Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kurt Knutson and the amazing 1951 Muskegon Big Reds

Muskegon Chronicle
Sunday, July 11, 2010
by Jim Moyes

It was a year that arguably remains at the top for Muskegon High School in terms of athletic excellence, but victories came interspersed with moments of joy and tears of sorrow.

When Muskegon’s 1951 football team capped its season with a 26-6 victory over rival Muskegon Heights, there was unbridled enjoyment when Harry Potter’s gridders were acclaimed as the mythical Class A state champs.

However, it wasn’t the only state championship Muskegon High earned in 1951.

Many of those same Big Red football legends of yesteryear also played huge roles in leading Muskegon to the Class A baseball state crown in the spring of 1951, Coach Potter’s second state title in the same calendar year.

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The 1951 Muskegon High School mythical state championship team.

Muskegon overcame adversity to claim the baseball state championship with its standout pitcher on the sidelines with an undisclosed illness, the severity of which was a mystery to his teammates and media.

I know that the state did not officially sanction a state playoff for baseball until 1971. However, in 1951, the winner of a Memorial Day tournament in Battle Creek was recognized as champs by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Jim Moyes
This tournament pitted the winners of the four major Class A conferences in the state of Michigan in a two-day format. Teams invited included Flint Northern, winner of the Saginaw Valley; Monroe, the top team of the Detroit suburban area; and Battle Creek, champion of the Five-A Conference.

Muskegon earned its trip to the Cereal City by capturing the highly competitive Southwest Conference championship. And the Big Reds accomplished this feat with their ace pitcher, not on the mound in Battle Creek, but being tested for an undisclosed illness many miles away at the Mayo Clinic.

When a large influx of baseball players reported for tryouts in the spring of 1951, Harry Potter knew he was blessed with a ton of talent, including the ace of the pitching staff from 1950.

Kurt Knutson had a monster year in leading the Big Reds to a very respectable 9-2 record. The 16-year old junior hurler shut out four foes during the 1950 season and posted a minuscule earned-run average of 0.78.

Three of those shutouts came against some top-notch competition at the time. Knutson posted successive 1-0 masterpieces against the Holland Dutchman and the Benton Harbor Tigers before blanking archrival Muskegon Heights 5-0.

Only three teams Knutson that faced during the 1950 campaign were able to score off the slender righthander. A powerful North Muskegon squad could later boast of scoring a pair of runs off the Muskegon ace in dropping a 5-2 tilt to the Big Reds.

During this era, the big rival for Muskegon in baseball was the Maroon Giants of Kalamazoo Central. Kalamazoo won its 38th straight game over the Big Reds in front of a large crowd at historic Marsh Field. Knutson carried more than his share of the load for Muskegon, but the normally airtight defense of Muskegon allowed a pair of unearned runs to cross the plate in Kalamazoo’s 2-0 win.

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Kurt Knutson

What a collection of candidates greeted Coach Potter prior to the 1951 baseball season! Recently I had a chance to reminisce with Jerry Eaton, one of the many galaxies of stars on this Big Red machine.

“Look at the great athletes we had on this team,” replied an awestruck Eaton.

Certainly the person most well-known was Big Red shortstop Earl Morrall. Morrall, who has long been overlooked for a place in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, was a three-sport star at Muskegon High.

While everybody recalls Morrall’s legendary exploits on the football field, Morrall was talented enough in baseball to become the regular shortstop for the Michigan State University baseball team.

All four members of the Big Reds’ starting backfield in 1951 were also regulars on the baseball team.

Joining Morrall in the starting lineup were halfbacks Leland David and Bob Fairfield, while the bruising fullback on this Big Red team, Dick Fett, was also a regular. Five years ago, this Muskegon football squad of 1951 was inducted into the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame.

Genetics ran deep on this Big Red team. Lee David’s son years later would be a first-round draft pick for the Toronto Blue Jays. And the late Bob Fairfield’s son, Dusty, became a legend as the longtime football coach at Ravenna.

“We had two exceptional catchers,” Eaton recalled. “How many teams can boast of having two great catchers on one team? It didn’t matter who Harry threw out there, Bob Soderholm and Dick Fett were just terrific players.”

Captain Jerry Stephens joined Morrall and David in the starting infield at second base with Bill Nyblade at first.

