League provides many memories

Published in the Janesville Gazette on Friday, June 3, 2005
By Todd Mishler
Special to the Gazette

Related Story - Evansville gets back into area baseball league after leaving it 25 years ago

EVANSVILLE-Terry Bund roamed center field and led the Home Talent League in hitting with a .487 average in 1977.

He and several former members of the Evansville Merchants reminisced about their playing days in the '70s, why the team died and how happy they are to see a Home Talent rebirth in the community this summer.

"Even though some of the guys were four or five years older than I was, I followed them while I was growing up and knew who they were," Bund said. "You got to know everybody because most of them never moved away.

"We had two or three guys who went up to UW and were actually too good to be playing here,'' he said. "And even though we had a handful of younger guys, it was a problem finding enough of them to keep it going.

Evansville's Tim Legler is part of the 'expansion' Home Talent League team, but many players remember the 'good ol' days' of the original Evansville teams.
Al Hoch/Gazette Staff

"We were all in our prime, and once most of us got to be 35 or 36, we didn't want to keep going, so the interest fell apart.'' Bund said. "I loved playing, so I still miss it. Time will tell, but it's great that people are interested again."

League records show that Evansville teams have been affiliated for 19 seasons, the most recent edition being involved from 1971-80. Its entrants have compiled a 154-122 mark, including a 2-2 record in two postseason appearances.

Gary Grossman (1971), Stan Zweifel (1972-76) and Bobby Hall (1977-80) managed the most recent local entrant. Hall graduated from high school with Bund and said they competed during a much simpler time.

"We had a pretty good following," he said. "We had a lot of young, sometimes brash guys that first year, but we calmed down after that.

"Sometimes we were more known for our off-the-field antics,'' Hall said. "I remember one time we showed up for a game and the home team only had eight guys. The ninth guy pulled up on a tractor, took off his cottonseed hat and went over to his spot at third base.

"We usually had 20 guys on the roster, and I think it was 25 the last year, but it was still tough getting enough players every week," Hall said. "The advent of softball and golf hurt us, and a lot of younger guys didn't want to commit to every Sunday afternoon.

"The older guys played religiously, kinda like the saying about if you're a baseball player, everything else is secondary."

That's the way it was for John Rasmussen, who patrolled the outfield and first base for four or five years, ending his run in 1978.

"I played ball throughout high school, and loving the game as I did, I joined the Home Talent team," said Rasmussen, who is now 53.

"We were an average team with a couple of guys who played in the all-star game,'' he said. "Mostly, we had fun, and after the game we went out for a few beers. We had about 50 fans show up, some regulars, guys who were too old to play or people who just liked watching baseball."

Rasmussen's son, Jeremy, has just finished his sophomore year at UW-Milwaukee and joined the new team. Chad Rasmussen is completing his sophomore year at Evansville High, and is a future prospect.

"When I heard we were going to have a team again, I thought about playing, but that lasted about 10 seconds," John Rasmussen said. "Baseball is still loved in this country. I hope it works and that people stay interested enough to keep it going."

Mike McElroy was a right-handed pitcher and first baseman who graduated from Evansville High in 1970. He also fondly remembers those years.

"We played and spent time together for about six months out of the year, most of us just out of school within a year or two," McElroy said. "We were usually pretty good and lost to Cottage Grove in the finals one year.

"But it's tough to keep a team going. We got older, and guys got tired of trying to sell the team, and we weren't getting many younger guys. People found excuses not to play."

Steve Ehle, who enjoyed two stints with the Merchants, wasn't one of them. He played his first two years with Oregon and joined Evansville for four years before moving to Texas. He returned and suited up the final two seasons the team was in town.

"It was a great atmosphere, a lot of camaraderie and joking around," Ehle said. "We had long rides, like going to Wiota, and we'd stop off and relive the games, the lies getting bigger with each stop.

"Baseball had been pretty strong in Evansville for many years, and that tradition carried on through Home Talent," Ehle added. "But eventually the numbers started dwindling, nobody stepped up to coach, and the interest dried up.

"My arm wore out, and I was running on empty,'' Ehle said. "At 32 or 33, I was too old to keep chucking it. But I'm happy to see they're playing again."

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