Great players spur Hastings Loesch’s Bar to championship run in the 1960s

Written by Bob on February 3rd, 2017

Loesch’s Bar of Hastings, Minnesota won two state championships during the 1960s, along with numerous tournaments. Team members holding the tournament trophies they won are from left, Jim Schnieder (deceased), Walt Nelson ( deceased), Clayt McNamara, Dave Amy ( deceased), Pat Orman, unknown player, Dick Bacon, Curt Thalburg, Don Amy, Gene Hageman, Larry McNamara, Dave Bacon and Tom Niederkorn. Bat boys, Kirk Van Guilder, left, and Tom Schneider. Missing are manager Red Van Guilder (deceased) and Tom Swanson. Photo Courtesy of Steve Nelson.

HASTINGS, Minn. – It takes talent to make a fastpitch team great, and back in the 1960s Hastings was brimming with it.

Located 25 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, small town Hastings (pop. 8,000 in 1960) produced outstanding players such as twins Don and Dave Amy; brothers Jack and Tom Swanson, Curt Thalberg, Gary Kordosky, Larry McNamara, Gene Hageman, Tom Niederkorn and Walt Nelson.

They put Hastings on the ‘fastpitch’ map by winning big games and big tournaments throughout the state.

But the biggest prize was winning the Amateur Softball Association state tournament. And in 1961, 1964 and 1965, Hastings teams brought home the championship trophy, along with finishing runner-up twice, 1962 and 1966.

However, one Hastings team stood out: Loesch’s Bar which won the 1964 and 1965 titles and finished runner-up in 1966.

    NELSON MANS THE RUBBER

As the team’s catcher, Gene Hageman marveled how good the team was – from its solid hitting, 1-through-9 lineup, to its defense and pitching. Though each player filled a vital role, Walt Nelson – the ace of the pitching staff – was the integral cog that made winning championships possible.

“Walt had grit,” said Hageman. “No one was going to beat him. I would set the glove and he would hit it. His best pitch was his drop ball. In some tournaments, we played up to seven games and Walt would pitch most of them. He could throw all day.”

The team played upwards of 50 to as many as 85 games a season with Nelson hurling most of those games.

Like all great athletes, Nelson excelled when it counted most. When the state tournament rolled around in August, he was at his best. In leading his team to those championships, Nelson was selected all-tournament three times, and he was awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy in the 1965 state tournament.

Nelson, who moved to Hastings in 1961 from Ohio, is estimated to have won over 300 games in Minnesota before he retired in 1972. (Ohio statistics unavailable.)

    MAN OF MANY TALENTS

Nelson had plenty of support in piling up the wins. Tom Niederkorn for one. The rangy speedster could play anywhere. He roved between catching, pitching and playing second base. But it’s in centerfield where he excelled.

With his speed, Niederkorn often tracked down line drives headed for the gaps, or made shoestring catches of soft-sinking bloopers just before the ball touched grass.

Offensively, the left-side hitting Niederkorn was a triple threat. He could drive the ball over the fence, or send it screaming like a rocket into the gaps. And with his explosive jump out of the box, he would lay down a bunt to start an inning, or a sacrifice to advance a runner.

“Niederkorn had great speed,” said Tom Swanson, 74, the ball club’s second baseman. “He would take the extra base and he could steal. He had this play when he hit the ball to the outfield; he would go half-way to second and stop. The outfielder would fire to first base, and Tom would take second. He was a great all-around player. One of the best in the state.”

When his career finally wound down in 1974, Niederkorn had been named to the state tournament, all-tournament team five times.

    LOESCH’S BEATS KINGPIN

As for league play, Hastings had a six to eight team city league that was competitive. But in 1966, Loesch’s Bar entered the rugged Twin City Metropolitan League in St. Paul that featured eminent ball clubs such as Whitaker Buick, American Trailer, Morelli’s-Hillcrest, Cloggy’s and Otto’s Liquors.

In Loesch’s very first league game, they squared off against the most powerful team in the state and upper Midwest: Whitaker Buick. Nelson was matched up against world-class pitcher, Al DeWall.

Nelson spun a two-hitter and Niederkorn blasted a two-run homer to lead Loesch’s to a 3-2 victory over the mighty St. Paul Juggernaut.

To this day, that game is a memory that Niederkorn cherishes.

“That was a big deal for us,” said Niederkorn, now 78, who began his fastpitch career at 16. “After we beat them we were 10-feet off the ground.”

Whitaker Buick was so impressed with Niederkorn’s performance that they signed him not long after and he played from 1970 to 1974 with the club.

    1965 A SPECIAL YEAR

When asked about other cherished memories, he says winning the 1965 state championship was quite a thrill. And once again, he credits his pitcher for making it happen.

“Walt had a great rise ball going,” Niederkorn said. “He was a competitor and he could throw the ball by a lot of hitters.”

Nelson had a huge tournament pitching all six games with relief help from Niederkorn. But in the finals, it was all Nelson. He allowed three runs over the final two games in beating Tri City, 7-1, to gain the A championship, and then downing New Ulm, 3-2, for the overall state title.

It was one of the few times that a Class A team beat a AA team for the state championship. Loesch’s Bar finished the season with a 41-9 record.

