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In the end, it was about respect/Paul Peterson

May 16, 2011
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

The spring was especially late arriving that long-ago baseball season.

The trees were barely in bud, and the snow from a particularly harsh winter had left local ballfields just two weeks previous.

Despite temperatures hovering in the low 40s at game time, the Calumet Air Force Base and Tapiola teams were geared up for the season opener.

The Copper Country was enjoying perhaps its final surge of economic prosperity that year.

Calumet and Hecla Mining Co. was still producing copper at a couple of its mines. The Bosch Brewery was still putting out the liquid product of the Sportsman's Paradise. And Gibbs City Co. in Ripley was still making bowling pins for lanes all over the nation.

The makeup of the two teams that chilly evening couldn't have been any different.

Calumet AFB's roster was made up of young men serving in the military. As is often the case, they came from all over the country. But the team had a heavy southern influence, with Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana being their primary home addresses.

Tapiola was your typical local small town baseball club, with pretty much the makeup you see in today's Twilight League.

There were two or three veterans from teams that had won league titles in the late 1950s, and there were a couple of guys who were attending college.

There were also several youngsters - still in high school - who would star on prep championship teams in the next few years.

Doelle High was then in a fall conference with Chassell, Champion, National Mine, Republic and Negaunee St. Paul.

The two teams locked up in a pitcher's duel on opening night that wasn't settled until Tapiola scored a run in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 3-2 decision.

But the game had been marked by a couple of brushback (they called it beanball back then) incidents, and some words between the Air Base pitcher and Tapiola catcher after a hard collision at the plate. In other words, there was bad blood.

The hard feelings between the two teams simmered most of that long, hot summer, while the newspaper headlines told of riots in our inner cities - and an ever-increasing United States military presence in Vietnam.

The teams split six hard-fought regular season contests and had to play a tiebreaker game to see which would enter postseason play.

The game was played at a neutral site at the Hancock Driving Park on a hot, sultry August evening and wasn't decided until AFB broke open a tight 2-1 game with three runs in the top of the seventh for a 5-1 win.

But as the teams lined up for the traditional handshakes afterward, there seemed to be a newly found mutual respect between the players.

Sure, they had battled each other tooth-and-nail all season. But I have to believe they sensed this just might be their last summer of innocence.

While they would continue to field teams for a couple of more years, the two rivals never again had the same players on their rosters. I later heard that five of the Air Force players had been shipped off to Southeast Asia as the war escalated.

And no less than six of the Tapiola players from that season were later drafted into the Army, half of them going overseas.

In the end, it all came down to respect for the young men on those teams.



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