Archived Story

Back in time to Fergus Falls in 1949 [UPDATED]

Published 4:03am Monday, July 22, 2013 Updated 6:06am Monday, July 22, 2013

On a warm and early summer evening in 1949, Fergus Falls Red Sox pitcher Harley Oyloe went to the Great Northern Railway Station to greet a new member of the team who would soon arrive by train from Texas.

Joining the Red Sox was a 20-year-old baseball player from Texas A&M by the name of John DeWitt.

In those days players were lured to Fergus Falls from other states to join with team members raised in Minnesota.

They worked part-time for Fergus Falls businesses, the city park department and other employers in addition to playing baseball for the home team Red Sox.

“When I saw a young man who was about 6-foot, 5-inches and wearing a cowboy hat depart the train, I knew just who it was,” said Oyloe on Thursday. “I went up to him and said, ‘Hello, John. Welcome to Fergus Falls.’ He expressed his thanks, adding that he looked forward to helping our team.”

DeWitt, an outfielder, did just that.

In 1949 the Fergus Falls Red Sox finished runner-up in the state baseball tournament. A year later, in 1950, the town team won the state title in St. Cloud.

This coming Saturday, DeWitt, now 84, will be back in Fergus Falls as one of five new inductees into the Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce Sports Hall of Fame. He’s now a resident of Dallas, Texas

DeWitt was back in town for baseball reunions in 1970 and 1992. July 27 in Fergus Falls, however, will be extra special.

“I tell people here in Dallas that Fergus Falls is just on the other side of Heaven,” said DeWitt in a telephone conversation with me Wednesday of this week. “I always had special memories of my time spent in Fergus Falls, and enjoyed the baseball reunions back in Minnesota.”

DeWitt played for the Fergus Falls Red Sox in 1949, 1950 and 1951. He was a Red Cross swimming instructor at Pebble Lake and worked for the Fergus Falls city park department.

He said people always were gracious, even inviting Red Sox team members to Sunday dinner. DeWitt enjoyed the beauty of Fergus Falls and the lakes of Otter Tail County.

With DeWitt back in town, Oyloe and three other members from the town baseball state title team from 63 years ago will attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at the Fergus Falls American Legion. They include Roland Harlow, Ed Bernardi and Fred Kroog.

Another former player, Hal Younghans, lives in the Twin Cities but is unable to attend due to health reasons. Deceased members of the team are Jim McNulty, Don Blasius, John Kelly, Duane Baglien and Joe Colasinski.

The 1950 Fergus Falls Red Sox defeated Austin 3-0 in the state championship game in St. Cloud. A member of the Austin team was future New York Yankee star Bill “Moose” Skowron. Oyloe pitched the title game for Fergus Falls and twice struck out Skowron.

Oyloe, DeWitt and the other Red Sox players were given a victory parade through downtown Fergus Falls.

“It was quite a thrill for a 21-year-old kid like me,” said DeWitt.

DeWitt lettered in three different sports while attending Texas A&M. This outstanding athlete played baseball, basketball and track for the Aggies from 1949 to 1952.

He looks back on a military career that included U.S. Air Force service from August 1952 to August 1954. He served as a First Lt.

DeWitt holds a civil engineering degree from Texas A&M.

His pro baseball career included 1955 play in Class B at Harlingen, Texas, part of the Big State League. He was a freshman basketball coach for Texas A&M in 1955, 1956 and 1957.

DeWitt and his wife, Lynn, have been married for 56 years. They have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren.

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