Family ties: Lineage pays big role for Vergas baseball team
Vergas, Minn. - Alfred Bachmann was sharing a lawn chair with his great granddaughter Karli on a Sunday afternoon at the Vergas baseball field. Karli's 5-year-old brother Wiley and her father, Jake, were sharing a spot on the wooden bench in the ...
Vergas, Minn. - Alfred Bachmann was sharing a lawn chair with his great granddaughter Karli on a Sunday afternoon at the Vergas baseball field.
Karli's 5-year-old brother Wiley and her father, Jake, were sharing a spot on the wooden bench in the first base dugout.
Jake plays amateur baseball for the Vergas Loons, just as his father, Al, did and just as grandpa Alfred did years ago in nearby Evergreen. Wiley is the team's batboy, just as Jake was for an amateur team in nearby Wolf Lake.
"One of the things I want to do is play with my son," said 30-year-old Jake, who played with his dad on an amateur team in nearby Frazee. "There's been a long line of Bachmanns who have played amateur baseball."
Including Jake's uncle Darwin Bachmann, the
60-year-old umpire in Sunday's game pitting the Loons against the Pelican Rapids Lakers. Darwin was such a good pitcher in his day - throwing the ball as fast as 93 miles per hour - he got a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds.
"Back when I played, every team had at least one pitcher who could throw 85 miles per hour or better plus have a good curveball ... you don't see that today," Darwin said. "Back then, 200 to 350 people would show up for games. It was a dog-eat-dog world of a game, then you crack open a few brewskies with the other team afterwards."
The Vergas Loons, which has been a member of the Countryside League since 1949, were trying their best to relive those old days. On what Loons' manager Keith Bunkowske described as "Fan Appreciation Day," nearly 100 fans perched themselves in lawn chairs, on picnic tables or in pickup beds to watch amateur baseball on a beautiful, sunny day.
"I just want to keep the tradition going," said the 55-year-old Bunkowske, a crop farmer who has been the Loons' manager since 1981.
Longest home run
Jerry Johnson, a retired Frazee High School principal who now owns Long Lake Resort, manned the microphone - announcing starting lineups, playing the national anthem and broadcasting winners of drawings for such donated items as a tub of bubble gum, a gift certificate to Zorbaz and even four tickets to a Minnesota Twins game.
Johnson played for the Loons from 1974 to 1989 - during an era when one of the most famous Loon stories unfolded. A home run landed in the boxcar of a passing Soo Line train - becoming the longest ever hit by a Loon player.
"We figured the ball ended up in Chicago," said Bunkowske, unsure who hit the homerun.
"I believe it was Warren Bachmann," Johnson said, who witnessed the historic shot.
With the Loons trailing Pelican Rapids 3-2 in the fifth inning, a Canadian Pacific train whistles by beyond the right-field fence. Outfielders like
30-year-old Kyle Schrupp - whose dad played for the Loons - try to swat away the deer flies.
Boys and girls, somewhat oblivious to the game, chase down foul balls so they can haul in a 25-cent reward. It increases to 50 cents during the final three innings. It's $2 for fetching a home run ball.
There would be no historic home runs on this day.
The Loons, who received a fire truck escort out of town before they played in the 1988 and 2002 state tournaments, are rebuilding this season.
"We're young and it shows," says Bunkowske, whose 27-year-old son A.J. is one of the few veterans left on the team.
A.J., who played baseball at North Dakota State, scores from first base on a Marcus Zitzow double - cutting the Pelican Rapids' lead to 5-4 in the ninth inning.
"I haven't run that hard in a long time," says A.J., huffing and puffing in the dugout while the screaming, sun-drenched fans sense a comeback.
The 27-year-old Zitzow, whose dad played for the Loons, later scores on a wild pitch to send the game into extra innings. The fans don't mind. There's plenty of refreshments in their coolers, and burgers and brats are still sizzling on the grill.
In the Countryside League, Vergas and Dent draw the best crowds - even though their populations are smaller than other league members from Pelican Rapids, Hawley and Frazee.
"Dent is the big rivalry," the older Bunkowske says. "We love playing there."
"It's fun to play where you have fan support," says Jake Bachmann.
Like on this Sunday afternoon when - nearly 3½ hours after the game started - it finally ends in the 12th inning. Garrett Dahlgren, a 22-year-old college student, scores from third base on the catcher's misfired throw to second base.
Oh, by the way, Dahlgren's dad played for the Loons, too.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549
Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com