The Fergus Falls VFW Post 612 Baseball Team captured the Minnesota State Championship in 1960, sixty years ago. In the article that follows, Fergus Falls beat Wells 3-0 in the title game.
Dan Larson, a member of that team, shares some of his memories of that magical baseball season in Fergus Falls.
The decade of the 60's is famous for many reasons. Many may be controversial and maybe even forgetful. However, some rare happenings occurred with fantastic results, maybe never to be equaled. In 1960, Fergus Falls was the toast of the Minnesota amateur baseball communities. We lay claim to 2 state championship teams and a runner-up from that season. The American Legion team, and the VFW team claimed state championships while the town team Red Sox lost in a heart breaker to finish second. Has that ever happened anywhere in Minnesota or for that fact, in the nation? It's doubtful.
The VFW team was coached by local legend Oats LeGrand who wore many hats, all related to young people. Teaching, coaching, and running the summer recreation program kept him busy all 12 months of the year. He also coached the VFW team in his spare time and spent many hours organizing and coaching a group of a dozen teens. At the beginning of the season, I don't recall any speeches about winning a state championship or how great a team we could become. We just wanted to play baseball. And we did. Some days, morning, noon and evening. Summer rec. baseball in the mornings, VFW practice in the afternoon, and games in the late afternoon or evening.
I recall playing some games against small and larger towns close by and a team from St. Paul who made the drive up to Fergus for a double header. We played home games either at the old Fair Grounds site or at a field across from the levee at East Summit and Concord. I'm sure we won our share of games, but I don't recall claiming any unbeaten streaks. Post 612 supplied uniforms and funds I assume for traveling and umpires. After the regular season, we only had to win a couple games to advance to the state tourney. Back then, teams advancing could draft up to 3 players from surrounding towns. We drafted 3 players and left for Ely where the tourney was to be held.
As I recall, a team from Bloomington was supposed to easily win the tourney and that is who we played for the first game. Upset number 1. Roger Olson, the former Fergus educator, pitched a masterful game throwing a breaking ball second to none. We were a very good defensive team with Danny Loomer and Bob Warn at shortstop and second base and Dave Anderson who could run like a deer patrolled center field. Dave could run, but he was no fullback. He was chasing a long fly ball once and didn't notice the chain-link fence surrounding the field. At full speed, he slammed into the fence, bounced off it like a rag doll knocked cold, and to make it worse, he did not catch the ball. He recovered eventually for the tournament. Duane Bernu, drafted from New York Mills, was our catcher who could do it all. As Oats preached, we were strong up the middle like all good teams are. Big Jim Peterson, a Henning recruit, was our first baseman and could hit with power. Bob Blegstad and John Hopper rounded out the team in left and right field. Mike Nelson, Phil Echelberger and I were bench coaches and cheerleaders.
We stayed in private homes while in Ely. Unfortunately, I was housed in an apartment above a downtown bar. I can tell you that sleep was a challenge.
After the final game, we headed back to Fergus by car. Some miles out of town, we were greeted with a mile or more of cars and police that escorted us into town and to our Skogmo Cafe destination where we were told to order anything we wanted off the menu. It was a surreal and exciting evening for all. We were on top of the world.
Can any town match that magical baseball summer?
Team members were Dan Larson, Bob Warn, David Olson, Danny Loomer, Roger Olson, Phil Echelberger, David Anderson, Bob Blegstad, Jim Peterson, John Hopper, Mike Nelson and Duane Bernu.