Fairfield was a hard-hitting left fielder, while Tom Byrnes was a steady performer in right field. Patrolling centerfield was Bob Hill.

“Hill was a great player,” Eaton recalled. “He could really hit and had great speed for an outfielder”

While Knutson was expected to be the mainstay on the pitching mound, Potter quickly recognized the potential talent of Eaton. The flame-throwing righthander would sign a contract with the Detroit Tigers before returning to his alma mater to coach Muskegon’s baseball team for many years.

“I was a young sophomore in 1951 and Kurt Knutson took me under his wings,” Eaton said. “He was always talking baseball with me and certainly helped make me a better pitcher.”

For whatever reason, there were a limited amount of games scheduled in the 1940s and 1950s, as evidenced by the Big Reds’ 13-0-1 record, with only a season-ending tie to cross-town rival Muskegon Heights marring a perfect record. The game was called with the Big Reds batting in the eighth inning, with two runners on and nobody out, when a sudden storm quickly deluged Mona Lake Park.

There were no cupcakes on the 1951 Big Red schedule. How disappointed was this author when the Big Reds twice defeated a North Muskegon team, the only losses suffered by the Norsemen who were coached by my father, Paul Moyes.

Coach Potter sent out his ace pitcher to battle Heights in the first Southwest Conference game of the season. The Big Red bats were booming as Knutson allowed the Tigers no earned runs in a convincing 10-3 victory.

A week later, a gritty Knutson tossed a neat two-hitter as the Big Reds disposed of the Holland Dutch, 5-1. Unbeknownst to all but perhaps Kurt Knutson, there began some ominous signs that all was not well with the popular Muskegon pitcher.

Time and time again during my research for this story, there were frequent game articles that depicted Knutson “wobbling” or “stumbling” around the mound. However, when the big game of the year rolled around, Coach Potter sent Knutson to the mound to face the mighty Maroon Giants of Kalamazoo Central.

Not only was the Southwest Conference championship at stake, but also Kalamazoo, with a winning streak that had reached 46 games, was a definite threat to eclipse the state record of 55 held by Potter’s own Big Red powerhouses from the early 1940s.

The Maroon Giants were aptly named, as not only had they become a dynasty in baseball, but Central had also won three consecutive Class A basketball championships. The big star on the basketball court, as well as the baseball diamond, was 6-foot-6 first baseman Ron Jackson.

Jackson played parts of seven season in the major leagues, mostly with the Chicago White Sox, and would go down as Kalamazoo Central’s most heralded athlete until a guy by the name of Derrick Jeter appeared on the scene in the early 1990s.

With the score knotted at 2-2, with Kalamazoo batting in the third inning, Knutson stunned all those in attendance when he turned ill and began vomiting uncontrollably near the pitching mound. A very concerned Potter replaced Knutson with sophomore standout Jerry Eaton. Eaton permitted Kalamazoo just two additional runs while the potent Big Red batsmen did the rest.

The big blow in Muskegon’s victory was a bases-loaded triple by Bob Hill that provided some much-needed insurance runs for the victors. The Big Reds won convincingly, 8-4, and snapped the Kalamazoo winning streak.

The following week, a courageous Knutson would pitch in his final game for the Big Reds in the team’s final conference game with Grand Haven. Knutson was far off form, but he somehow mustered enough stamina to pitch the Big Reds to a 9-4 win over the Bucs, clinching the conference championship and earning Muskegon a berth in the Battle Creek Invitational.

It would prove to be a bittersweet Memorial Day weekend for this Big Red baseball squad. While Knutson headed to the Mayo Clinic for testing, the Big Reds were determined to “win this tournament for Kurt.”

And win it they did.

Coach Potter surprised many Muskegon supporters when he sent out a young sophomore by the name of Brad Hart to pitch the opener against Monroe. Hart pitched a gem, going all nine innings in a 2-1 Muskegon victory.

Monroe’s only run came at the expense of a disputed balk call against inexperienced Hart. Muskegon trailed 1-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the last scheduled inning. Never known as a speedster in his Hall of Fame career, Morrall used his legs, and not his fabled right arm, to send the game into extra innings.

Morrall singled, took second on the catcher’s wild throw, advanced to third on an infield out and then tied the game on a clean theft of home. After Fett led off the deciding ninth inning by being hit by a pitch, Morrall singled, and after Tommy Byrnes laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, Fett raced home with the winning run when the pitcher threw wide to first base.

