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BASEBALL AND MILROY: A Fifty-Year Love Affair

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1954 Mythical State Champion Picture
Introduction
Milroy the Town
The Milroy Yankees
State Champions and the New Field
The Men Who Played
The Decline of Town Team Baseball
The Survival of Baseball in Milroy

THE MEN WHO PLAYED

            The men who played town team baseball came from different backgrounds, and had varying levels of skill, but they were all brought together by the game of baseball.  These men and often their families, spent many of their summer days at the baseball field playing, practicing, and talking baseball.

            One of the most vocal baseball players, and now supporter, is Bob Zwach Sr,.  Zwach was born on a farm outside of Milroy, and growing up would practice playing ball in the yard until it was too dark to see.  When Bob was twelve, his brothers would employ him as the ball chaser during their games and even allow him to ride to several games with them.  When no room was available inside the car, he rode in the trunk.  It was from these humble beginnings that Bob became attached to baseball.  He became very sports minded and eventually played every sport he could.

            In 1936, while a sophomore in Milroy High School, Zwach was the leading scorer on the football team that was undefeated, untied, and unscored upon.  He also wrestled in the Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament in 1936 and 1937.

            During a time in which Zwach felt the young men of the era were cheated, because they were away fighting in World War II.  Zwach felt cheated as well, so gathered up all the men he could find, and put together one of the most fabled teams in Minnesota history, the Milroy Yankees.  During his baseball career, Zwach played mostly outfield, but also pitched a two-hitter at the age of forty-six.  The high point of his career was managing the 1954 Mythical State Championship team.  Perhaps the only bashful moment of Zwach’s career occurred after the Class B Championship game. He was handed a microphone into which he promptly responded, “it’s damn cold and I’ve never talked in one of these damn things in my life.”

            Zwach has a love for the game, and at times that seemed to be his top priority.  His wife Doris recalls, “we were about to have our first child and the due date was June 1 which was a Sunday, and Bob said that’s the day we play Wanda.  It wouldn’t be right on that day would it?  Well, no, I said, but of course it was.  We went in the night before and were done by about noon, so Bob had enough time and he made it to the game.”

            As Milroy baseball went, invariably there was John Dolan Sr. leading the way.  John Dolan began playing in 1906 for Lucan, which is seven miles east of Milroy, and did not quit being a baseball man until the day he passed away in 1988.  There were many players that John would hear about and he and the Milroy manager would drive up to see him play.  Dolan was the eyes, ears, and heart of Milroy baseball.  He took care of the ball field, and the concessions stand well into his eighties.

            Dolan had a passion for baseball to exist in Milroy and went the extra steps to ensure that it would.  According to Bob Zwach, “when you talk Milroy baseball, you talk about John Dolan and Bob Zwach, we were there in the beginning, and we’ll be there in the end.”

            Louis Dolan was the first of John Dolan’s seven sons, six of which played baseball for Milroy.  He played in Lucan (1930), Seaforth (1931), Wanda (1932-1933), and Marshall (1939) before joining the Milroy team from 1945 to 1953.  During this time the Dolan name loomed large in Minnesota.  Louis Dolan was the eldest member of the famous all Dolan infield in 1947 and 1948.  Louis played second base, Spike was at shortstop, Joe at third base, and Jack at first base, all were brothers.

            Louis Dolan remembers, “even during the busy times, when we were thrashing and shocking, my dad used to pitch to us, pretty near every day.  A big accomplishment would be to hit the red barn, which was about 350 feet away.”  This dedication to the game produced an outstanding baseball family.

            Spike Dolan, also one of John Dolan’s boys, was the youngest member of the Dolan infield.  Spike played shortstop and became known for his terrific fielding.  Dolan played on the state tournament teams from 1947 to 1950, but was drafted into the Korean War in 1952.  While in the service he played on a regiment team that once played in a three game series against baseball Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks.  He returned home in 1954 and became one of the leaders of the championship team, before eventually managing the team in 1969.

            The best of the all Dolan infield was probably Joe Dolan.  Joe came back from the service in 1946 and at age twenty-seven became the sparkplug for the Milroy team.  Joe was acknowledged by most to be the best athlete of the Dolans.  According to Louis Dolan, “Joe was a heckuva athlete, he was just so quick.”  During the 1954 state tournament, Joe Dolan knocked out ten hits in fifteen at bats, and became known statewide for his blazing speed.  Dolan and his wife, Evelyn, raised thirteen children, including eight boys, all which later played for the Milroy Yankees.

            In 1946, as a member of the Seaforth town team, John Kagel played a talented young Milroy team.  The impression it left led Kagel to Milroy, where he and his wife, Maureen, bought and operated Kagel’s Grocery from 1948 to 1978.  Kagel played for Milroy from 1947 to 1951, managing the team in his last season.  Kagel, a catcher for the team, later became treasurer for the baseball organization.

