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The First Baseball Game

Updated: 4 days ago

Long before the Range Riders threw their first pitch, Whitefish residents spent their summers watching and playing America's favorite pastime - baseball!

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Spring is in the air in Whitefish and the baseball diamonds in town are bustling with kids, parents, and umpires playing America's favorite pastime - baseball! This month's Stumptown Stories traces the crack of the bat back 117 years to the first baseball game in Whitefish.


Whitefish baseball started in 1906 when murmurs around town began to circulate about a scheme to bring baseball to town. Rumors fly around small towns all the time, but the baseball diamond moved from hopes and dreams to reality when the biggest business in town agreed to pay for the field and the grandstand. The Great Northern Railway was bringing baseball to Whitefish!


Great Northern Railroad, who employed most of the men who wanted the baseball field, agreed to finance the clearing and building of a field and the grandstands. However, they faced a problem right away: what should they do about the stumps? This newsletter is called "Stumptown Stories" for a good reason: Whitefish used to be overrun with stumps!


The search for a good piece of non-"stump-land" continued throughout the summer and fall of 1906. When the spring of 1907 broke in the Flathead Valley, the plans for a baseball diamond hit another roadblock: Great Northern dropped out and wouldn't pay for it anymore.


 

The Community Rallies with $417

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In April 1907, people started hitting the streets to drum up support for Whitefish baseball. Losing the funding from Great Northern was a setback, but it didn't do anything to quench Whitefish's appetite for a baseball field.


Community support was easy to get! When they had their first town hall meeting, they easily formed a baseball committee and raised $417 via subscriptions. F.B. Grinnell donated a piece of "stump-land" east of the Whitefish Pilot offices to the cause in addition to leading the cash donations with $50. Whitefish baseball was back!


Work on the land began immediately with Dick Peloquin clearing the stumps for $300 at the beginning of May. By the middle of May, the field was ready! The Whitefish Fly Catchers took to their new field for a schedule of heated games against local teams the summer of 1907.


 

The First Baseball Game

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The first baseball game on the new field was the Whitefish men's team against a team of players drafted from the Whitefish band boys. The men's team won 20-2. It may not have been the most fair game, but it did wonders for the men's team's confidence!


Several hundred people turned out to see that first baseball game! The field wasn't pretty (it had been a bunch of stumps and roots two weeks beforehand) and there were no seats because the bandstands had not been built yet. All of those people enjoyed quite the spectacle though as the game was filled with misadventures! To start, the umpire (G. M. Hayden) arrived on the field, "with a good sized arsenal of firearms on his person, and thus reinforced his decisions so that the game was put through with about the usual amount of squabbling." The only one who dared to defy Hayden's authority was the dog who ran away with the ball partway through the game!


The Whitefish men's team, dubbed the Whitefish Fly Catchers that year, went on to play several competitive games that summer. In their first official game, Whitefish defeated Badrock 21-1 in front of a crowd of 500 people. Whitefish would later lose to Kalispell 8-1, but defeat the brand-new Columbia Falls team 5-3.


The summer of 1907 was filled with all sorts of fun at the Whitefish baseball diamond including a Married Men vs Single Men game (the Marrieds prevailed 13-12). At the end of the summer though, the baseball fever had worn off and the Whitefish Pilot resorted to printing frequent pleas to fill the men's team, "Has anyone found a pitcher? If so, please notify the Pilot office."


 

Championship Baseball

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40 years later, Whitefish baseball was hitting strong and bringing home championships! The team pictured above (commonly called the "The Lakesiders") was a force on the diamond. The Lakesiders took a 7-2 record into the championship game against Ronan on August 22, 1948.


Ronan and the Lakesiders played the championship in Whitefish, which was the first tournament played here. It was a tight game until the bottom of the 9th inning when Whitefish stepped up to bat with the score tied at 4-4. Bob Anderson crushed a triple, which brought Ray Klem flying across home plate to secure the win!


In the photo above, here are the player names and positions. Front Row (L to R): Bobby Taylor (bat boy), Moss Muraoka (2nd base), Dick Fly (catcher), Harold Schoonemaker (3rd Base), Bob Anderson (shortstop), Jimmy Taylor (manager). Back Row (L to R): Tak Muroaka (pitcher and centerfield), Harry Hileman (right field), Don Conat (first base), Karl Kemppainen (left field), Bill Donegan (center/right field), Ray Klem (3rd base), Scotty Hilton (pitcher). Also on the team but not in the photo: Frank Rousseau (right field), Wayne Swenson (catcher), and Neil McNeilly (pitcher).


 

Can't forget about Pee Wee Baseball!

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Recognize anyone in this photo? Who knows - you might even be in it! This is the 1955 Haines Drug Store Pee Wee team. The Whitefish Pee Wee league started in 1953 and added uniforms in 1954. Whitefish residents were excited to expand the program to 4 teams in 1955: Haines Drug Store, Pastime, Harlow Chevrolet, and Lions Club team.


Frank Haswell and Don Conat coached the Haines Drug Store team to a solid 8-2 record during the summer of 1955. That record put them in first place and into the league championship in August.


The Harlow Chevrolet team (2nd in the standings that year) played a good game in the championship, but they couldn't overcome the skilled Haines Drug Store players. Haines won the game 13-9 under the lights at Memorial Field.


 

Building the Grandstands

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Do you recognize these? They're still in Whitefish today! Or, at least, a similar grandstand exists in the same place as this one. We don't have a date on this photo, but we believe it shows the construction of the first grandstand on the field at the corner of 2nd Street and Fir Avenue. This field was renamed to Memorial Field in honor of the WWII fallen and still carries that name today!


 

Japanese Baseball Comes to Town

This game between Waseda University and the Whitefish Baseball team was one of the most anticipated games in Whitefish baseball history! Extra seating and parking were constructed to handle the crowd. Sadly, it poured rain that day and the game had to be canceled.

 

Thank you for reading this month's Stumptown Stories newsletter about America's pastime in Whitefish!

-The team at the Stumptown Historical Society

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