Eaton was “effectively wild” in the championship game with Battle Creek. None of the Bearcats were digging in at the plate after Eaton hit a batsman and tossed three wild pitches as Muskegon fulfilled its pledge to “win this for Kurt” by defeating Battle Creek, 5-3.

Many of these same Big Reds formed a team to play in the State American Legion tournament in late July. Muskegon swept through three opponents to win a prestigious zone tournament played at Marsh Field.

On July 29, 1951, just two months after Muskegon had won the Battle Creek Invitational, and recognized as the 1951 state champs, Knutson passed away, a victim of leukemia.
That evening, the players from the Muskegon Elks team were gathered at the local American Legion Post where the club’s victory was being celebrated. The celebration came to a crashing standstill when word was received that their beloved teammate had passed away. Many of Knutson’s fellow Big Reds wept unashamedly.

When I asked Eaton what kind of a person Knutson was, he quickly burst out: “Oh my God! You’d want him for a brother!”

When they laid Knutson to rest on July 30, 1951, among the pallbearers were Eaton and Morrall.

“At the funeral we were given identification bracelets in memory of Kurt,” recalled an emotional Eaton.

“I have worn that bracelet ever since his funeral. And I know Earl did the same for many years.”

Kurt Knutson was just 17 years old.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Grand Haven stops Muskegon's 55-game win streak

Monday, May 24, 2010,
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Bob Ludwig (far left), Joe Damato, Buster Boguski and Bob Reid with the Nashville, Tenn., minor league team in 1951. Ludwig signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1946 after his freshman year at Michigan State. He played in the minor leagues from 1946-53, appearing in 806 games including 437 at Class AA and AAA where he batted .290. At Nashville in 1951 Ludwig was named to the AA Southern League All-Star team, ending the season with a league-leading 212 hits.

This week 65 years ago...

Pitcher Bob Ludwig took the only loss of his three-year prep career and the Muskegon’s only loss from 1941-1945. The Big Reds’ 55-game win streak is still third-longest in state history.
The Chronicle said on May 23, 1945:

The Muskegon Big Reds, rolling along undefeated since the opening game of the 1941 season, were nipped 4-3 Tuesday afternoon at Marsh Field as the Grand Haven High school nine snapped the long, 55-game winning streak.

Grand Haven won the game on two big runs in the first half of the extra inning eighth inning by bunching three singles and two Muskegon errors. The defeat was a heartbreaker for Coach Harry Potter, the Muskegon players and the fans because Muskegon had come from behind in the sixth to tie the score after trailing for four innings and Muskegon had the pepper to come through with one run after two were out in the last of the eighth.

Bob Ludwig with Macon, Ga., minor league team in 1949. Ludwig signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1946 after his freshman year at Michigan State. He played in the minor leagues from 1946-53, appearing in 806 games including 437 at Class AA and AAA where he batted .290. At Nashville in 1951 Ludwig was named to the AA Southern League All-Star team, ending the season with a league-leading 212 hits.
This long, history-making winning streak of 55 games began back on April 25, 1941 for the Big Reds. On that day, Muskegon defeated Montague in the season’s opener and then went on to win every game in the 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944 seasons and on into the 1945 schedule.

In addition to holding the honor of defeating Muskegon, Grand Haven today stands first in the northern half of the Southwest Michigan Conference.

Johnny Mahder, sophomore southpaw, was the winning hurler, limiting Muskegon to seven hits. Bob Ludwig hurled an eight-hit game for Muskegon.

Entering the first of the extra inning, with the count tied at 2-all, Grand Haven got started when Mahder was safe on an infield error after two were out. DeWitt and Fekete singled to fill the bases and then Mahdre came home on an infield error. The Bucs ran the margin to 4-2 when DeWitt crossed the plate on Westerhof’s single.

Ludwig smacked out a double after one was out to get a Muskegon rally started in the last half of the eighth. Mahder than fanned Jack Streeter for the second out, but Tom Carr brought Ludwig home with a rousing double. Muskegon trailed 4-3 but the game ended as Fuller flied out.

