Freeman played during golden age of baseball [UPDATED]Published 9:59am Monday, December 3, 2012 Updated 12:06pm Monday, December 3, 2012
Battle Lake’s Don (Donnie) Freeman, 78, who died Nov. 20, always was proud of being part of the golden age of town baseball in Minnesota, from 1945 to 1960.
Freeman and other players, as noted by authors Armand Peterson and Tom Tomashek, were part of town teams that held communities together and generated a great sense of pride and passion among residents.
Freeman will always be part of the Battle Lake Lakers baseball team legacy.
“We always called Donnie by the name of Dudley, which was his father’s name,” said Burt Hustad, a former Battle Lake pitcher who was a teammate of Freeman. “He was a great hitter and outstanding outfielder.”
Hustad and other former players, among those attending Freeman’s funeral Nov. 24 at First Lutheran Church in Battle Lake, recalled a sensational catch by Freeman when the Lakers played a baseball game at Underwood.
Freeman went back to the outfield fence, a winter snow fence, caught the ball, had his belt become tangled on the fence, fell backward onto the fence, but hung on to the baseball for an out.
“That was Donnie, giving it his all,” said Hustad.
His brother, Ken Freeman, played third base for the Fergus Falls Red Sox. Ken’s former teammate, Roland Harlow, drove from Fergus Falls to attend Donnie Freeman’s funeral.
“A love of baseball, and, of course, the desire to whomp the neighboring town’s team, spurred on players and fans alike,” said Peterson who with Tomashek authored the book, “Town Ball: The Glory Days of Minnesota Amateur Baseball.”
Battle Lake native and former Lakers player Roger Olson recalls the days in the 1950s and 1960s when 400 and even more fans attended a single baseball game in Battle Lake.
Another star pitcher for Battle Lake, in addition to Hustad, was Lefty Christenson.
Many people parked their cars along the first base and third base sidelines. Some of the early birds positioned their vehicles at prime locations at the baseball field on a Sunday morning, walked to church, and returned to the baseball field for a fun afternoon of watching baseball.
The Battle Lake town baseball glory years took hold in the years following World War II. People stayed closer to home in those years, black and white television was primitive and the Minnesota Twins didn’t play their first game, as a new franchise, until 1961.
“During this time (1945 to 1960) Minnesota experienced a magical era of amateur baseball, setting records in town participation and attendance that have not been matched since,” said Tomashek.
Top players in Minnesota in those years included Dick Siebert, Paul Giel, Bud Grant, Bill Skowron, Herb Score, Hilton Smith and others.
Donnie Freeman, a first cousin of my wife, Sharon, and others were local stars in Otter Tail County.
Several towns in Minnesota, some with as few as 300 people, installed lights during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Lights allowed teams to play three times a week. Many teams drew as well as minor league teams.
It was a magical baseball era for Minnesota town team baseball. The Freeman brothers and others from that era knew they were part of something very special.