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BASEBALL AND MILROY: A Fifty-Year Love Affair


1954 Mythical State Champion Picture
Milroy the Town
The Milroy Yankees
State Champions and the New Field
The Men Who Played
The Decline of Town Team Baseball
The Survival of Baseball in Milroy


            In 1944, at age 25, Bob Zwach Sr., manager of the Milroy baseball team for thirteen years, drove from rural Milroy to Hank Nicklasson’s sporting goods store in New Ulm to pick up what he remembers as “two or three bats and about six balls.”  From there Zwach proceeded to round up a few guys and play games against some of the surrounding towns.  During that first year Milroy played without uniforms and without a league.

            According to Mark “Spike” Dolan, the shortstop on the 1954 Milroy team, those first games were quite an experience:


He [Bob Zwach] called me up, I was sixteen years old.  He said, I’m getting a baseball team started in Milroy and I’d like to have you come along, we’re going to Hansenville.  I had no idea where Hansenville was, I didn’t even know if it was in Minnesota or what, I was in high school at the time.  I said sure I’ll go along.  Bob picked me up, we had no uniforms a bunch of guys wand we went up to Hansenville, they had suits and there was a dance hall, that’s wall there was.  A dance hall and this ball field out in the country, quite an experience for me.


            The 1944 version of amateur baseball in Milroy certainly was not one the team cared to cherish.  Zwach remembered playing Wanda one afternoon when “they laughed us out of the place.  I was catching and I had an old mitt that wouldn’t stick, I couldn’t hold it with two hands.  Leiter the banker and Bordy, Oh, they made fun of Milroy.  Spike made an error at shortstop and they told him to lower his apron.  They beat the hell out of us!  That determined us in ’46 and ’47, we’ll get Wanda.

            And they did, in 1946 and 1947.  Milroy always beat Wanda in the crunch, and not just Wanda.  By 1947 the Milroy team had built itself into a solid team and was beating plenty of other teams as well.  From 1945 until 1955 Milroy played its baseball in the defunct Redwood County League.  That league housed teams from Sanborn, Wabasso, Wanda, Lamberton, Tracy, Walnut Grove, Balaton, and Milroy.

            From 1947 to 1950 the Milroy team was busy winning region titles and competing in the first of what would be seventeen Minnesota State Amateur Tournament appearances through 1995.  Although these teams won only one game at the state tournament, the support in Milroy was reaching an all-time high.  Games between local teams like Wanda and Milroy would often attract one to two thousand fans.

            As Spike Dolan recalls:


            We had great spirit here in Milroy, just the fans were great.  It was the main thing talked about in Milroy.  Saturday night was always a big night in the small towns.  Farmers would come to town and bring their families, buy their groceries, and visit.  And I can recall just about every Saturday night groups of people talking about the ball game that was going to be on Sunday.  And as soon as they saw some of us players they had to come and ask us how’s our chances tomorrow.  And that was really the conversation on Saturday nights in town.


                        As the fans came out, so did the bettors.  “They would walk up and down the third baseline with fists full of money asking for bets.  I imagine those who bet for Milroy made a lot of money, because they would always buy the players a beer afterwards, and we won many of those games,” remembers Reed Lovsness, the star pitcher for Milroy from 1953 to 1955.

            Many ballparks did not have lighting.  Thus games had to be played on Sunday afternoons all across the state.  The Sunday afternoon game became the biggest fundraiser that a town could have.  Teams tried desperately to play even after rain storms, they had to play because they made so much money selling beer at the games.

            Zwach remembers “we had two thousand fans at a game versus Wanda one afternoon and we sold a thousand dollars worth of beer.  We wanted those Sunday afternoon games, it was always hot and we sold beer, that and donations helped fund our team.”  Between one-dollar tickets sales, beer sales and donations, Milroy was able to successfully fund a team.

            By now the Milroy team had also adopted the name the Milroy Yankees, after Zwach’s favorite man, Casey Stengel.  Stengel, the manager of the New York Yankees, at this time was known for his quick tongue and feisty attitude.  He was a perfect fit for Zwach.  “Bob was the fastest man on our team.  If there was a close call, Bob would be out of the dugout and to second base [where the base umpire was locate] in no time.  His feet wouldn’t even touch the ground,” said Lovsness.  Zwach always wanted to be like Stengel, and he often was.

            Perhaps Zwach’s greatest move as a manager came in the winter of 1953.  During a snowstorm, Zwach and John Dolan Sr., the father of Louis, Joe, Jack, Spike and Donny, jumped in a car and drove to Cottonwood, Minnesota, and signed a lanky right-hander named Reed Lovsness.  Lovsness, who had just came back from the service, had played minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh organization.  Lovsness would turn out to be, as Zwach called him, “the difference between Milroy being a good team and a great team.”

            The signing paid immediate dividends for the Yankees in 1953, when Lovsness recorded seventeen wins and only three losses during the season.  Lovsness quickly became a part of the Milroy community.  “I was well received in Milroy.  People would write letters to me saying they were glad I was there.  It was really great place to play,” said Lovsness.