Muskegon started the game in good style in the first inning when catcher Don Ohs walloped a homer. Grand Haven countered with two runs in the second when DeWitt and Fekete, who had hit both safely, came home on a single by Westerhof and a fielder’s choice.

The game was tied by Muskegon in the sixth when Jack Streeter singled to drive in Nick Yonker, who had walked and went around to third on a fielder’s choice and another walk.

More on the story
By Dave LeMieux

Memories last a lifetime

Now 82, losing pitcher Bob Ludwig still remembers the end of Muskegon’s win streak.

Bob Ludwig

“You would ask me about that,” said the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame inductee with a chuckle. “Thing is, we could’ve won it with a base hit. It was just one of those things.”

“The thing about that game wasn’t that it ended the streak, it’s that we lost. You have to remember, the guys on that team had never lost before,” Ludwig said.

Something else you need to know about Ludwig and the 1945 Big Reds is that they never lost again.

The Big Reds’ 55-game win streak still ranks as the third best in state history behind Grand Haven’s 56 (1960-1962) and Homer’s 75 (2004-05).

The Big Reds finished the 1945 season 10-1 and were 59-1 from 1941-45.

On June 5, 1945, Ludwig and the Big Reds avenged the streak-ending loss by beating host Grand Haven 3-0 for the Southwestern Conference’s Northern Half title. Ludwig gave up just three hits and struck out 11 to get the win.

On June 9, 1945, at Upjohn Field in Kalamazoo, Muskegon won its fifth straight Southwestern Conference title with a three-run, two-out rally in extra innings to beat Kalamazoo Central 6-4.

Ludwig, pitching his third game in a week, including a 12-0 win over Muskegon Heights, went all nine innings against Central, striking out seven to finish his three-year prep career with an 18-1 record.

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Bob Ludwig with the Springfield, Mass., minor league team in 1952. Ludwig’s 0.78 career ERA in 116 1/3 innings for Muskegon is still fourth-best ever in the state. He was no slouch with the stick either, batting .468 (36 for 77) from 1943-45.

Ludwig’s two no-hitters at Muskegon came two weeks apart during his sophomore season. He might have had at least two more if it weren’t for fleet left hander Larry Boone from rival Muskegon Heights.

Boone broke up a pair of Ludwig no-hitters with sixth-inning bunt singles; one on May 12, 1944 and another on May 11, 1945.

“He could run like a deer and laid down a couple of bunts down the third base line,” said Ludwig, who now counts Boone among his best friends. “It was just baseball.”

“I got copies of those (box scores) from Coach Harry Potter’s daughter Ann (Potter) Moore and sent them to Larry. I didn’t put my name on them. I just wrote, ‘What a dink,’” Ludwig says, laughing at the memory.

It’s a laugh the two old rivals share every month when they meet for breakfast at a local restaurant with a group of other old-timers from the area.

“Those Heights guys turned out not to be so bad after all,” Ludwig says.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

1940 - Briggs Stadium Expert Watches Bleachers Start

Framework To Be Laid Under Eye of Walter Gordon; Work on Moving Fences Back Has Begun.

League baseball moved closer to Muskegon today than for many years. Work on moving back left and right field fences to the same distance from the home plate as the distances at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, and laying of the framework for new bleachers designed to seat an additional 1500 customers in all started.

The initial stages of the work was under the watchful eye of an expert, none other than Walter Gordon, who has charge of Briggs Stadium in Detroit, and is head of the much bigger job of keeping that stadium and its fences and seats in proper repair.

Gordon will stay here until the framework of the bleachers are in position and satisfactory to himself, probably until next Tuesday when he will return to Detroit. Improvements for the most part are being done on the recommendation of the Briggs Stadium expert.

Other improvements also will be rushed, as only a short time remains to improve dressing rooms, rest rooms, to paint the stands and fences and repair seats before a baseball school is started here May 1.

No word has been received as yet by Business Manager Harry E. Potter as to when Jack Tighe, playing manager, will report. Tighe will run the baseball school assisted by Potter, with Wish Eagan, scout of the Michigan territory for the Tigers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Michigan High School Athletic Association historian Ron Pesch of Muskegon and Lakeshore Baseball Club officials are working together to gather images and stories of Marsh Field. The goals are to start capturing the memories and using these items in the future on a website, in print, or in the form of historical placards that could be displayed at the site.

