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Legends: Klemett was a baseball stalwart

HANCOCK — Anyone who ever played any sport against the late Merv Klemett knew one thing for sure: He always played to win.

Longtime baseball opponent Harold Filpus of Tapiola recalled competing against him.

“It didn’t matter what sport Merv was playing against you, he was out to beat you,” Filpus said.

Klemett, a Hancock native, was involved in sports in the area for seven decades.

That included baseball in the summer and setting up hockey rentals and leagues in the winter.

And when he grew older, he helped to organize softball leagues for older players.

“Merv was one of those guys who was always involved in something,” said one of Klemett’s former teammates, Joe Geborkoff of Hancock. “He wanted to stay busy.”

But it was mainly in baseball where Klemett’s play was noticed.

Klemett won five Twilight League batting titles, including a season in which he batted .425.

He started his career with the Hancock Merchants in 1956 and was on the team that played a barnstorming group of major leaguers in 1957.

The group included players like Hall of Famer George Kell and Johnny Groth and Charlie Maxwell of the Detroit Tigers.

“Maxwell hit two home runs that day,” Klemett said in a 1995 interview. “I was playing in right field and they looked like peas going over the fence.”

He eventually formed the Bancroft Dairy team in the Twilight League in the early 1960s with a group of young players.

One of those was Mark Halkola, a somewhat wild lefthanded pitcher.

Halkola said Klemett taught him how to become a complete pitcher.

“Merv (Klemett) was a teacher above all,” Halkola recalled. “He emphasized the fundamentals in every aspect of the game.”

With pitchers like Halkola and veteran Ed Kokkila. Bancroft dominated the league for several years.

That domination was stopped by a young Superior National Bank squad led by the late Rick Miller in the mid-1970s.

Miller said most kids growing up in Hancock were influenced by Klemett.

“You couldn’t play baseball without picking up a lot from him,” Miller noted a few years ago. “He really knew the game.”

Klemett, who died in 2011, later played in the 35 and Over and Over 50 softball leagues. He was a longtime umpire as well.

He, along with Paul Hill of Wolverine, was also instrumental in getting the annual Wolverine-Portage Lake Oldtimers baseball game started. That’s been played for more than 30 years.

In his spare time, Klemett served as an officer in the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association and the Portage Lake Little League Association.

The City of Hancock Recreation Committee named the hardball field in his honor in 2020.

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