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Columns

Pat Wallis: Sandwich-area baseball enthusiasts recall careers and a Hall of Famer

SANDWICH – Two local baseball enthusiasts, Mike Adrian and Lyle Fritsch, grinned while telling of their exploits during a coffee break recently at McDonald’s.

Fritsch, 98, lives just east of Sandwich, where he’s farmed for many years. He told of pitching on the Cardinals’ minor league team in Sioux City, Iowa.

He said Sandwich High School didn’t sponsor a baseball team, but his skills while playing with the Sandwich Town Team were enough to move on to a professional level.

However, he was called off the diamond to serve in the armed forces during World War II from 1942 to 1946. With his experience working on farming equipment, he spent much of his time overseas as a mechanic, repairing airplanes so they’d be ready for the next bombing run. When he came back, he farmed, not returning to baseball.

Adrian, a Somonauk native, established and played with the Somonauk Blue Stockings Vintage Baseball Team. Several years ago, he and his wife, Sue, moved to Prescott, Arizona, to be near their family, and now he plays on the Vintage Prescott Champions, usually pitching.

The Prescott Champions is a historic team from 1876, playing by the 1860 rules, which includes pitching underhand.  

Adrian said the Prescott team members range in age from 16 through 71, and he’s the eldest, regularly pitching. The games are held every two weeks, November to April, avoiding the summertime because of Arizona’s heat.

When Adrian learned that Fritsch was on the same team with the late Harold Prestegaard of Sandwich, he had to tell a story about visiting Prestegaard at his home several years ago.

When Prestegaard heard about Adrian’s vintage baseball interests, he started pulling things out of closet, trying to find something he just had to show Adrian. He soon found it. It was a baseball bat given to Prestegaard by Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby after one of Hornsby’s games at Wrigley Field. 

Adrian was thrilled to touch the bat of Hornsby, who was an infielder, manager and coach for 23 seasons in the early 1900s.

During his career, Hornsby socked 301 home runs, batted in 1,584 runs and had 2,930 hits. His lifetime batting average was .358. Hornsby starred for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Boston Braves. In leading the Cubs to the pennant in 1929, he hit .380, 39 home runs, amassed a slugging percentage of .679 and was named National League MVP.

Adrian said his hair stood up on his arms and he had goosebumps when he held the historic bat.

Stories, smiles, grins and laughter. That’s what comes out when “old folks” get together to remember the good times.

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