Items being sought are: photographs, game programs, scorecards, home movies and baseballs.

Pesch said they want to capture images of the items, or will accept scans of the images. They are looking for written or verbal memories of the Lassies, Clippers, Reds, Detroit Tigers, football games, traveling road shots and other events that took place at Marsh Field. They include visits by the Negro League teams and Jessie Owens.

Anybody interested in forwarding their Marsh Field memories for the project should contact Pesch at or call him at 231-759-7253.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Neighborhood gets a boost from spruced-up Marsh Field

By Mike Mattson | Muskegon Chronicle
April 25, 2010, 10:33

Muskegon varsity baseball coach Tom Lopez appreciates historic Marsh Field.

He’s heard the oldtimers’ stories.

He’s read articles about the baseball diamond that served as home field to the professional Clippers and Lassies in years gone by.

And he grew up with special childhood memories at the park.

“My dad always brought me to the field,’’ Lopez said. “And I chased foul balls for Les David. He’d pay us a hot dog and a couple bucks to chase foul balls.’’
In recent years, Lopez watched the decline of Marsh Field, which serves as the home field for the Big Reds.

Weeds and dandelions invaded the grounds that Les David once cared for with his heart and soul.

The overall upkeep of the facility diminished.

And the playing conditions bordered on being unsafe. Infielders needed mouth guards and face masks as all ground balls were an adventure.

“There are players who dreaded to play here because of the playing conditions,’’ Lopez said recently after an OK Red home game against East Kentwood. “Everyone in the place knew about the Marsh Field ground ball.’’

Marsh Field, located at the busy corner of Laketon Avenue and Peck Street, simply became a victim of its time.

Obviously, the City of Muskegon has faced shrinking revenue and tight budgets. Officials had more important issues on their plate than the maintenance of a baseball field.

Enter the Lakeshore Baseball Club LLC, which reached an agreement in January with the city to operate, maintain and improve Marsh Field.

Take a visit to Marsh Field and you’ll notice some obvious improvements.

• The stands behind home plate sport a fresh coat of green paint and new green padding.

• Burned out bulbs have been replaced on the light towers.

• Dugouts have been refurbished and include a new step for players to view action on the field.

• Tons of new dirt/stone dust have been added to the infield.

• The scoreboard has been repaired.

• The home plate area and pitching mound were rebuilt.

• Baselines were cut and the place is neatly groomed. Players get to play on a lush green grass surface.

• All games have an announcer and the national anthem is played before each game.

• Ballpark food will be coming soon after inspections are complete, but for now there are basic treats available at the concession stand.

Overall, the best thing about Marsh Field is it’s alive with daily activity.

There are two games a night at Marsh, including high school and middle school action. Summer tournaments are being lined up as travel teams will come to town to enjoy the facility.

Neighborhood residents also enjoy walking and jogging on the paved paths that circle the Marsh Field perimeter.

The spruced up park is now the center of the Marsh neighborhood.

It’s alive with baseball and good clean fun.

Lakeshore Baseball Club officials probably could have built a new spiffy facility somewhere in the suburbs.

But their investment in Marsh Field is a wise decision that means its legacy will continue for many years to come.

“The improvements have been great,’’ Lopez said. “It’s been awesome. Our team takes pride in the field and helped with the cleanup and painting. If they will build it for us, I say let’s enjoy it and take care of it.’’

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coach had his field of dreams

When Muskegon's baseball season ends later this spring, Coach Jerry Eaton will walk off the field with memories and stories from a wonderful 26-year career.

Muskegon Chronicle staff writer
May 19, 1994

Muskegon baseball coach Jerry Eaton motivates the Big Reds in many ways.

But forget about the compliments and criticisms. Eaton still chuckles about his most bizarre ploy in the heat of a game long ago.

"We were playing in Grand Rapids, using wooden bats in those days," Eaton recalled. "We just weren't hitting the ball. I noticed a lot of scrap paper in the dugout. So I put it in a pile and lit a fire.

"Smoke was pouring out of the dugout and the fans didn't know what was going on. I told the kids, 'We're going to warm these bats up, so put them all on the pile.' We loosened up and went out and just pounded the ball. That's a true story."

That's Eaton, the motivator.

That's Eaton, the story teller.

That's Eaton, only the third head baseball coach at Muskegon.

