JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Don Hoak

OK, here’s a true story about the beauty of living long enough to be a part of the technological revolution of the 21st century. Read: Facebook.

Last week, Lillian became Facebook Friends with a mutual friend of ours from our separate earlier lives, Rick Watson. In a note to her, he mentioned an old story I had recounted to him years and years ago that goes like this.

It was 1960, I was 12, living in a big old house in Hettinger, N.D., a house that sat on four city lots that used up about half a block. The house was on one of the lots, and the lot beside it to the west had a big old cottonwood tree in which we had built a treehouse. Behind that was the lot with the barn on it, and next to that was the neighborhood baseball field. It was the best place a father could ever give a son to grow up on. Thank you, Dad.

On the other end of the block was the Reinke house, home to my best friend for a couple of summers, Max Reinke. Max and I hung out a lot. There were two houses in between us, the Beaumonts and the Stedjes.

The Stedje boys, David and Philip, were older than us, the Beaumont kids, Mark and Ron, younger, so we didn’t play with them much, although I think they did join in the regular baseball games.

There were a lot of boys around my age in our neighborhood then — within one block of our house lived Meisners, Petersons, Erdmans, Ladwigs, Clements and Marions — enough boys (no girls allowed) that we could usually get up a game with five or six players on a team, and we had some good games.

We also collected baseball cards — remember them? A penny a card — and a stick of bubble gum in each one. Nickel packs had six cards, with just one stick of gum, although it was bigger than the penny sticks.

If you were a serious collector — and Max and I, as a team, were serious — you tried for every card. If, by World Series time, you had every single card, which would be more than 500 with all the players and coaches, all-star and team picture cards and checklists, you’d be the envy of every kid in town. It took every penny of our measly allowances — which meant we had to forsake Milk Duds and Will’s Sunflower Seeds — to end up with all the cards.

The cards were issued throughout the summer in series, so as each new series came out, you tried to get every card in that series. You often got duplicates, so from time to time, you’d set up trading sessions with other collectors who had a duplicate of a card you didn’t have. That went on all summer.

Each year, it seemed, for some mysterious reason, there’d be a shortage of one or two particular cards. In 1960, in Hettinger, one of the missing cards was Don Hoak, third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates (who went on to win the World Series that fall on Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the Series).

That summer, for the first time ever, Max and I managed to get every card as the season neared an end, except for one — Don Hoak. Then, one day shortly before school started (note to the North Dakota High School Activities and School Board Associations: It started after Labor Day back then, and we turned out all right), Max and I got Don Hoak, the last card in our collection for the year.

We were sitting out in our yard, looking through our cards, gloating over Don Hoak to anyone who came by, when Philip Stedje came walking over. He was a collector, and did not have Don Hoak. Philip was also a “big kid,” a couple of years older — and taller and heavier than us.

We flouted it just a bit too much, Philip got very mad, grabbed it out of my hand, and RIPPED IT IN HALF! I don’t think we cried, but we were certainly in shock as he left. I think we Scotch Taped it back together as best we could and put it in its proper spot with the rest of the Pirates, but it certainly spoiled our amazing achievement of getting all the cards. It almost never happened in Hettinger, and it took a little bit of the glow off. Our complete collection now had one ripped card in it.

Still, we had done it. Now, because we were co-owners of this collection, we had the problem of determining who was going to possess it. Long discussions ensued, and we came up with the perfect solution: We boxed it, wrapped it in plastic, dug a hole, and buried it in the side yard of our house, just east and a little south of the tree house.

I can pretty much still see the location in my mind’s eye. It was going to be our own personal time capsule, a treasure to be dug up after many years and maybe provide a fortune for our older years.

And then, like all kids, we moved on. Our family actually bought a house in the north part of town and moved. Max and I drifted apart. Philip went away, to Concordia, I think — his family was very important in the Lutheran Church. I graduated from high school a year or so before Max did, went off to Dickinson (N.D.) State College. Max turned out to be a pretty good athlete, and I think went to UND, and then became a basketball coach.

The cards, as best I knew, remained buried and forgotten. I think Max went and dug them up, though, some years later. Seems to me one of his brothers told me that at a Hettinger reunion.

But back to Facebook. Rick had asked Lillian to ask me about the baseball cards in a Facebook note. I got curious and went and looked on Facebook for Max. Sure enough, there he was. He has a skeleton of a page. I requested that he become my Facebook Friend this morning. No response yet.

Then I wondered about his big brother, Rod, so I typed in his name. Yep, there he was, too. I requested he become my Friend. And then I glanced at Rod’s list of Friends, and guess who was right at the top: Philip Stedje! So I asked him to become my Friend, too.

Now I’ll wait to see if I get any response from the Reinke homes or the Stedje home. I hope so. I think Philip at least owes me a glass of wine for that dirty thing he did 50 years ago this summer. And Max — well, he might just owe me for half the value of those baseball cards. I’m retired now, just like we dreamed of 50 years ago. I could use the money.

Footnote: This blog was written nearly six years ago. Since then, Max and Rod Reinke and Phil Stedje have become my Facebook friends, and we were all reunited at Rod and Max’s mom’s funeral a couple of years ago. Phil did not bring up the baseball card story. Neither did I.

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