You don't have to understand baseball, or even like watching it, to have been proud of Princeton and the American Legion baseball program that was celebrated on Friday, July 19, at Solheim Veterans Field.
More than 70 players, ranging from the years 1960 to 2017, showed up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the field and the Legion baseball tournament that was being held for the 50th consecutive year.
It was a great night for former teammates to get together, true. And it was a great night to celebrate the legacy of Howard Solhieim, the former Princeton High School and Princeton American Legion coach who was the driving force behind getting the field built, as well as starting the tournament that is the longest-running Legion tournament in the state, and likely one of the longest-running in the United States.
But, one of the younger returnees told me, it was a time to put faces on the names of some of the legendary players from Princeton that they had heard of. And I'm sure some of the older players enjoyed seeing some of the younger players. It truly was a night of many of Princeton's baseball luminaries returning to the scene of many of their triumphs for a program that was so good for so long. There were players around who were part of two winning steaks of more than 40 games in Princeton's North End league. And there were players there who were part of teams that didn't lose a post-season league playoff game for 10 years (27 straight). I don't think any other town in this area has had streaks like that.
But the focus wasn't on individuals and what they had done. It was on the history of Legion baseball in Princeton, which began in the 1930s, and it was on the 50 years of the field and of the tournament, a tournament that a few years found seven of the eight teams being ranked in the top 15 in the state. There was a neat banner on the outside fence (still there) that included a picture of Howard Solheim.
And, like class reunions, there were people there who hadn't seen each other for decades. It's a fact of life that some of those people will never see each other again, as often happens after class reunions. And, as always, there were a few who planned to be there but didn't make it. There were former players who flew in from Florida and Texas, and those who came from other states. And both the Pizza Barn and Pizza Pub helped out by allocating some coupons for drawings that led to free food and beverages.
Due to the many hours of work by Brian Dorr, there were a couple hundred pictures copied from 60 years of the Princeton Union, Princeton Eagle and Princeton Union-Eagle newspapers that were posted on an inside fence. Former players spent a lot of time looking for themselves in those pictures and most of them were successful. It was a labor of love for those pictures being available, as it was for the night itself.
Many of the former players made it to the Pizza Pub afterwards and the stories were flying left and right as former teammates got together. Some differed a bit on how particular plays in particular games had happened but there many great conversations.
There is a partial video of the proceedings, as well as some still pictures, up on the Facebook page of Chad Campbell, a Legion player from the 1980s. And in the next few days, possibly with a page created just for the reunion, there may be as many as a couple hundred pictures available for viewing on the internet.
One of the best things about the evening happened in the final two days of the tournament (Saturday, July 20, and Sunday, July 21). Princeton's opponent that night was Rogers and five different fans from Rogers, over those two days, made a point of expressing their appreciation for the program that night, which included a posting of the colors (as was done on the opening of the field 50 years ago) by a color guard from the local American Legion post which has generously sponsored the team for the past 80 years, and the national anthem being sung by the mother of a Princeton player. One Rogers fan who talked to me was in tears as she said it was moving to see all those former players out on the field, and to hear a short history of American Legion baseball in Princeton. And here I had been worried that maybe those Rogers fans would be bored by the proceedings.
A day before the tournament began the St. Cloud Times ran a fairly lengthy story on the 50 years of the tournament in the sports section, even including a picture on the paper's front page that referred to the story inside. It was, I thought, good publicity for Princeton, and for a field that a few years ago was voted the top high school field in Minnesota, a field that is also used by the school junior varsity team, the VFW team (9th- and 10th-graders), the Princeton Panthers town team, and on occasion by youth teams. Princeton baseball players have been blessed to have a field like that for a half century now.
All in all, it was a great night for those who attended, as well as a great night for Princeton. There are different things that stand out in different towns, things that are part of a town's history, things that make up a good town. And this was one of them.
Daily diary for the 2019 Twins
Saturday, July 27 — Max Kepler hit a three-run homer, Nelson Cruz also homered, and Michael Pineda pitched seven good innings in a 6-2 win over the White Sox.