When Muskegon's season ends later this spring, Eaton will walk off the field with memories and stories from a 26-year career.

"I've had 26 years of having fun," Eaton said this week from his Beach Street home. "I've had tremendous kids to work with. I can't ever remember a year not looking forward to practice."

A talented player
Baseball has always been Eaton's favorite sport, especially the pitching aspect.

He fell in love with the game while growing up near Pere Marquette Park. Neighbors could trace thumping sounds to Eaton, who pitched baseballs into a blanket near the side of his house.

"When I was 10 years old, I got a book from my grandfather called 'How To Pitch' by Bob Feller." said Eaton, who was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1993. "It was my Bible."

Eaton became a Bob Feller-type pitcher. The 1953 Muskegon graduate never lost a decision as a pitcher for the Big Reds.

He'd fire blazing fastballs past hitters, while helping the Big Reds snap Kalamazoo Central's 49 game win streak en route to the 1951 state championship.

"I could throw hard," said Eaton, who delivered fastballs in the high 80s. "I was a thrower at that time. I'd just aim it down the middle of the plate."

Eaton exited professional baseball after two years in the Detroit organization. He married his wife Nancy in 1957 and headed for Western Michigan University for his teaching degree.

And then it was off to Bunker Junior High School, where he taught many subjects in 29 years and coached many sports. He still chuckles about his two-year stint in charge of the golf team.

"I had two girls on the team who could beat me," Eaton said. "They called me the advisor, not coach. That was my idea."

Just call him 'Coach'
In baseball, Eaton is 'Coach.'

The title comes from years of service and dedication.

He's taught hundreds of kids how to catch, throw, and hit a baseball. How to get to practice on time. And how to look and act professional on the field.

Haircuts are mandatory, too. Players always wear a cap at practice. Wearing shorts is a rare treat. Miss practice or arrive late and you pay the consequences under the competitive Eaton, who followed Harry Potter and Ray Ritter as Muskegon' baseball coaches.

Mike Taylor, Muskegon's junior varsity coach. played for Eaton in the early 1980s. He knows quite a bit about 'Coach.'

"He's a disciplinarian, very much so," said Taylor, who has been assisting Eaton for the past seven years. "He stressed to give 110 percent. He only asked that we improve."

One time, a player stole Eaton's master key to the high school at practice. The team ran for about an hour until the guilty player confessed.

"No, we weren't upset," Taylor said. "Everybody respected him. High school baseball is going to miss him."

Taylor still laughs at Eaton's many superstitions. 'Coach' takes the same routes to the field, uses the same scorebook pencil, eats at the same restaurant at the same time and is reluctant to change his socks. "He won't change his routine," Taylor said.

Eaton often lets Taylor coach third base in a move to generate good luck and runs.

Eaton has compiled a 382-213 record, including nine county baseball championships and no district titles. His best team finished 21-2 in the early 1970s, suffering a pre-district qualifying loss to Grand Rapids Creston.

"A kid hit a home run and we lost by a run," said Eaton, who missed his only game this year when his grandson was seriously ill with pneumonia. "I'll never forget that as long as I live. I didn't sleep for a week. The district has been my nemesis."

Leaving a mark
Eaton, like many coaches, has been a father figure to some players.

His toughest job isn't teaching baseball fundamentals. It's other tasks, like informing two players about their fathers' deaths.

That was sad," Eaton said.

Another sad time occurred when high school teammate Kurt Knudson died of leukemia. The family gave the pallbearers, including Earl Morrall and Eaton, identification bracelets. Morrall and Eaton still war those bracelets.

Eaton has sent dozens of players on to college baseball. Many former players still call and write him.

"I got a call about two years ago from a player whose daughter was on a softball team," Eaton said. "He wanted to know how to get his daughter more playing time.

"What did I tell him? 'Be polite. And ask (the coach) what can I do to make my daughter a better softball player?' That's the best way to handle it."

"I know he left a mark on a lot of these people," said Nancy, his wife of 36 years. "I think the dedication Jerry showed all these years has paid off."

Eaton has no set plans for retirement. He'll do some traveling with Nancy, spend quality time with his grandchildren and likely tell plenty of baseball stories.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Marsh Field had a roar of its own

Thousands of fans once packed the bleachers at Marsh Field. Today, the stadium is a shell of its former self.

