For years, I just assumed Martensdale St. Mary’s (IA) was a small Catholic school with stellar baseball, bolstered by a non-boundaried policy that allowed players to drive from miles away to join a successful program.
I was wrong.
In the midst of following a winning streak building off a 43-0 state championship run in 2010, I learned that it’s Martensdale-St. Marys, and that it isn’t a private school at all. It’s a consolidated school with rural boundaries that include the town of Martensdale (pop. 459*) and St. Marys (pop. 127.*). Perhaps had I bothered to note that their mascot was the “Blue Devils,” I likely could have concluded they weren’t a school of religious influence pretty quickly.
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The neighborhood wasn’t alluring in a touristy sort of way. Despite those including myself that flocked there in respect of one of the greatest Americans ever born, there were plenty of locals living a dream I would label a nightmare.
“Buy me a cheese sandwich, just one cheese sandwich,” she uttered.
I’m disappointed now that I didn’t hand her a couple dollars, instead choosing to stay part of our group and not get sidetracked by her request, or drawn into a conversation with a street vendor telling me why I should “support the neighborhood.”
The reality is he was right. I was in Atlanta to watch Illinois Wesleyan University’s men’s soccer team play in a tournament at Emory University. If you ever walk the campus of either university, you would understand that the word “privileged” isn’t a far stretch from the imagination.
I’m not suggesting the “silver spoon” variety. I know many of the parents that send their children to these schools are reliant upon financial aid, student loans and work study. I have been both a student and a parent reliant upon such assistance myself.
(Nyesville, Indiana) – Nyesville, Indiana was once an active coal mining area. Located in west-central Indiana not far from the Illinois border, the area today is more noted for the annual Covered Bridge Festival that includes stops in nearby Rockville.
I wouldn’t call it a tourist destination. I made trips on consecutive weekends to a town that no longer exists, but although there is no real town of Nyesville anymore, it maintains one clear claim to fame – the childhood home of Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai Peter Centennial “Three Finger” Brown.
If you are not familiar with Mordecai Brown, he pitched in the Major Leagues from 1903 to 1916. He was noted for having an exceptional curve ball, deceptive fastball and a change up that benefitted from the unusual spin he was able to put on the ball as a result of a childhood farm accident that left him without portions of two of his fingers. This accident also occurred in Nyesville. The odd spin made the curve so effective that Ty Cobb reportedly said it was “the most devasting pitch I ever faced.” Brown was ultimately elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949, despite his less than auspicious beginning.
(Solon, Iowa) – A chain link fence sits just beyond second base. There was a time years ago when that barrier was a temporary snow fence, erected in the fall to keep football fans from entering the stadium anywhere other than the main gate.
Just beyond that fence is a set of bleachers for the visiting team’s fans, most eventually witnessing defeat as the home team has won three consecutive state football championships.
This is the view I see from the catcher’s perch, looking out on the old baseball field.
A forgotten stepchild of a facility, this field was nothing but a seasonal accommodation for a sport that was sparsely attended in the summertime, when school was out and the lake waters were warm and inviting. The infield was exclusive to baseball, but once you ran beyond the dirt you were on the football field, a shared patch of grass that gave the baseball field odd dimensions, yet still lit up the June and July nights with the sound of optimistic cheers and batted balls.
The biggest obstacle was the weather. The frequent storms that postponed the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national softball tournament held locally seemed strong and frequent enough to consider cancelling the trip. But the enticement of seeing the first ever game played by the new local minor league baseball franchise set the journey in motion.
We drove through storms as we headed east towards Danville and the Indiana state line.
We drove through storms as we headed south towards Evansville and the home of Evansville Otters.
And about fifty miles from our destination, the sky cleared and we continued onward towards a perfect night for baseball.