            When Reed Lovsness was a young boy he remembered that, “I never owned a bicycle.  I put up a square on our machine shed and threw, and threw, day after day.  I was pretending that I was in the big leagues, and I was pitching seven innings.”

            At age twenty Lovsness, living in rural Cottonwood, had his eye on a brochure for Joe Stripps Baseball School in Orlando, Florida.  He took the chance, and that winter took a bus to Florida and participated in the school for the cost of seventy-five dollars.  The gamble paid off and Lovsness was signed by the Pittsburgh Major League Baseball Organization for two thousand dollars.

            Lovsness played three years of minor league baseball before entering the service.  When his father passed away Lovsness decided to retire from Pittsburgh, move back home, and help on the farm.  That winter Zwach signed Lovsness, and he played for the Milroy team from 1953 to 1955.  Along the way he had eighteen wins and no losses during the 1954 season, including a twenty-strikeout performance in the state championship game.  This is still a record today.

            Probably the most notable Milroy Yankee of all-time would have to be Rich Kramer.  Kramer is said to be the best hitter that Milroy has ever had.  The left-handed hitter was a natural.  His long fly ball would routinely land behind the wooden fences.  Kramer it was said stood at the plate with a total blank look.  According to Lovsness:

 

The pitcher looked in at Rich, and all he saw was a pair of big eyes, a crooked hat, and an easy out, he thought.  Rich could hit them long flies that just seemed to keep going.  In fact one time in Milroy the other team put an extra guy on the right side of the field (where a left hander like Kramer would hit) for Rich.  Then someone in the Milroy crowd yelled that they better put him on the other side of the fence if they want a better chance of catching his ball.

 

            Kramer may have been a natural, but he also was the source of many stories.  Bob Zwach was said to carry two extra uniforms in case Kramer forgot something.  It was not uncommon for Kramer to bring along two left shoes, wear argyle socks while playing, or even eat his lunch during the game.  Spike Dolan recalls, “I was playing shortstop and Rich was in right field that day.  And out of the corner of my eye I saw someone walk out into right field.  Anyway, the next pitch was thrown and I looked out there (to right field) and saw Rich eating a sandwich in between pitches, funniest thing I ever saw.”

            In 1967 an eighth grader named Pat Dolan signed a contract to play for the Milroy Yankees.  Although he was only going to play in an emergency, this player would end up being the next in a long line of Dolans to sustain Milroy baseball.  Dolan did many things on the field, and yet it was his off-the-field accomplishments that kept the team going.  While growing up Pat remembers, “there was always a bat and a ball around, and it just seemed natural to play.  Eventually I was able to play with my brothers (on the Milroy team) and that was really nice.”  In 1975, Dolan became manager of the Milroy Yankees and would end up playing in four decades before retiring in 1990.

            Pat Dolan and the baseball board, which consisted of Larry Zwach, Terry Ousky, Russ Sanow, Kenny Dolan, Jerry Edwards, and Greg Debbaut, put together some of the great fund-raisers that led to the various field improvements during the early 1980’s.  One of the improvements that the baseball board made was the addition of lights, which still stand today.  The lights added another dimension to Milroy baseball.  Games could be played at night, letting the day open for other activities.  “I think the lights were a nice draw, they (fans) would see them on at night and come to the field.  Now they could go to the lake and come back at night to watch the game.” Said Pat Dolan.

            Some of the players that played against Milroy during their careers were Art Marben, Bill Bolin, and Dean Tate.  Marben was one of the best players to ever play in southwest Minnesota during the 1940’s.  After playing several years of Class A ball, Marben moved to Tracy, Minnesota, where he played many games against Milroy.  Bill Bolin came to Tracy in 1957, he also played baseball.  “We both really respected Milroy, and I think they respected the teams that played hard.  They’ve always had good baseball, they play to win and they play the game right,” recalls Marben.  Dean Tate was drafted by Milroy for play-offs one season and remembers the dedication the players had, “It was hell playing in Milroy, they would practice after church, and all during the week.”

            A long time local umpire, Sheridan “Shorty” Young, was impressed with the enormous amount of pride Milroy put into their team, “when I did a game in Milroy the whole gang (town) was there, that was entertainment on Sunday.  They like their baseball in Milroy, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

            Milroy’s baseball fans were notorious for being vocal in the support of the players.  Opposing teams knew going into the game that Milroy’s manager Bob Zwach would make sure that the fans were intensely involved.  “In fact I remember Bob Zwach before the game setting up a fight [between the two teams players] so the crowd would get into the game,” said Bolin.

            Milroy baseball over the years has accumulated a rich and colorful history, built on the men who played, their families, and the town that sustained it.