Marking passage of time: Local team’s 1957 championship provided inspiration
Like many other subscribers my age, I open my morning Mirror and immediately turn to the obituaries, yes, even prior to the sports page.
In recent months, I was saddened to read two very recognizable names, which brought back a rush of special memories.
First, our most sincere condolences to the families of Larry Stoltenberg and Ed Hoover. Just a little over 60 years ago, these two then aspiring young athletes were key contributing members of 1957 Altoona and National Amateur Baseball Federation national championship team.
If a group could claim the NABF title back in the day with opponents like Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit and Philadelphia etc., the title was assuredly well earned.
Stoltenberg was the starting pitcher in the final game, and if not the winning pitcher on record, he was the major factor in a dramatic extra inning 1-0 Altoona win.
Hoover was Altoona’s starting first baseman, a lefty all the way. He was an excellent hitter and fielder, plus a quality all-around athlete.
Some other names that come to mind are Whittaker, Berry, Foor, Lower, Irwin, DeCaspers, Hess, Rupert, Ingram, Hall and the Lanes — Tom and Jim.
Masterful leadership was provided by manager Milt Neuman and coaches Bob and Bill Burchfield. They squeezed the best from the Altoona roster and seemed to push all the right buttons.
In my early teens, I followed the team’s progress with a passionate interest. My initial incentive was to follow Williamsburg’s Galen Hall and Eldon Lower, but like the rest of Blair County, I was soon caught up in the frenzied enthusiasm for the hometown nine.
It was a beautiful August Saturday afternoon, as an overflow crowd poured into the old Cricket Field for the finale. One could have sliced the building anticipation and tension with a proverbial butter knife.
Remarkably, Altoona qualified for the title game by virtue of a win over Philadelphia that same morning. Facing their eighth contest in four days, the exhausted hosts declined to warm up for the title game against Louisville.
They chose, instead, to rest and simply took the field at game time.
My father, along with me, and his co-workers from the Altoona News Agency were required to stand behind a roped-off section in left-center field. Dad wanted me there for the potential motivation and inspiration it might provide. It did.
The home plate umpire was Altoona’s iconic Dick Bickel.
A steady, poised and determined Stoltenberg started and worked through nine scoreless innings, escaping several serious jams. With battery mate Fritz Whittaker calling an excellent game and the team defense rising to the occasion, Altoona would ultimately prevail.
Bill Ingram was called in from the bullpen to work the top of the 10th inning.
Louisville pitcher Willie (or Whitey) Hofmeister, no-hit Altoona for nine innings, but a victory would still elude him. Hall later confided their crafty lefty had a rising fastball, one that sunk and one that cut, plus an assortment of breaking balls.
Still 0-0 going into the bottom of the 10th, Tom Lane (yes, later the BG basketball coaching wizard), led off by cracking a double to right. Lane was erased at third when a sacrifice bunt failed. Next, a possible double play ball was bounced to short, the Louisville fielder handled it cleanly and flipped it to second for out number two.
But with Altoona’s Bobbie Irwin bearing down hard on second and executing a clean, aggressive slide, the visitors’ second sacker launched a wild throw to first.
An alert Carl DeCaspers, a center fielder with good speed, raced from second and around third, crossing the plate with the game’s only run.
It happened quickly and unexpectedly, and a few seconds elapsed before the crowd reacted. Then, pandemonium resigned and a spontaneous celebration unfolded. DeCaspers recalls,” I almost lost my life that day after crossing home plate as celebrants piled on me from every angle.”
For a weekend, all of Blair County rejoiced together. How many times has that happened since?
Sometimes, life comes full circle.
In 1961, in Altoona, and again in Louisville, Ky., in 1962, it was my pleasure to compete with the Altoona entry in the NABF tournaments. There was no national title in those years, but it was definitely an honor to represent the city on the national stage.
So here’s to one last hurrah for the 1957 NABF champs, and thank you for the inspiring and enduring memories that have lasted a lifetime.
Appleman resides in Williamsburg. He occasionally contributes to Voice of the Fan.