Legends: Tigers pitchers a rare Labor Day opponent for Hancock
Hancock team faced Fidrych, Hiller in Felch tourney
It was a game that Rick Miller planned for a long time.
And when the late Superior National Bank baseball manager confirmed that then-Detroit Tigers John Hiller and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych would be appearing at the Felch Labor Day Tournament in 1982, he made sure his team would face them.
“It was just something we wanted to do as a team,” Miller said in a 1994 interview. “You don’t get the chance to play against two major leaguers very often.”
Hiller, who later retired and moved to Iron Mountain, convinced Fidrych to make the trip.
“I was playing a little bit for the Felch team at the time,” he recalled. “I thought Mark might be interested in visiting up here because he was a country boy himself.”
The meteoric rise of the “Bird” was well-known throughout the nation. He burst upon the scene in 1976 when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA for a very average Tigers team.
But it was his zany antics on the mound that captured the imagination of fans everywhere.
An injury a year later would curtail his big league career and he was out of the game by 1981.
The SNB team was nearing the end of a long run in the Twilight League having won several league and playoff titles over the past decade.
The team was stocked with good hitting and pitching, led by Miller, who also played shortstop and pitched.
Dennis Raasio was another reliable chucker, posting a strong record.
The Bank featured Doug Larson, Dave Plowe and John Hosking in the infield, all of whom were strong hitters.
The outfield featured speedy Tim Opie and the Kearly brothers, Tom and Tim.
“They had a very balanced team,” said the late Merv Klemett. “They could hit, run and field. And they had guys who showed up for every game, that’s important.”
The Felch team the ex-Tigers were playing for was a perennial power in its league, and a favorite in its own tournament.
The hype for the game attracted a crowd estimated at 5,500.
Fidrych started the game and was touched for a two-run homer by Larry Asiala in the third inning. The Houghton native and Stanton player had been added to the roster for the game.
“That had to be a big thrill for Larry (Asiala),” Larson said later on. “He was even on WLUC-TV after the game talking about the homer.”
Hancock fell behind by a 5-0 score, however, as they got to Miller in the early innings.
Raasio came on to hold the score intact with three scoreless innings. The final score was 6-3.
Hiller pitched the final three innings and impressed everyone with his curveball.
“Fidrych was faster but Hiller really had a sharp breaking ball,” said Larson, who was the lone SNB player with two hits in the game.
After the game, the Bank players had the chance to enjoy a few beers with the former Tigers.
“They were just regular guys,” Miller said. “And Fidrych was a really funny guy.”
The Bank’s local domination was ended by Toivola — and later — by Partanen’s Bar, which started a streak of its own.
Fidrych and Hiller returned to Felch in 1983, and about 10,000 people attended the tournament.