The Dakota Buttes Museum hosted Jason LeFebre’s “Modern North Dakota History” class this week for a lesson on Hettinger’s rich baseball history. The presentation, led by Loren Luckow, was part of the Dakota Buttes Museum’s ongoing effort to connect local experts to Hettinger youth.
In his presentation, Luckow covered over a hundred years of Hettinger baseball history, starting with Hettinger’s founding in 1907. Luckow explained to the students that “back in the day” baseball was incredibly important to Hettinger and other surrounding small towns.
“One goal of every town was to have a baseball team,” said Luckow. “Hettinger was founded in 1907, and as early as 1908, they had a grandstand and baseball team.”
During the presentation, students browsed through old photos of baseball teams throughout the 1900’s. Luckow even had old cotton baseball uniforms, vintage wooden bats, and bulky gloves on display for the history students.
One photo showed a large crowd of people watching baseball in the old Hettinger grandstand. Luckow used the picture to explain to the students just how important baseball was back in the 1900’s.
“It was very competitive, and the crowds were unbelievable,” he continued.
According to Luckow, amateur baseball became incredibly popular in small town communities shortly after World War II.
“Amateur baseball became a staple in this area in the late 40’s after the war. With fathers and sons coming back home, every town had to have a baseball team and they had to have the best one,” he said.
The amateur teams consisted of anyone willing to play, regardless of their age. Players could range in age anywhere from 18 to 50 years old. Even incredibly small townships like Ralph, Chandler, and Spring Butte managed to pull together their own baseball teams.
The local historian explained how towns went so far as to recruit outsiders to play if they didn’t have enough locals to make a good baseball team.
“If they couldn’t find enough locals, they might recruit someone from Colorado, maybe a college player to come into town and pitch for them,” he continued.
For Hettinger, the enthusiastic amateur baseball culture reached its peak at the same time the city of Hettinger unveiled its new ballpark in 1949.
“Our claim to fame was in 1949. Hettinger went to the state amateur tournament in James Town and they won the State Championship,” said Luckow.
After winning the 1949 State Championship, the Hettinger team traveled to Aberdeen, South Dakota to play in a regional, amateur World Series tournament. Luckow even had an original program for the 1949 World Series for the students to look at.
Eventually, in the late 70’s, amateur baseball’s popularity in the area started to fade away.
“Back then they were the Pastime Bears. There were just no teams to play in the area, so amateur baseball went by the wayside and the junior legion team was the only thing left,” said Luckow.
Luckow continued saying that the struggles for Hettinger baseball continued when a windstorm damaged the ballpark sometime in the 80’s.
According to Luckow, after the windstorm, Hettinger demolished the old ballpark and built a new one that is used to this today.
The Modern North Dakota History class was very thankful for Luckow’s presentation.
Many of the students at Hettinger Public School are currently involved in baseball, themselves. Now, with the warming weather and the approaching baseball season, it will be exciting to see those students continue the tradition of Hettinger baseball.