‘Paddy’ pads out Alta-Aurelia baseball fund drive

Friday, September 17, 2021

From out of the mists of baseball history, Paddy comes to bat one more time for his home community.

A drive to make the Alta-Aurelia baseball complex into the best thing this side of the major leagues is nearing its goals, with a big boost from a most unexpected source - the one, the only, player from the neighbor towns to even play major league baseball. Get your Cracker Jacks fans, because there’s a story about to play out.

First, meet a young second baseman with high hopes. The year is 1914, and Wesley Peter Siglin is a willowy 22-year-old with an intense gaze, born in the tiny burg of Aurelia, founded just 17 years earlier out of the prairie grass beside the Illinois Central train tracks.

Longtime community, school and sports booster Tim Radke.

After a solid debut season with the Waterloo Jays, in September he gets the call up to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is a roster boasting three Hall of Famers including Honus Wagner, that would finish second in the National League that year. Over the next two seasons, “Paddy” would play sparingly at Forbes Field, the proverbial “cup of coffee” in the midst of a lengthy and well-traveled minor league career. His baseball travels eventually brought him to California where he settled down.

A natural leader, he captained the Portland Beavers in 1919, where a newspaper described him as “a brainy, aggressive ballplayer” who was whipping the club into shape. Two years later, traded to the Salt Lake City Bees, he hit .344, leading the league in hits, doubles, homers and total bases. His career wound down into the later 1920s with Sacramento, with over 2,200 career hits. He also had salt - the San Francisco newspaper once ran a photo spread of Paddy in a wild fistfight with an umpire during a game.

He passed away in San Jose at age 64 in 1956, and there you would think the story would end. But good stories seldom do.

“Paddy” Siglin, in a 1917 baseball card from the Pacific Coast minor league team in Portland.

Fast forward to 2021. Enthusiastic teacher-coach Ryan Burkhart is in the midst of a furious fundraising campaign with grand designs on upgrading his players’ ballfield. As a history teacher, he decides to look into the history of Alta and Aurelia baseball, and discovers Paddy’s tale. “He was a something along the lines of a Crash Davis,” he says, invoking the wise journeyman character from the “Bull Durham” film.

Hoping to incorporate the only pro in the twin-towns’ history into the ballfield project in some fashion, the coach deep-dives into Ancestry.com.

Burkhart eventually tracks down some descendants of the long-ago ballplayer and begins to send out letters. About a month passes, and he receives word back from a granddaughter of Siglin. The family knew he had come from Iowa and played pro ball in younger years, but didn’t know that Aurelia was his hometown.

With some help from the locals, a rare copy of a 1970s town history book was found in the local museum with Siglin’s story and sent to the woman, who was so grateful that she wanted to pay the baseball coach for his research. Burkhart turned that down, glad to help out the family, and told them he hoped to recognize Siglin with a sign at the field. Monday, in his mail at school, was a $10,000 check the granddaughter send to help the project, which nearly puts the fund drive over the top.

“I was speechless - very moved,” the coach said, relating the story to the Alta-Aurelia school board this week.

The donation in memory of the ballplayer was not the only recent windfall of generosity to boost the project.

The family of Tim Radke has pledged a five-figure donation in memory of Tim. He was a lifelong Alta resident, Alta High School graduate, and a strong supporter of the community and its sports. He coached youth baseball, football and basketball, served on the school facilities and booster club boards, among many involvements, passing away at age 57 in 2019. Burkart said that when he and other coaches had questions, Radke had been the one to call. “Tim did a lot for both communities and the sports programs,” he said.

Thus the coach’s recommendation: naming Paddy Siglin Field, and the Tim Radke press box, at the Alta-Aurelia complex. A dedication would be planned, and Siglin’s granddaughter has an open invitation as an honored guest for a ballgame.

The recognition of the two men is karma, Coach Burkart feels - one from Alta and one from Aurelia, symbolizing how the two one-time rival communities have come together. “We want this ballfield to also be a unifying thing,” he told the school board.

The ballfield fund drive had raised over $59,000 in five months, including $10,000 from United Bank of Iowa, which serves both towns. With the latest memorial gift, the fund stands around $70,000, nearly enough for the projects the coach proposes.

That starts with new or improved bleachers for the baseball field. Burkhart presented the board with options this week, including new, bigger bleachers with fold-down seats, that would allow the current bleachers to be moved to the softball field to provide more seating there. The softball bleachers could then be used for the city’s youth field, he suggests.

A less expensive option would be to install the fold-down plastic seats on the current bleachers. If more money needs to be raised, individual seats could be sponsored by businesses.

The current press box on top of the home dugout would be replaced with a safer new two-story building behind home plate, with a press box up top, and storage and umpires’ room below. On that building could be mounted information on Alta, Aurelia and Alta-Aurelia records and state appearances, donor recognition and the history of the sport in the communities, from Paddy on down.

He proposes replacing the dugouts, where block has started to separate and there are drainage issues. Concrete/cinderblock dugouts partially recessed into the ground would be constructed, each with a restroom connected to a septic tank.

Other improvements would include lower fencing with a backstop net to improve visibility, and windscreen. It is hoped that work could begin after the baseball season next summer.

Costs are estimated at about $79,300, and if more is raised, no worries, Burkart has a list of other improvements that could be pursued. If baseball parents contribute labor, the cost could be cut down in many areas.

He noted that the superintendent of schools had once challenged the staff to “separate ourselves” from other schools with ambitious efforts. “For 99.5 percent of our players, high school will be the last time they play baseball. This is their major leagues,” Burkhart said in his impassioned presentation. “They will have nice uniforms, nice equipment, the best coaching we can give them, and facilities as close to the major leagues as we can get them. We will teach them life lessons as well as competition.”

Lessons like never quitting, even if you can’t play in the bigs, right Paddy?