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Fourth of July baseball was special/Paul Peterson

June 30, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

It happened a long time ago, but the memory of a special Fourth of July in South Range remained clear in the mind of my late uncle.

Back in the 1940s, the July 4th tradition was much the same as it is today.

There was a big town parade at noon, complete with hot dogs, root beer, cotton candy and plenty of adult beverages.

In the evening, a big fireworks display went off at dusk. That thrilled all present, young and old.

But one thing that made the holiday special is missing today: The annual ballgame at the old South Range ball diamond.

In those bygone days, South Range had its own ball team in the now defunct Michigan-Northern Wisconsin Baseball League.

It was a high caliber of ball, according to the people who filled the old wooden bleachers at the park (now the site of a trailer park).

"I would rate the caliber of baseball as at least a Class D minor league," the late Zeke Hornick once told me. "There were players in the league who had either played minor league ball ... or could have."

The local team had its share of stars. Tony Bukovich and his brother Joe were joined by such standouts as Ikka Hakha, Tony Pleshe, "Gumps" Juntunen, Buddo Lishinski and others.

John Pastore, who was a great promoter, did the managing. He had a special flair when it came to promoting sports events.

Pastore brought in the Detroit Tigers Barnstormers twice in the late 1940s. The exploits of such stars as George Kell, Dizzy Trout, Don Lund and other major league players was a highlight for local sports fans.

The always colorful Trout once bet a local car dealer $5 that he would hit a homer in his next at bat in a mid-October game against a group of local players - then proceeded to sock one into the left field stands.

But it was the Fourth of July games that were always the big draw of the summer holiday. Crowds of more than 2,000 were common, according to newspaper reports.

World War II had ended just a couple years before and many of the players were veterans. They were no doubt thrilled to be back on the local ball diamonds playing the game they truly loved.

In addition, America felt good about itself after having survived the Great Depression and a world war. The mines were going full-bore and there was work for anyone looking for it.

Fans poured in from such outposts as Beacon Hill, Tapiola, Winona, Coburntown and Pelkie

to take in the game. In an earlier period, they came in horse-drawn wagons. Later on, it was Model Ts and tractors that provided the transportation to the game.

The old South Range ballpark was a wooden structure that had bleachers around the outfield. On a Fourth of July, the park was filled to the brim.

On this particular holiday, South Range scored five runs against Marquette in the very first inning - more than enough to support the five-hit pitching of hometown hurler Clay Wasson.

But the one thing that impressed my uncle the most about the 6-1 victory was a long homer hit by Tony Bukovich late in the game. The circuit clout - the first hit into the stands that season - earned Bukovich a pair of shoes from K&M Clothing Store and a hat from Glass Brothers Co.

"The home run just capped off a great day for the ball team and the fans," he often told me.

The old ballpark was finally torn down in the mid-1960s, ending what was certainly a wonderful era for many baseball fans.

It makes you wonder what life really was like in those simpler and less complex days ...



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