Sunday, July 28 — Remember back in April and May when the Twins were a good team? They would win two of three against a bad team, instead of sweeping, and the company line would be that as long as they kept winning series, thing would be fine. I always thought it would be nice to sweep some of those bad teams. Now, after a 5-1 loss to the White Sox last night, in a game in which there were only three Minnesota hits and an unearned run, there is no hope for a sweep of the White Sox. And just winning a series, instead of sweeping, is not such a great thing Cleveland is only one game behind the Twins, after the Twins had an 11 1/2-game lead early in June, and series sweeps are needed. The Twins are hitless in their last 15 chances with the bases loaded, and 1 for their last 24 - that's almost impossible to do, especially for a team that prides itself on its offense. Will the Twins be in second place before August? That would have been thought to be impossible a few weeks ago by the ardent Twins fans who thought the team's good play was sustainable. It wasn't. I don't think the trade for Sergio Romo is that big a deal but I hope I'm wrong. He seems happy to be in Minnesota.
Monday, July 29 — The Twins were ahead 5-0 yesterday after the first five batters came to the plate in Chicago and then went on to win 11-1. (The Chicago pitcher departed for the minors after that game.) Kyie Gibson (10-4) gave up one run in six innings and there were homers from Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Jonathan Schoop and Max Kepler, as well as three doubles. But it was not a series sweep.
Tuesday, July 30 — Former Twin Eduardo Escobar is having quite a year with Arizona. He's hitting .284, has 22 homers and has knocked in 80 runs, while leading the NL in triples with 9. He's been consistent throughout the year. Lance Lynn, unbelievably, is 13-6 with the Texas Rangers, has an ERA of 3.03, and is averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings. He had a six-game winning streak earlier and struck out 42 in 33 innings in July. Brian Dozier's starts are similar to that of his replacement, Jonathan Schoop. Dozier has19 doubles, 15 homers, 39 RBIs, and has 47 walks and a .339 on-base percentage. Schoop is hitting .254, has 19 doubles and 16 homers, but only 14 walks and a .302 on-base percentage. Dozier was hitting only8 .185 at the end of April but has hit .257 since.
Wednesday, July 31 — So far, so good - I'm referring to the idea that the Twins, at least going by opponents' records, have an easier stretch in the schedule, while the Indians have a more-demanding schedule. Last night the Indians fell 3-0 to the Houston Astros (69-39) and ace Justin Verlander, while the Twins (65-41) eked out a 2-1 win over lowly Miami (41-64). Minnesota managed only four hits but got the win as three relievers, including former Marlin Sergio Romo (a scoreless inning) shut Miami out for 3 1/3 innings and Jake Odorizzi upped his record to 12-5. Byron Buxton got his first homer in seven weeks and Miguel Sano crushed a double for the other RBI. Buxton's home run was his 10th and the Twins now have 11 players with 10 or more. The lead over Cleveland grew to 3 games a few days after it had fallen to 1. This is written a few hours before the trade deadline and the Twins haven't made a move other than picking up Romo.
Thursday, Aug. 1 — The Indians got rid of a good pitcher yesterday but picked up two power-hitting outfielders to aid their offense in pursuit of the Twins. The Twins, meanwhile, picked up San Francisco reliever Sam Dyson to aid the Minnesota bullpen. And the Twins cruised (for awhile) to a 7-4 win over Miami, getting shutout pitching and 11 strikeouts for seven innings from Jose Berrios, and homers from Mitch Garver, Kepler and Eddie Rosario. It was 7-0 in the ninth inning before a grand-slam homer by Miami off a reliever eventually forced Taylor Rogers into the game for two outs on eight pitches. Hope that doesn't make a difference for the next game.
Friday, Aug. 2 — Minnesota (66-42), with new reliever Dyson in the game, blew a 4-1 ninth-inning lead as Dyson was terribly ineffective. He didn't get an out, gave up three runs, and eventually Rogers came into the game and ended up throwing 21 pitches as he struck out the side after giving up a single that scored two runs. That renders him out of the mix for tonight's game at home with Kansas City (40-70).The Twins lost 5-4 in 12 innings to Miami (42-65), a team that someone told me today hadn't won a game while trailing in the final inning for hundreds and hundreds of games over a bunch of years. That was a horrible loss! The Indians lost to Houston 7-1 so the Twtns are still three games ahead. But the loss points out that it's a guessing game on trades. Dyson had an excellent record with the Giants but failed miserably yesterday. Many fans think the Twins should have traded for a starter. Whether they should have or not, Dyson's initial performance reminds us that just because you get someone in a trade, you're not guaranteed success. Dyson may be good the rest of the way but he kept the Twins from sweeping Miami. I wrote on July 28th that the Twins needed to get sweeps against bad teams instead of just winning the series. I was going to retract that statement but decided not to after the loss to Miami. That was the worst loss of the season! I was lucky enough to be working at the state American Legion baseball tournament and didn't see or listen to one pitch of that game — I might have done damage to a radio or a television set.
PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES
Aug. 6, 1959 - The PHS football schedule was released and showed the Tigers opening with Rush City on Sept. 11 and playing Mora, Milaca, Elk River, Osseo, Cambridge, Ogilvie and Braham.
Aug. 6, 1964 - Princeton, in its first year of town team baseball in many years, lost 8-7 and 15-11 to Foley in Independent Central League playoffs after winning the first of three games. Terry Erickson struck out 14 in the 8-7 loss and Steve Lindell and Bob Nick each had three hits.
Aug. 6, 1969 - Princeton beat Pine City 4-2 and 1-0 for the North End American Legion baseball title as Ron Deglmann pitched the shutout and raised his record to 13-1.Tom Miller was 7 for 11 in the playoffs and Bruce Kelley 5 for 9.
Aug. 7, 1974 - The Princeton Legion baseball team beat Moorhead 4-0 in the state tournament behind Dave Mingo but lost 7-6 to eventual champion Attucks-Brooks after having a 5-0 lead, and then lost 2-0 to Sleep Eye that night . . . The town team lost 8-1 and 1-0 to Hinckley in town team playoffs as Dan Kne struck out 10 in the 1-0 loss.
Aug. 9, 1979 - Rod Anderson, for the fifth time in eight years, won the men's title at Rum River Golf Club. He shot a 144, four strokes ahead of Tom Peterson . . . Princeton beat Hinckley 7-2 in town team playoff baseball as Dave Mingo struck out nine and drove in three runs, and then beat Hinckley 2-1 ini 10 innings as Tom Wolcyn got the win.
Aug. 9, 1984 - The Legion team finished 19-12 with a 6-3 loss to Osseo in its only District 10 game as Brian Dorr hit a two-run homer. Osseo went on to win District 10 . . . The town team played four games in 32 hours and made it to the Middlesota League playoff finals, Tom Wolcyn pitching a two-hitter and striking out 15 ion a 2-0 win over Dassel-Cokato. Princeton also beat two St. Cloud teams.
Aug. 10, 1989 - Aa the Princeton Panthers entered Region 1C play at Princeton, Chad Campbell led the team in being hit by pitch (10) and John Priess (36) had scored the most runs. The team was 21-12-1 . . . The Legion team (17-14) ended the season by losing to Delano and Monticello in District 10 play.
Aug. 11, 1994 - A grand-slam homer by Tom Kluk was the key as the Princeton Panthers rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat Hinckley 7-6 in playoff action . . . The Legion baseball team went 2-2 in District 10 play as Eric Deglman and Jason Thompson got wins. The 17-game winning streak of Mike VanDeRiet in high school and Legion ball ended when he lost 2-1 to Anoka.
Aug. 5, 1999 - Helen Sanborn won the women's championship at Rum River Golf Club with a 181 (88-93) . . . Jeff Haehn won the men's title with a 147 (71-76), edging Rick Cotter (150), Steve Sanborn (151), Jay Perbix (153) and Mark Kelley (153) . . . The Princeton Panthers stayed alive in league playoffs with a6-2 win over Nowthen, a team it also lost to 10-8 with the third game to be played. Jason Miller beat Nowthen and he and Mark Beattie each drove in two runs. Tony Stay had four hits in the loss.
Aug. 12, 2004 - Jan Rosen and Jeff Haehn won the senior titles at Princeton Golf Club . . . Pat Brogan (70) was the low amateur in the Princeton Auto Pro-Am at Princeton Golf Club. The total purse for professionals was $2,500 . . . Jason Miller beat Isanti 12-2 to earn the Princeton Panthers the No. 1 seed for league playoffs. Curt Wilson drove in four runs and Chad Campbell three.
Aug. 13 2009 - The Princeton Panthers beat St. Francis 7-5 in the first round of Region 1C play as Jake Maros and Brian Dorr each had two hits, Maros driving in five runs. The Panthers got the No. 1 seed for the tournament when Josh Ludwig (6-2, 2.04 ERA) beat Isanti 10-0 as Tyler Bialucha drove in three runs and Dorr two.
Aug. 7, 2014 - Pat Arens was named the new head coach for PHS girls soccer . . . Summer Schepper won the 10-and-under tennis tournament in Grand Rapids and Kelsey Dorr won the Elk River Open tennis tournament, her third tournament win of the summer.
Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the Princeton area for 52 years.