HIBBING — The Hibbing American Legion baseball team will be playing in the 44th annual Grand Rapids American Legion Baseball Invitational which will be conducted on Friday through Sunday, June 21-23.
I can remember playing in that tournament when I played for Marble back in the mid-1970s. Being from Coleraine and a Greenway graduate, Grand Rapids was our chief nemesis in everything when I was in high school. If you could get a win over Grand Rapids in anything, it was a big deal.
Back in the 1970s through the early 2000s when he retired, Bob Streetar, the head coach of the Grand Rapids High School and Grand Rapids American Legion baseball teams, was a central figure when it came to baseball on the Iron Range. He retired with close to 500 coaching victories for the Indians and he led Grand Rapids to two state high school championships in Class AA (1978, 1984) and one state American Legion championship (1975).
Our Legion team had big battles with Grand Rapids and we always played close games. In fact, the state title year of Grand Rapids in 1975 in Legion ball was my last year of eligibility and I remember our battles well.
As a player, you had to give Streetar grudging respect. He was a no-nonsense guy who had his team ready to play in nearly every game. If you were going to beat Grand Rapids you were going to have to play well because the Indians rarely beat themselves.
The Legion Field in Grand Rapids will be getting a new name on Friday when brief ceremonies will be conducted at 7 p.m. when the field will be renamed Bob Streetar Field. I was on the telephone with long-time Grand Rapids coach Bill Kinnunen on Tuesday and I have to agree whole-heartedly when Bill said that the name designation was a long time coming.
My path crossed with Bob once again in September 1988, when I hired on as the sports guy at the Grand Rapids Herald-Review. It was here that I finally got to know Bob. He was a no-nonsense guy when he was on the diamond, but he could kick back once the game is done and be one of the guys. The men who played for Bob respect and love him for not only making them successful on the baseball field, but also how he assisted them in dealing with the game of life.
Isn’t that what coaching is all about?
Looking at the list of past American Legion champions, I see that American Legion state tournaments have been around a lot longer than the state high school tournament which started in 1947.
I see that the first state American Legion baseball tournament was conducted in 1926, with the town of Crosby taking the state title with a win over St. Paul Navy-Marine.
The first northern Minnesota team to reach the finals was Duluth which lost to Minneapolis North Side in 1932. In 1939, the small town of Blackduck reached the state title game before falling to Minneapolis Fire and Police.
Duluth reached the title game in 1962, but lost to St. Paul Christie de Parcq, and Bemidji lost to St. Paul Attucks-Brooks in the state championship game in 1974.
So, surprisingly, we have just found out that the Grand Rapids state title in 1975 was the first to be won by a northern Minnesota Legion team. Wow. In fact, after scouring the list, that is the lone state title in Division I.
I searched for a list of Division 2 state champions because I believe that Nashwauk won a state title one year. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a list of Division 2 Legion winners.