Nelson was just as impressive in the 1964 state tournament. He fired a four-hitter over eight innings in defeating defending state champion Cloquet, 2-0, for the Class A title, and in the semifinals, he held Grand Rapids to one hit in an 8-0 victory.

“Wally was the equal of any pitchers I saw in Minnesota or Ohio,” said Gary Kordosky, who moved to Ohio after playing for Loesch’s Bar from 1961 to 1963. “He was the equal of Wayne Erickson (Scandia pitcher and Minnesota Softball Hall of Famer). They were on par. Two really good pitchers.”

In 1966, Loesch’s Bar was back in the state tournament and won its first three games with Jack Swanson and Nelson sharing the pitching duties, combining on a no-hitter and three-hitter, before Nelson had a complete-game, one-hitter, in the third game. But it was not to be as Lake Lillian emerged as the champion.

    FRITZ AND ARNIE LOVE THEIR TEAM

But all those championships wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a sponsor willing to pay the cost of running a first-class ball club. The players say that brothers Frank “Fritz” and Arnie Loesch supported the team – not only with their wallets – but they were fastpitch fans as well.

“Fritz and Arnie were good sponsors,” Niederkorn said. “They were big fans of the team. When one was working at the bar the other one would be at our game. They enjoyed being at our games.”

During the ball club’s rein, Red Van Guilder managed the team. He was instrumental in recruiting and molding the team together.

“He just loved the game and was responsible for getting us together,” Hageman said.

    OUTSTANDING MINNESOTA TOURNEYS

For the Hastings players, those were great days, great memories, great times. They recall gearing up on Friday’s to hit the tournament circuit. They didn’t have to travel far. Red Wing, just 25 miles east was one of the most popular, drawing teams from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Red Wing was real big for us,” Hageman said. “I remember one time we played seven games in that tournament. I think we played in every (Red Wing) tournament from 1960 to 1970.”

And every year, the ball club competed in tournaments at Rochester, Austin, Winona, Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna. Often, Loesch’s Bar was playing late on Sundays battling for a championship.

“Faribault and Owatonna were two of the biggest,” Niederkorn said. “I think Owatonna had over 50 teams and we won it twice.”

    REMEMBERING BROTHER JACK’S EXPLOITS

For Tom Swanson, 74, those were special times playing alongside his late brother Jack, who in his own right was a standout pitcher. In fact, Jack Swanson was at his best in pitching Hastings to runner-up in the 1962 Class A state tournament.

Nelson and Swanson were a formidable pitching duo. Each threw shutouts with Nelson blanking Northfield 4-0 and West Hennepin, 5-0, while Swanson put a 2-0 goose egg on Mountain Lake on a three-hitter. Though he took a 1-0 loss in the title game, Swanson held Cloquet to just two hits.

But Tom Swanson’s fondest memory was of his brother dethroning a king.

“I remember my brother beating Eddie Feigner in front of a lot of fans when the King and His Court came to town, he said.”

Memories? The men of the golden age of Loesch’s Bar fastpitch have a million they could share.

Gary Kordosky remembers as a young boy starting out as the bat boy, then playing for Bierstube before hooking on with Loesch’s.

“I remember one game when Bierstube played Loesch’s and Nelson threw a no-hitter, and Jack Swanson had a one-hitter for Loesch’s,” Kordosky said, who was with Bierstube at the time. “Niederkorn scored the only run and I had the only hit.”

Hageman paid homage to his teammates, saying that McNamara was a vacuum-cleaner at third base; that Tom Swanson at second, was “Mr. Glove,” and could hit with power and finesse, and that Don Amy at shortstop and brother Dave at first were blessed with fielding prowess.

For Don Amy, 79, those wonderful fastpitch years of the 1960s are now fond memories of battling the great Cloquet teams with pitchers Bobo Johnson and Larry Anderson; and unforgettable were the encounters with Scandia and pitcher Wayne Erickson.

One Amy’s fondest times was when he and his late brother Dave, “hit back-to-back home runs to win a game, and I remember my brother hitting a home run off Al DeWall in Faribault.”

    TEAM’S LEGACY OF GREAT PLAYERS

For Steve Nelson, his fondest memories were as a youngster watching his dad pitch. Walt Nelson passed away in 2003 at 72, but fortunately Tom Swanson kept a scrapbook with some of the team’s press clippings. Recently Steve was able to reminisce about that incredible time is his dad’s life.

And there’s a team photo and the Most Valuable Player trophy awarded to his dad in the 1965 state tournament that have become cherished jewels of that treasured time.

Yes, his father was a great pitcher, but Nelson is quick to credit Niederkorn, the Swanson and Amy brothers, Hageman, Thalburg and Kordosky, along with so many others for all those tournament victories and state championships during the incredible era of Hastings fastpitch of the 1960s.

“There were outstanding players on the team, stellar players during their title years,” said Nelson. “It was a pretty impressive run!”

Yes it was.

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Gary Kordosky says:

    Because I left Hastings when I attended graduate school at Ohio State in the summer of 1964 I was not part of the great Loesch’s 64 – 66 teams.

    In addition my memory of the great game between Loesch’s and the Bierstube cited in your was that Wally Nelson threw a no hitter for the Bierstube with Jack Swanson throwing a one hitter for Loesch’s. I had the only hit for the Bierstube and Tom Niederkorn scored the only run.

  2. Bob says:

    Got it corrected Gary, thanks for the clarification.

Leave a Comment