Hall of Famer keeps managing the game he loves

Written by Bob on April 15th, 2010

The Eidswold teams of the 1960s. Can you recognize some of the players?
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“We asked ourselves, ‘Who’s going to pitch?’” I had pitched an inning here and there, so I was it…” – Dick Taylor

FARMINGTON, MN – Dick Taylor knows this for certain – one less manager means one less team.

“If a manager walks away the whole team folds because nobody wants to take over,” said Taylor.

So year after year the 71-year-old Taylor keeps fielding the Raiders fastpitch softball team. His managerial career started in 1968. Not because he wanted to, but because he had to.

“I got roped into it,” he said with a chuckle.

2010 will mark his 35th year managing and playing in the Farmington League. And without the Raiders and Taylor, the league just wouldn’t be the same, says league commissioner, Paul Harrington.

“Dick’s teams have been an anchor in our league,” Harrington said. “He is a force in keeping Farmington men’s fastpitch alive.”

And for his 56 years of playing, managing, and promoting the sport, Taylor was inducted into the Minnesota Sports Federation Softball Hall of Fame in 2001.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings you can have after putting in a lifetime of doing something,” Taylor said. “It’s an honor to be recognized by your peers.”

Long before Taylor the manager, there was Taylor the player. And he started early. In 1954 at age 15, he began taking his cuts from the left side. Pitchers tested his mettle by hurling explosive risers under his chin, and drops that dived below his knees.

He was labeled a good hitter and catcher with a strong arm. If given the chance, he could have excelled in baseball. But springtime for a Minnesota farm boy means hours spent working in the fields tending the crops. Leaving little time for baseball.

“I played only one game of baseball in my life,” Taylor said.

Any regrets? None.

His fastpitch career is filled with memories of special players, special games, and special ball diamonds. One stands out in particular, the “Big E” as Taylor labels it.

Back in 1959, Eidswold (about 8 miles from Farmington) was little more than a few houses, a store or two, and a church – the Christiania Lutheran Church. But this little church fielded one good ball club.

Ray Haugland, the pastor, was a good softball pitcher, Taylor said. “When he accepted the call to minister at Christiania, he organized a team. They called themselves the Eidswold Lutherans when they started playing in 1960.”

Taylor joined Eidswold in 1964 and took over managing the team in 1968. He’s now the last surviving member still playing. He recalls passing the hat to pay the umpire; a concession stand run by the players’ wives; pancake breakfasts to support the team. And a big fan following.

“Hundreds of people crowded around the ball field at the games,” Taylor said. “During that era the kids from the church played. It wasn’t hard to keep the roster filled with 17 and 18 year olds.”

The Eidswold Lutherans played in the Northfield League, one of many to choose from in the 1960s. Every town had a six to 10 team league, Taylor said.

“There were a lot of choices where to play,” he said. “Farmington, Northfield, Faribault, and Red Wing all had leagues…I was playing on at least two or three teams for decades. One year (1970) I played on six different teams.”

Taylor strapped on the catching gear early in his career. But in 1977, he stepped on the pitcher’s rubber. And he never left. It seems the Raiders’ regular pitcher was a no show for a league game.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Who’s going to pitch?’” Taylor said. “I had pitched an inning here and there, so I was it. I loved to catch, but I found out it’s easier to pitch three games in a day than catch three.”

Taylor’s career took him from Eidswold to the Farmington and Bloomington leagues. Playing in the “AA” Bloomington League for the Edgewater Tap, introduced him to Fritz Kendrick, who managed the team.

“He kept a whole lot of very good ball players happy,” Taylor said. “We had 16 or 17 players and he managed the lineup beautifully. I learned a lot from him.”

Throughout the years he’s competed with and against some of the Farmington area and Minnesota’s best. Wayne Jensen, Walt Nelson, Jerry Harrington, Ron “BoBo” Johnson, and Stu Morrison were, “really tough pitchers,” Taylor said.

The best ball player? He says Larry Thompson tops all others. “He hit home runs and batted .400 (batting average). I still maintain he’s the best centerfielder. He ran down a lot of my mistakes.”

But longevity rates high with Taylor. And Dave Wall, Bill Cotter, Herb Kistler, and Don Fong epitomize just a few who remained loyal to Taylor over the years.

“They are outstanding people and great athletes on a localized basis,” Taylor said. “Those people have kept me in the game.”

So how much longer will Taylor continue his love affair with fastpitch?

“As long as I get to throw and inning or two, I’ll keep going,” he said. “I couldn’t go on without pitching.”

For more great fastpitch news, visit these websites:
Al’s Fastball
Fastpitch West
International Softball Congress
North American Fastpitch Association
2010 ISC World Tournament, Midland, Mich.

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