Muskegon Chronicle Staff Writer
April 25, 1993

The roar of the crowd was deafening when more than 4,000 fans packed into the covered grandstands at Marsh Field to take in an afternoon of America's pasttime.

There were appearances by the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox that brought numerous stars and hall of famers to the storied facility, located at Laketon Ave. and Peck Street.

According to Marc Okkonen's chronology of baseball in Muskegon, 21 Hall of Famers jave appeared in Muskegon including Charley Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, Harry Heilmann, Johnny Mize and Satchel Paige. The storied past is well-documented by Okkonen in his manuscript called "Baseball in Muskegon."

But, that was all a thing of the past.

The crowds are gone, the grandstand has been demolished and today's stars are amateurs on high school teams and summer city leagues.

Muskegon High School coach Jerry Eaton experienced both the heyday of Marsh Field and the present day when few spectators show up at the field which is merely a shell of its former self.

Eaton, who first played at Marsh Field in the late 1940s in the American Legion leagues, recalls the days of the covered grandstand, the wooden fence and the field caretaker named Henry Connoll, who went by the nickname "Foghorn."

"It was a real thrill to get in here and play," said Eaton. "We used to sneak in."

When the Muskegon Clippers, members of the Central League, faded in 1951, most of Muskegon's baseball had come to an end.

The final women's baseball game at Marsh Field was an exhibition game between the Battle Creek Belles and the South Bend Blue Sox. The game featured former Muskegon star Donna Cook.

One last try at the girls' league failed in 1953.
Marc Okkonen with his scale model of Marsh Field

It was also about that time when the Big Reds began calling Marsh Field their home and it's been that way ever since.

While baseball remained popular among participants, the number of spectators continued to diminish.

The aged grandstand began deteriorating with age and was demolished in 1957.

"The city condemned the stands," Eaton said. "They had it marked off so you couldn't go up high. The next year they tore them down."

The concrete section containing the dugouts as well as the concession stand along the ramp was preserved.

"I tell the kids some of the things that happened around here," said Eaton. "But, it's hard to visualize what it used to be like."

Later, city fathers wanted to finish demolition of the park and turn it into administration buildings or a civic center. However, Charles W. Marsh's deed to the city stated the property had to be used for baseball or the property reverted back to the Marsh estate.

"They wanted to build the county building here, but Marsh was smart," said Eaton.

In stepped the late Les David, who spent the countless hours and many dollars keeping the facility operating. Led David served as coach and commissioner for many years. David, Muskegon's Mr. Baseball, was a fixture at the field.

The job of commissioner of the Inter-City Baseball League remains in the David Family. Leslie Ruth Luttrull, Les David's granddaughter, has been serving as commissioner since David's death on Nov. 9, 1988.

"This is still a nice field," Eaton said. "We're fortunate to be able to play here."

Minor improvements made to field
While the crowds have diminished since professional baseball left Marsh Field, it remains the hub of local baseball activity.

And maintenance of the field remains a high priority with the city's Parks Department.

Any changes or improvements at the field come from the Marsh Field Improvement Fund Tournament. This year's event, scheduled for late August and early September, is the 30th annual.

"Two years ago, we totally redid the infield," said Luann Price, recreation supervisor for the City of Muskegon. "That cost us $10,000."

"There were dips at third base," Eaton said of the old infield. "I give a lot of credit to the recreation department for the maintenance they've done to it."

Rebuilding the press box area and concession stand area are high on the priority list for the future, said Price.

Field remains active
Before Muskegon Catholic Central High School built Sikorski Field, there were plenty of headaches encountered with scheduling games at Marsh.

Catholic, Muskegon, Western Michigan Christian and Muskegon Community College all shared the facility.

"Now that was a mess," Eaton said. "We used to search out places to practice before Sikorski Field was built."

Muskegon Community College also has its own baseball field.

Currently, two high school teams and the Inter-City Baseball League still call Marsh Field home.

The Muskegon Big Reds and the Western Michigan Christian Warriors share the field.

This year, the Muskegon Community College Jayhawks used the facility during the early season because the MCC field wasn't ready.

