Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Baseball never dies in Darwin

April 20, 2009

Museum exhibit features rich baseball history, two pros

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DARWIN, MN - Scores from Darwin baseball games can be found as far back as the late 1800s, and even though the last game was played in 1957, the Darwin Twine Ball Museum won’t let the town forget the great American pastime.

The earliest photos taken of a Darwin baseball team was in 1910, which also includes the Dassel team at that time, according to former Darwin player and baseball enthusiast Dave Kelly.

“Darwin was a real baseball town,” Kelly said.

The community and businesses really supported their team, he added, saying that 1,000 people would show up to watch.

Kelly played on the team from 1952 to 1957.

The amateur baseball team would play on a field just north of Highway 12, near Precast.

Known as Darwin’s Mr. Baseball was Balthes Smith, who played for the team from 1908 to 1931.

“He’s a real well-known ballplayer,” Kelly said, adding he is considered to be a legend.

Balthes went on to manage Darwin’s second baseball team.

What Darwin baseball is most famous for is the two players who went on to play professional baseball, Milt Goemer of Ellsworth Township, and Fred “Lefty” Miller.

Goemer signed on with the Grand Forks Chiefs in 1941, but spent four years serving with the Army Air Force during World War II.

In 1948, Goemer pitched in the Class C Northern League season opener for Grand Forks against the Aberdeen Pheasants.

Goemer won 25 games and only 4 losses that year, leading his team to the playoffs, beating Eau Claire and Aberdeen and giving Grand Forks the Northern League championship.

Goemer’s statistics and performance earned him the Northern League’s Most Valuable Player.

“Lefty” Miller also had his own baseball successes.

Actually, Miller has been said to be the best ballplayer ever to come out of Meeker County, and one of the best pitchers to come out of the state, according to Kelly.

Miller came from a family of 10 boys and was the second oldest. Four of the Miller boys were pitchers.

After some research of Miller, his family, and newspaper archives, Kelly found that Miller’s father, John, was said to be the first pitcher to ever throw a curveball in Meeker County.

The game that will go down in history is when the Miller brothers – ranging in age from 13 to 37 (the youngest was sick) – challenged the Litchfield team for a friendly game of ball Sept. 18, 1921.

With only nine of the brothers playing, they still beat Litchfield 4 to 3.

Miller went on to pitch for various teams throughout the state, as well as in North Dakota, in order to earn tuition while attending St. Thomas College.

In 1908, Miller graduated from St. Thomas and began a professional career, pitching that summer with the St. Paul Saints, one level below major leagues.

That fall, Miller began medical school in Chicago. Through the summers he pitched for Seattle, Vancouver, and Oakland.

In 1910, he was drafted by Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, and wanted Miller to quit medical school, but he refused. This was major league level ball.

Instead, Miller began pitching for Oakland until he finished medical school, when he gave up his career in baseball.

In 2007, 100 years later, after Kelly began uncovering details of Miller’s career, he was nominated by Kelly and inducted into the University of St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame.

“He was a tremendous ballplayer and no one knew this,” Kelly said.

“[His career] was something that needed to be uncovered and told – what a great pitcher he was, and that he could’ve done well for himself in professional baseball – there’s no doubt about that,” Kelly said.

But Miller had medical school on his mind and was determined to become a doctor, he added.

Now, Kelly has been able to document Miller’s career so that it won’t be forgotten.

Darwin museum’s dedication to baseball

In the 1960s, amateur baseball began to phase out and softball became increasingly popular, according to Kelly.

It was on a decline, but now it’s making a slow comeback, which is good to see, he added.

To ensure Darwin’s rich baseball history will never die, an exhibit in the town’s museum is dedicated to the great town’s ball game and the legends that came out of it.

Pictures of past teams have recently been framed by Merle and Betty Cropp of Darwin, and are hung for display in the exhibit.

Also on display is Goemer’s MVP trophy and ring, along with a 1920s Darwin uniform, a first baseman’s mitt from 1952, and more.

The museum is open now by appointment, (320) 275-3186 and is located along First Street in Darwin.


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