Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One Strike Does Not A Defeat Make

Rename the field for Beekmann, and collect SL's baseball history while we still can.

"The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day: The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.

And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same, A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game....

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air, And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.

Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped - "That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

The little committee of former ballplayers is understandably frustrated in their attempt to honor the legendary coach who once patroled the baseline at historic Memorial Park, but as Jay Beekmann might remind them if he were still here - strike one is not time to give up, just time to dig in your spikes.

I wrote a few weeks ago about this idea to honor Beekmann, the lanky young phenom pitcher for the storied semipro Storm Lake White Caps and BV College, and later gentlemanly hall-of-famer coach for over 30 years for the Beavers at Memorial Park.

The effort has since been thrown some wicked curves, and it remains to be seen whether it can don the rally cap.

Gary Lane, son-in-law of Beekmann and a BVU Hall of Famer athlete in his own right under the coach, spoke to city officials about the possibility of renaming that patch of grass and dirt as Jay Beekmann Field (just the baseball field - the complex would remain Memorial Park, out of respect to the World War II dead to which it was dedicated in 1948.)

City officials respond that they have a policy not to consider re-naming public property unless it comes with a money endowment to the city to maintain the site - in this case it might take $400,000 to produce the interest to satisfy the city requirements of about $15,000 a year. The little committee would have a better chance of challenging the Yankees than raising that sort of scratch.

Steeee-rike one.

The city policy is not a bad one. Without it, people would want to name things willy-nilly until our parks became a confusing mess. And people might want to clutter parks with all manner of things that future generations of taxpayers wouldn't necessarily want, but would be obliged to keep up. For the record, a memorial on the BV campus would face a similar policy and hand outstretched for significant endowment.

In this case, however, I'm not sure the project has to fit within the city policy. We're not talking about a park - it's a ballfield, for gosh sakes, used only seasonally for games and not by the general public at all.

It would not cost the city or the taxpayers a dime to see this field renamed. There's no maintaining cost added!

And frankly, why should the city be paid $15 grand a year? The park is leased out to St. Mary's schools and has been for years. The school, not the city, has kept this field in good shape.

Lane and his committee have done a good job of touching base with St. Mary's and BVU baseball programs, a veterans representative and others, and I have yet to hear anyone say the field couldn't or shouldn't be named to honor Beekmann (a WWII vet himself).

One catch here is that St. Mary's' lease on the park runs out in nine years. It is the smallest school in the region; there is no way of telling if it will need to keep operating the field in the longterm future, or if the city may sell it in a decade to capitalize on economic development opportunities with King's Pointe now developed nearby. To their credit, city staff members have been up-front about that possibility.

Of all the options to honor Beekmann that have been discussed, what seems to me to make the most sense might be this:

1. Name it "Beekmann Field" within Memorial Park. The man did tremendous things for his sport and his community. Do it realizing there are no promises beyond nine years - it would carry his name as long as there is a field there to do so.

2. Encourage the committee to raise the funds to create a stone marker or statue that would add class and interest to the site. Wouldn't a statue of a classic White Caps player be cool? Baseball has been played on this spot for 75 years, and a marker could record the origins of the sport in Storm Lake - from the Pelicans team that dates to the city's early days to the founding of the White Caps franchise to the beginnings of the sport at Buena Vista and the black barnstorming team the Tennessee Rats that lived and played at Casino Beach. This should be something that could be moved to the high school/college field or other appropriate location if Memorial Park is ever removed.

3. Make the most of it. Celebrate the renaming with a big reunion of the remaining White Caps, and former college players. This will bring money and interest into the city. Let the historical society gather up the heritage and photos of baseball history in Storm Lake, and let the college video students create a documentary - sort of our own local version of Ken Burns' "Baseball."

There was a time when baseball was THE passion in Storm Lake, and the White Caps were the best show in town - drawing over 21,000 people at Memorial Park at times. Were they good? Ask the national champion Champlin Oilers, who were humbled by the Storm Lakers. The 'Caps were the pride of the city, its prime source of entertainment, in a time when baseball was indisputably king. Sachell Page and Dizzy Dean were here, as well as the stars of the negro leagues. St. Louis Cardinals 1926 world series winner Wattie Holm from Peterson, who died in a bizzarre murder-suicide, coached the team. Great names abound in its local history - "Doc" Dunagan, "Bones" Hamilton, Buddy Bauer, "Circus Catch McDonald," "Hoppy Hopkins," "Dutch" Huseman, "Junior" Lawrence, former Notre Dame star Ray Petrazela, the legendary player-skipper, Kenny Blackman.

Jim Fanning, major league hall of fame coach, played his college ball on that field, as did pro players Larry Biitner and Dan Monzon.

Of course, those guys were taught by Jay Beekmann, the same guy who went almost two years without a loss as the ace of the White Caps staff.

The same guy who used to talk to me about all the good things baseball could do for kids, and lamented what the whiny, overpaid, steroid-cheating major leaguers were doing to the game, its image, and .

I don't think wins, strikeouts, conference championships and trophies qualify a person to be honored in their town; but the kind of person they were throughout their life can.

As good as we are in Storm Lake about building wonderful new things, we stumble at times in taking care of the historic sites we have - Cobblestone is an example.

We have long since torn down that wonderful wooden Memorial Park grandstand that was patterned after major league fields. There is no sign to identify the field, it is accessed on a pathway of concrete patches between a bar and convenience store, the entry is just a gate in the chain link.

There is little left at Memorial that would differentiate it from other small-town, small-school ballparks, let alone give people a clue to the 75 years of history worn into its basepaths.

But there are countless great stories there. This could be the motivation to find them. If we don't collect those stories now, we will miss our opportunity like a fly ball blast disappearing in the dark fog that's been known to roll in off the lake on a late-summer night.

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout...

So it seems it won't be so simple or easy. But don't count this effort in Mudville out yet.