That would give us hometown kids a chance to intermingle and form friendships. Some of the acquaintances I made are still friends to this day.

Free watermelon and corn-on-the-cob feeds were great enticements to attract more fans to the games. For the price of admission, one could have all the corn or watermelon one could eat. Naturally, this made those games even more memorable to we of the younger set.

A big part of the overhead in fielding a town team back then was the price of baseballs. This necessitated a sort of recycling of foul balls and home runs. If a ball was hit out of the fences lining the field, the players would simply let it go. Those errant balls became the responsibility of very dedicated gentlemen who took their job seriously.

Ball persons such as Homer Locker, Frank Roznos, Gerhart Vespestad and Milo Papich would keep their eyes on any and all balls that left the confines of the Nite Hawk Field. Any young man (or girl) who managed to outrun the rest of the pack of ball snatchers and return it to the ball person would receive a nickel.

Naturally, the race for a foul ball meant heated competition. Not only was a nickel at stake; there was also the honor of carrying the ball back past all the kids who had lost out.

Home run balls were a different matter. The wooden fence marking the extremities of the outfield nearly ran all the way to a nearby creek aptly named “Stink Creek.” That’s because it did stink. A majority of the waste from the Farmers’ Cooperative Creamery was discharged into the creek, giving it a not too pleasant odor. If one entered its water, that smell had a way of staying with you for an extended period of time.

My friend Kenny Nelson had a jump on all home runs. His normal seating arrangement was on a 2x8 plank under the scoreboard in center field, where he posted the score after every half inning. This gave him a bird’s eye view of all the balls heading that way.

Kenny often had helpers who would take his instructions on ball location. After the ball was found, Kenny’s helpers would run the ball back to the ball person for the nickel reward. Cleaning the ball was up to the ball person.

Walking home after the game was another fun experience. I can still remember bragging about my favorite player, the foul balls I cashed in and the good-looking girl I met. Who says we led a dull life back then?

Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.