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Baseball at Bancroft Memorial Park - page 2 / 4

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St. John closed in 1989, but Bancroft youngsters still play winning baseball at the park. Many went to Swea City North Kossuth, which plays its home games at Memorial Park. Elsbecker is the coach there and guided North Kossuth to the last two Class 1A state championships.

"It always seemed like when you played in that park, you felt you were going to win," Elsbecker said. "You always talk about the gods of baseball, we always felt that if we hung around, we had a chance to win the game."

Many feel it's because of the ballpark that baseball kept going in Bancroft after the high school closed. If Bancroft had an ordinary field, North Kossuth might have played somewhere else, Schiltz said.

"Without our park, baseball here wouldn't be what it is today," said Schiltz, who was a high school teammate of Menke's and is now an insurance agent in town. "If they played over at Swea City, they'd still be good, but this makes it our ballpark."

The park was built after local businessman Joe Welp made a promise to some Bancroft players who were with the semipro team in Albert Lea, Minn. Among those players was Walt Menke, Denis' father, and Walt's brother, Johnny.

"We were sitting around drinking and he said, `If you come down and play in Bancroft, we'll build a ballpark,'" said Johnny Menke, who lives just beyond the park's leftfield fence. "That's how it got started – over a few drinks."

So the park was built, at a cost of $20,000 raised locally and with the help of hundreds of hours of volunteer work. The weekly Bancroft Register traced the progress at every step and urged its readers to get involved.

"If you have a spare day, or more or less, to spend time at the ballpark, there will be a job there for you," the paper said in its April 8, 1948 edition.

When the 10 85-foot light poles were installed, the Register called them the "finest set of flood lights in the state of Iowa."

Some 1,500 fans jammed the park for the first game, a 7-4 Albert Lea victory over a Bancroft team that featured the former Albert Lea players.

Denis Menke was 9 years old that day, just a youngster with big dreams. Eight years later, while playing for St. John, he became one of the nation's hottest young prospects _ maybe the hottest. So many scouts descended on the Menke farm north of town that Walt assigned them times to visit. While one was in the house, the others waited in the barnyard.

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