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Baseball at Bancroft Memorial Park - page 3 / 4





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"The ones who were waiting would come up to the house if the fellow inside stayed too long and yell, `Hey, his time's up,'" said Mary Menke, Denis' mother. "It was quite a scene."

Thirty-three scouts attended Menke's final high school game, a 6-2 victory over Mason City for the 1958 spring state championship. Two days after he graduated, Menke signed with the Milwaukee Braves for $125,000 and spent 13 years in the majors with the Braves, Astros and Reds.

"The big thing was, we had a chance to play in basically a pretty nice ballpark in high school and Legion ball," said Menke, now the Reds' bench coach. "I remember being a bat boy when my dad was playing in the Iowa State League. I was 10 years old then and I had kind of grown up with that ballpark.

"I also remember working on the field when I was in high school," he said. "That was part of the job if you were going to play there."

Still is.

Elsbecker has his players assemble at Memorial Park at 2:45 p.m. for a 6 p.m. game. Before they pick up a ball or a bat, they rake and water the infield and pitcher's mound.

"Their dedication from that point of view is amazing," he said. "When the kids work on the field, it helps them take part ownership of our park. They want to protect it and play as well as they can."

While the park has stood as a monument to the town's tradition, so did one of its main occupants: V.J. "Vince" Meyer. Except for a stint in the Army during World War II, Meyer coached baseball at St. John from 1935 through 1981, winning 1,105 games and six state championships.

He was St. John baseball.

"No matter what you talk about in baseball history and St. John and Bancroft, a lot that goes back to him and what he did," said Gene Meister, who played on a state championship team at St. John in 1964 and coached the Johnnies to state titles in 1985 and 1986.

"With him, it was a lot more than baseball," said Meister, now the coach at Algona Garrigan. "There were a lot of lessons that as you get older, you start to absorb a lot more. And then to play in a park like that with all the history and all the feeling, it was worth a run or two every night."

The park isn't used nearly as much as in the past. Once there was high school baseball in

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