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Baseball at Bancroft Memorial Park

BANCROFT, Iowa (AP) – For as long as anyone can remember, baseball and Bancroft have gone hand in glove.

Fathers played the game, their sons took it up as soon as they could hold a bat and their sons' sons did the same. On and on it went, one generation following another, through times of depression and bounty, through years of war and years of peace.

"We were bred into baseball," said Dave Schiltz, who played on state championship teams at Bancroft St. John High School in the 1950s.

So strong was that breeding that the community of 1,000 that sprouts from the rich farmland of northern Iowa produced two players good enough to reach the major leagues: pitcher Joe Hatten and infielder Denis Menke.

And over on the east side, where Joe Hatten Boulevard crosses Ramsey, stands Bancroft Memorial Park, 50 years old this summer, an enduring symbol of the game for which the town is known.

Walk into the ballpark and you almost expect to see ghost players from "Field of Dreams" shagging flyballs and taking batting practice.

The horseshoe-shaped wooden grandstand is roofed and has a small pressbox on top. The park sports a fresh coat of green paint, part of a recent $40,000 refurbishment. A board fence surrounds the park and light towers stand like sentinels on the plain. The infield and outfield grass is neatly cut, the infield dirt is raked just so.

It's no Coors Field, but Bancroft Memorial Park has provided a big-time atmosphere for thousands of small-town players.

"I remember when I was a little kid, that's what you dreamed about _ playing for the Johnnies on that field," said Tom Elsbecker, a former St. John star. "You'd see the older kids playing and those were the kind of guys you idolized.

"When you practiced, you'd imagine you were them," he said. "That's what growing up in Bancroft was all about."

Memorial Park, named in honor of those killed in the two world wars, opened on June 1, 1948. Since then, it has been home to 15 state championship teams, including eight high school titles by St. John, four by the town's American Legion team and one by its semipro team.

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