Editor's Note: “A Look at Times Gone By” is an in-depth look at weekly Times Gone By entries compiled since 2015. These articles will appear in each edition as local teams anticipate new seasons, whenever they should resume.
There's no debate in Frank Korshoj's mind.
Time on the 1949 Blair Junior American Legion baseball team was very well spent.
“Greatest summer of my life,” the 87-year-old Herman man said last week.
Bob Sheets was fond of it himself.
“We had good times,” he added.
Post 154 qualified for the Class B state tournament that summer under coach Clark King — Blair's first ever qualification. The baseball squad spent a few days in Aurora, squeezed in a 1-0, extra-inning victory, and finished third overall.
Town newspapers didn't hold back. The Pilot-Tribune wrote that those boys delivered the “most successful season in Blair's Legion ball history.”
Earning their way
Korshoj and Sheets still recognize the names from that 71-year-old Blair baseball team.
Jack and Bill Bennett were brothers, Charles Pedersen was a slugger and Jim Hansen went only by his nickname — Fat.
“He was our catcher and he was fat,” Korshoj said with a chuckle.
Sheets confirmed that his former teammate went only by that moniker.
Coach King, meanwhile, was personable and lovable. A leader looking out for his players.
“We had a pretty good team,” Sheets said.
But not one without its ups and downs.
Game reports show Post 154 losing one game by a 12-1 score before rebounding with a 20-8 victory. It also suffered a 15-5 loss to Oakland in which it had 11 errors.
However, as the team built up steam through the season, it got better. On July 21, it topped Lyons 28-7 with Jack Bennett, Steve Sutton, Pedersen, Hansen and Gunnar Nyholm notching two hits apiece.
A little more than a week later, Blair was ready for postseason play as evidenced by its 11-10 district win against Bellevue. Richard Jensen scored the winning run on a wild pitch that started him running off of first base. After the catcher's throw to second wound up in centerfield, he scored.
The win sent Post 154 to Tekamah for the Area Tournament with a state trip on the line.
The Blair outfit lost its opener to Winside, leading to a stern message from King.
“We did not come up here to lose,” Korshoj recalls his coach saying.
Sure enough, King's team earned its way back to the title game, and despite being outhit 13-7, it earned revenge against Winside to clinch a state spot.
“After many dry years, the Blair Legion came through last night to win the Area A tourney over Winside 9-6,” the newspaper read the next day.
On to state
Before heading to Aurora for the state tournament, a newspaper column reported that the Blair Legion boys gathered at Hugh Cooke's store back home. There, the sportswriter witnessed Alfred Sick, the father of player Gordon Sick, as the most excited for the trip.
The tournament before in Tekamah, when Blair lost to Winside, Alfred told the writer he'd be staying home to avoid jinxing the team in Area competition. The father later admitted at Cooke's he couldn't keep his word and watched Post 154 win two straight in person.
King, meanwhile, was unable to make the trip to Aurora with his team, so Moose Zimmerman took over as coach.
“Moose was a good guy,” Sheets said Wednesday.
So, too, were the folks in Aurora who housed the Blair players through their state stay. The team didn't check-in at a hotel, instead splitting up and hunkering down each night in private homes.
“It was kind of weird, but they treated us nice,” Sheets recalled.
“They were so good to us,” Korshoj added.
A team from the western Nebraska town of Minatare, meanwhile, did not welcome Blair to state nearly as warmly. It bested Post 154 12-0 in the opener, scoring eight of those runs in just one inning.
Like it had during the year, though, Blair responded. It played even, 0-0 baseball with Guide Rock through seven innings before Nyholm reached first base in the eighth on an infield error. He stole second base and was driven in by Korshoj, who tallied the game's lone RBI.
It stands as Blair's first-ever state Legion win.
Unfortunately, Post 154's state victory was also its last of '49. Despite three Sheets strikeouts, a Pedersen homer and a Korshoj triple, Post 154 lost to Minatare for a second time that tourney. This time, though, the game was a lost closer — 6-4.
So, when all was said and done, Blair finished third at the state championships in Aurora. The hosts were first and Minatare was second.
The 'greatest summer'
Baseball earned a lot of Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise print during the summer of 1949.
The Blair Nitehawks town team of the Eastern Nebraska League earned the most, while the Negro Leagues' Kansas City Monarchs and New York Black Yankees garnered their own for visits that year.
The Legion team, meanwhile, earned a paragraph or two at time on its way to the state tournament. Its run set the foundation, however, for a team that earned a runner-up finish in 1950, and eventually dominated the 1980s and 1990s.