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Legends: Feigner dazzled crowds at Driving Park

Eddie Feigner poses in an undated portrait. Feigner performed at Hancock’s Driving Park four times. (Getty Images)

HOUGHTON — On a late summer night in 1978, Eddie Feigner attracted a record crowd to the Hancock Driving Park.

Feigner, of the King and His Court fame, was in town for one of the four trips he made to the Copper Country over the years.

“I don’t recall ever seeing more people at one game around here,” said late Daily Mining Gazette sportswriter Dick Loranger. “There had to be at least 5,000 or 6,000 people there.”

Of course, Feigner and his traveling show, attracted fans wherever he went.

And that included jaunts to just about every country in the world before kings and queens, sultans and dictators. And even in the shadow of the Great Wall of China.

And Feigner had success against some of the more notable Major League Baseball players of a bygone era. He once struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente — consecutively — an amazing fact given that all but Wills are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The fast-pitch softball pitching ace, who first started his show in 1946 in Oregon, threw pitches from every angle possible.

The fast-pitch softball pitching ace, who first started his show in 1946 in Oregon, threw pitches from every angle possible.

There were pitches behind his back, between his legs, from second base … and even blindfolded.

The late Bob Borsum faced Feigner in a 1950 game at old Caledonia Field in Lake Linden. He recalled the speed of the hurling gem.

“His pitches looked like aspirin tablets coming up to the plate ,” Borsum said in a 1979 interview. “I managed a foul tip on one of them and that felt pretty good.”

The late Gordie Schaaf of Hancock was responsible for bringing Feigner to the area for at least two times.

He said the price was pretty steep, but was worth it.

“We had no problem getting people interested,” Schaaf said in 1978. “There was still a lot of interest in fast-pitch around here back then. Did I expect the turnout we had? Quite frankly, no.”

Feigner’s team for the 1978 trip included former big leaguer John Bateman at catcher, Al Jackson at first base and son Eddie Feigner Jr. at shortstop.

Feigner’s son also did some pitching on occasion, but his father hurled the majority of the time. Like his father, he could hit with power.

The King and His Court won close to 92 percent of their games. They defeated the Copper Country All-Stars by a 6-2 score.

One of the locals pitchers, the late “Boyu” Mattson, impressed Feigner.

“He (Mattson) has real good stuff and command of his pitches,” the King said after the game.

It was very high praise coming from a man who was once clocked at 107 mph and tossed 930 no-hitters and 320 perfect games.

The traveling softball show returned to Hancock a year later, but fewer people turned out this time.

Long-time Baraga County softball player Arnie Putala, who faced Feigner in 1978, brought the King and His Court in Baraga County a few years later.

“He had lost some of his speed by then,” Putala recalled. “But he put on a good show and the fans still enjoyed the night.”

Joe Zeleznik, once a very good pitcher himself downstate, recalled a game at the Pontiac Silverdome when Feigner’s team faced a team comprised of several Detroit Tigers.

“This was a team that had Norm Cash, Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup,” the late Zeleznik recalled a few years ago. “The ball was by them before they could even swing the bat.”

Fast-pitch softball died off locally in the early 1990s because of a lack of interest. Today, there are only a few pockets of the game left nation-wide.

Feigner died in 2007. It is not known if his traveling act was ever taken up.

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