SHABBONA – The best memories are the ones we can share with those who made them.
The Shabbona High School baseball team was playing a game against Lee many years ago when a player on the Lee team, Moose Johnson, got beaned in the head by a fast ball that sailed high into the stands. Rather than going down, as everyone expected, Johnson stared dumbfounded at the pitcher.
“I didn’t know you could throw that hard,” he called.
That was one of many stories that sailed around the dining room at Indian Oaks Country Club in Shabbona on Oct. 12, when 10 members of the 1948-49 SHS baseball team reunited for the first time. The gathering of “The Boys of Summer” was organized by R.J. Schweiger, who thought “it might be more fun” to see his old teammates than to attend his 65th high school reunion, held earlier this year.
“It was kind of hard organizing this from Alabama,” said Schweiger, who lives 900 miles away in Hurtsboro. “But some of the guys still live in Shabbona. Ed (Friestad, who lives in DeKalb), helped me a lot. A couple have passed away, so I’m just tickled to death to see as many of them as I can.”
Andy Anderson said the teammates were all close, and those who live in the area still keep in touch.
“We were a really good ball team,” he said. “I remember all the games.”
Averaging 10.2 runs a game, the 1949 Indians won the district championship and advanced into the sectional, where they were eliminated by St. Bede, 4-0. At that time, the tournament had just one class, rather than the four that exist today, pitting Shabbona – which had a graduating class of 24 in 1949 – against much bigger schools. Many team members proudly pointed out that the feat earned the entire team a place in the SHS hall of fame.
One of the better players was Friestad, who recorded both a perfect game and a 3-0 no-hitter against Leland.
“He wouldn’t have gotten a perfect game if it wasn’t for me,” boasted Jim O’Kane, who played second base.
“I had no idea I had a no-hitter until it was over and everyone came running up to me,” Friestad said. “I was just concerned with getting the ball over the plate.”
Friestad credited some of his success to Anderson, who he called the “greatest center fielder in the whole state.”
“He was fast and covered a big territory,” Friestad recalled. “He saved me a lot of earned runs. I can still see him making all those great catches.”
“They could both throw hard,” catcher Schweiger said.
A natural lefty, Schweiger had to turn a right-handed catcher’s mitt inside out because there were no left-handed mitts back then. Knowing there wasn’t much of a future for a left-handed catcher, Schweiger became a pitcher after high school, eventually earning a tryout with the White Sox.
“I had a couple of trick pitches, but I couldn’t throw hard enough for them,” he said. “Even back then, they wanted you to throw 95 miles an hour.”
The men, all in their early 80s, may have taken a moment or two to recognize some of their former teammates, but other than a few troubles with hearing or with backs and knees, they and their stories were in pretty good shape.
Ed Houghtby, who said he only weighed 93 pounds when he played, recalled being in the outfield when someone shouted, “Hey, Bones, get out from behind that dandelion so we can see you.”
John Jossendal remembered doubling in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against Waterman.
“We had a hard time beating Waterman in anything,” Jossendal said. “I was pretty fast. Peterson, our coach, told me to take a big lead.”
Following that advice, Jossendal said he stole third and then home on the next two pitches to score the only run in their 1-0 win.
“We lived baseball,” Anderson said. “Shabbona was a baseball town.”
The men said the only other sports they knew about were basketball and softball, which they also played.
“We didn’t know anything about hockey,” Friestad said.
Along with hidden ball tricks and 32-mph fast balls, there were stories about people they knew, deceased teammates, cherry bombs and Halloween pranks.
“We had fun on the field and some mischievous fun off of it,” Schweiger said. “If I pulled some of the things today I did then, I’d be arrested for being a terrorist.”
There were so many stories, in fact, Harold Herrmann admitted he couldn’t remember them all.