Next Saturday, the Led David Memorial Baseball Tournaments will commence, with the Class C-D tournament. The Class A and B teams will battle for the county title on May 8.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 Varsity Schedule

Muskegon Big Red Varsity Baseball
Home Games at Marsh Field

03/29 @ Reeths-Puffer
03/31 @ Coopersville
04/01 @ Whitehall (Doubleheader) - 4:00
04/13 @ Mona Shores - 4:15
04/14 @ Grandville - 4:30
04/16 Grandville - 4:30
04/19 Muskegon Heights (Doubleheader) - 4:00
04/20 @ East Kentwood - 4:30
04/22 East Kentwood - 4:30
04/23 @ North Muskegon (Doubleheader) - 4:00
04/27 Rockford - 4:30
04/29 @ Rockford - 4:30
05/01 GMAA Tournament @ Reeths-Puffer
05/04 @ Grand Haven - 4:30
05/06 Grand Haven - 4:30
05/07 @ Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills - 6:15
05/11 Hudsonville - 4:30
05/13 @ Hudsonville - 4:30
05/14 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian - 4:00
05/17 OK Conference Rain Date - 4:30
05/18 @ Holland West Ottawa - 4:30
05/20 Holland West Ottawa - 4:30
05/24 Jenison - 4:30
05/26 @ Jenison - 4:30

Monday, March 29, 2010

What a wonderful event!

Pictures from Muskegon Baseball's 2010 St. Patrick's Day party.

Many thanks to those who attended the fundraiser, as well as to those from the community who donated door prizes, time, and effort toward helping kids play ball! It was a grand success!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lakeshore Baseball Club goes to bat for Marsh Field

By Dave Alexander | Muskegon Chronicle

January 30, 2010
M0131MARSHA summer evening baseball game at Marsh Field, the city of Muskegon's historic athletic facility - .

MUSKEGON — In a move they are hailing as a home run, Muskegon city commissioners have reached an agreement with the Lakeshore Baseball Club LLC to operate, maintain and improve Marsh Field.

Commissioners last week unanimously approved a three-year contract with an organization led by two local, longtime amateur baseball promoters. Money will not change hands between the club and city but both expect to benefit.

The city will get a group passionate about promoting baseball and willing to restore some of the glory to historic Marsh Field at Laketon Avenue and Peck Street. The Lakeshore Baseball Club will get a baseball field and revenues generated from the facility from tickets, concessions and advertising.

The city will save on maintenance and operating costs while having a private group improve the field and its facility. The city will still own the field.


Marsh Field improvements by the Lakeshore Baseball Club over the next three years:

• Infield upgrades (already under way)

• Renetting backstop

• Renovate dugouts

• Field lighting upgrades

• Grandstand and seating improvements

• Scoreboard upgrades

• Landscaping

— Source: City of Muskegon agreement with Lakeshore Baseball Club

“This is a great example of the public and private working together,” Mayor Steve Warmington said. “This group has stepped up to make improvements to Marsh Field and to bring it back to its full luster.”

The Lakeshore Baseball Club is led by Pete Gawkowski and Len Piasecki. Gawkowski owns and operates Extra Innings — a Norton Shores indoor baseball training facility — and owns local Subway sandwich shops. Piasecki heads the Muskegon ChannelCats travel youth baseball club.

The Marsh Field agreement resolves several issues for commissioners. The first is continued public access to the Marsh Field parking lot, children’s playground and walking path.

“In the agreement, the track, parking lot gate and ‘tot lot’ will continue to remain open to the public,” Gawkowski told commissioners. “Nothing will change. We will be only inside the baseball field fences.”

The Muskegon Big Reds high school baseball program will continue to use Marsh Field for practice and games free of charge, City Manager Bryon Mazade said. Also, the contract allows Muskegon-area Little League organizations to use the field free of charge for all-star events.

The Lakeshore Baseball Club also will use Marsh Field for various baseball and softball youth camps. Those activities will be open to city of Muskegon youth, free of charge, the contract states.

Lakeshore Baseball Club hopes to improve the field that dates back nearly 100 years and in its heyday was a minor league baseball park for both men’s and women’s teams. The club also will boost the field’s use. It will conduct spring, summer and fall league games for teams along the lakeshore and hold regional and state tournaments on weekends.

“We love the fact that you are taking care of upgrades to Marsh Field and maintenance that the city right now can’t afford,” Commissioner Larry Spataro said.