Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 1, 2003

Area men writing book about amatuer baseball in '40s and '50s

By Aaron Schultz

What happens when two lifelong friends, and baseball fans, get back together after 20 years?

For Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek, they decide to write a book together.

Peterson and Tomashek grew up around the game of baseball, and are currently researching a book about the game they love.

The book, which currently is still without a title, will be about amateur baseball in the state of Minnesota from 1945 to 1960.

"While it can be debated, I really think those years were the golden years of amateur baseball in Minnesota," Peterson said.

Peterson and Tomashek were boyhood friends in Hutchinson in the 1950s.

As they grew up, they both played the game, and were teammates in little league and junior high.

When the high school years came around, Peterson moved to Hector with his family and played there while Tomashek played for Hutchinson.

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Once high school wrapped up, Peterson played around six years for Hector's town team, and Tomashek played for three years with Hutchinson.

The two friend were roommates after college, but Tomashek went into sports writing, and moved away for his job.

Tomashek spent time in Sacramento, Chicago, and finished up his sports writing days in Delaware.

Peterson stayed in Minnesota and retired from Honeywell several years ago.

While they kept in touch, Peterson and Tomashek had not seen each other for more than 20 years, until a family vacation took Peterson up to Delaware.

Once the two friends were brought back together, they started right back up where they always left off, talking baseball.

They got to wondering about any books that had been written about their favorite era of Minnesota baseball, post World War II.

Looking into it, they were unable to find any books on the subject, and the idea to start researching the book was born.

So, Peterson started doing his research by traveling around the state and interviewing local baseball guys.

He also gets much of his information from the St. Paul History Center, which has newspapers from around the state on microfilm.

Peterson continues to do research for the book, and hopes to begin writing later this year, with a possible release date coming in the fall of 2004.

Don Gutzke, Don Mitchell, Kenny Norman, and Alex Romanchech are a few of the names that Peterson has interviewed for the book.

"Everyone I have talked to has been very helpful. They all just like to talk baseball," Peterson said.

While Peterson currently has information about Howard Lake and Winsted during the golden era, he has yet to interview anyone from Lester Prairie, but he plans to.

"Winsted and Howard Lake were very successful during that era, as was Lester Prairie," Peterson said.

The book will be about the game itself, with some statistical facts, but many more stories about that era of baseball.

Peterson could literally talk all day about baseball, telling interesting stories that are filling the pages of the book.

For example, there is a story about Dick Siebert and Litchfield.

During the '50s Litchfield was a Class AA team, which basically meant it was able to pay its players, and could get players from anywhere.

In 1951, Siebert coached and played for Litchfield.

Siebert, who had played some minor league ball, was also the University of Minnesota baseball coach at the time.

"Not only was he a good coach, he was also a pretty good hitter," Peterson said.

Little tidbits like that are just some of the stories that will be in Peterson's and Tomashek's book.

Anyone with any information, or pictures from that era of amateur baseball, and is interested in sharing that information, may contact Peterson at (763) 550-1107, or e-mail him at agpete@aol.com.

They are also in the process of putting a web site together. Once the site is complete, it will be published in Herald Journal Sports.

"This is definitely a labor of love for me," Peterson said.

The golden years?

So, what made the '40s and '50s the golden years of amateur baseball in Minnesota?

Well, according to Peterson there were a number of factors.

First off, it was the end of World War II, and all the servicemen came home from the war and were ready to play the game.

Also, the advent of the lighted field. "Prior to the war you did not find many, if any, fields around with lights. After the war, lights were popping up all over the place," Peterson said.

Peterson did note that Millerbend's provided most of the lights for ballparks in the state.

"Baseball games were the event of the week for many of the towns. People spent the summer talking about their baseball team," Peterson said.

In 1950, there were 800 to 900 town teams in the state of Minnesota, with 70 towns having at least two teams.

"It was inexpensive to go to a game, it was right in town, and it was the only game in town," Peterson said.

The golden years come to an end

"Many people believe, as myself once did, that the arrival of the Twins in the '60s was what hurt amateur baseball. I no longer believe that," Peterson said.

Looking at all of the information that he has researched, Peterson believes it is not as simple as the arrival of the Twins that lessened the popularity of amateur baseball.

"More people had cars, television was making a big splash, and it finally just got too expensive," Peterson said.

During the golden years, unless teams played Class B, you had players on your team that were being paid.

And, as you had to pay players more money to play, the teams needed to raise ticket prices and play more games to pay for it.

Do you notice a trend? It seems pretty similar to major league baseball's problems.

"There were just too many other options for people," Peterson said.

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