A group of young teenage boys in Creston held the title of the best baseball team in Iowa 50 summers ago.
They did so by beating Sioux City, 2-1, in the game that decided the State Pee Wee baseball championship.
The Creston all-star team, competing in the Pee Wee 14-and-under state series, completed a 21-0 season in 1967 under coach John Jackson. Many of them also played on the town’s shorthanded 16-and-under Midget division team. That team went 17-4-1 that year, despite relying on several players much younger than the age limit. That team was also coached by Jackson.
Jackson, then a player for Ron “Fox” Clinton at Creston Community College, coached those teams two years to a combined record of 59-10-1.
Eight of those 12 players returned for a 50th reunion over the Fourth of July celebration in Creston this week. They played golf on July 3 at Crestmoor Golf Club and rode together in the community’s annual Independence Day parade.
“A couple of times everybody clapped when we went by,” said Kim Hanson, the only team member currently residing in Creston. “Our coach’s brother, Tom Jackson, came up to our trailer during the parade to say hello. He remembered that team.”
After the parade, the group assembled for a team picture at the VFW ballfield, where they achieved so many special memories as youths 13 and 14 years old. They relished the opportunity to reconnect.
“Paul Buchanan’s family moved away shortly after that summer, and he had not been back in 50 years!” Hanson said. “Two of the guys from the class of 1972, Mike Montague and Bill Antisdel, said they never came back for a class reunion. But they came back for this.”
Those unable to attend were Mike Veitz, Bob Lesan, Pat Montague, Rene Toledo and coach John Jackson, now residing in Florida.
Posing for the current team picture Tuesday were Mike Montague, Paul Buchanan, Steve Betts, Greg Kenyon, Duane Huey, Kim Hanson, Clint Steele, Bill Antisdel and Deb Veitz, wife of the late Gary Veitz, who served as the team batboy.
“Even though it had been a very long time since some of us had seen one another, the connections we made as kids remained,” Kenyon said. “It only took a short time for us to rekindle some long dormant friendships.”
Actually, that 1967 team won the state championship without realizing it at the time. Mike Veitz scampered home with the second run on a little roller that Hanson beat out, and Creston held on to defeat Sioux City, 2-1, in a game played at Kingsley (see related story).
“I had hit some home runs that year, and I swung as hard as I could on that pitch,” Hanson said. “It went about 6 feet out in front of home plate. All I remember is running to first and touching the base right before I heard the ball caught. So I knew I was safe. I looked back and Veitz had already touched home plate. I was pretty fast, but he was really fast.”
Coach Jackson’s team was then scheduled to face Council Bluffs the following weekend at Kingsley for the state title, but two of Council Bluffs’ best players were on vacation and team officials decided to forfeit after watching the Creston team play against Sioux City.
That left Creston with an 18-0 season record, which they ran to 20-0 by finishing with a championship in their own tournament in early August.
Veitz and Lesan were the primary pitchers, finishing with records of 18-0 and 10-0 combined with their participation in the older Midget age division. Veitz had more than 170 strikeouts for the summer.
Huey was the catcher and known for throwing out stolen base attempts at second base. Hanson often played third base as Lesan and Veitz rotated between pitcher and shortstop. Several players moved around positions, but coach Jackson said Antisdel “could run out there like a billy goat” chasing fly balls in the outfield.
Curtis Jeffryes led the Midget team in batting at .429 and Veitz ended with a .427 overall batting average. Pat Montague hit .382. Other leaders were Antisdel at .351, Hanson at .339 and Toledo at .289.
The championship team was known for its sharp defensive play and ability to produce runs with strategic maneuvers such as bunting and hit-and-run calls by Jackson, whose strategy learned from “Fox” Clinton focused on putting pressure on the opposing defense.
“If he asked you to bunt, you better bunt!” Hanson recalled. “We practiced just about every day that summer. Even when it rained. If it rained, we’d go down to McKinley (Park) and practice sliding.”
Steele, now vice president of marketing and estimating at Todd and Sargent Inc., a construction engineering firm in Ames, said Jackson schooled the players in all aspects of the game.
“We had hourlong hitting practices, and defensive drills so we knew before every pitch which base an infielder or outfielder had to throw the ball to for a force out or to keep a runner from advancing. He taught us that hard work can get wins, and winning was fun. He also taught us about good sportsmanship.”
Kenyon said it was no surprise to learn how much success the group had achieved over the past 50 years, considering the accountability they learned from coach Jackson.
“He taught us the value of hard work and what it took to be a good team member,” said, Kenyon, who shared stories with Steele this week about coaching their children’s ASA softball teams using the same drills they’d performed decades earlier under coach Jackson.
Kenyon recalled one weekend when Jackson had to drive home a lesson about “sloppy” play.
“We didn’t play well in a road game and coach called a practice when we returned to Creston, where we worked on fundamentals into the night,” Kenyon said.
Persistence and a competitive drive sometimes snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Jackson recalled such a time during a telephone conversation this week.
“I remember we took the boys up to Des Moines and we played against a very rough, very mature looking team that liked to talk a lot and tried to be intimidating,” Jackson said. “We fell behind 13-0 and the guys were really down. I said, let’s just finish it out by playing our game, the way we know how, and see what happens. We just had to keep our heads up and play.”
Creston left Des Moines with a 16-15 victory that day.
Lesan and Veitz went on to become the pitching leaders for a Creston High School team under coach Clinton that won four Hawkeye Eight titles and defeated Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln for a district championship. The Panthers finished one game short of a state tournament appearance.
“We got beat by Benton Van Horne in the substate, 2-1, in my senior year,” Lesan said. “Two things I remember from that (Pee Wee) summer is thinking we were going to the championship game, and finding out the other team was forfeiting to us; and I remember we all went down to Kansas City to watch a Royals game together and had a great time. Probably the toughest team we played around here was Greenfield, with Brian Tracy and Boomer Twombly. Those were good, competitive games.”
Jackson, now 72, wanted to return for the reunion, but was unable due to health complications resulting from surgeries.
“I had returned from the Navy and was attending Creston Community College and working for the Welfare Agency those two summers I coached the guys,” Jackson said. “I would have loved to have seen them again. I still have a ball signed by all of the guys. You could always count on them. They knew how to have fun, but you didn’t have to tell them to work hard. They just did it. There was very little goofing off. We certainly had some great memories.”
A sign commemorating the 1967 championship adorns the outfield fence at VFW Field, where many of those memories were made. The sign was painted by Harry Walters of Creston, with materials donated from Akin Building Center.
“What you have to remember from that team,” Hanson said, “was how generous people were in supporting us, whether it was buying stuff or providing transportation. The main ones were Barb and Al Veitz and Arnold O. Kenyon. They contributed a lot to that team that summer.
“The other thing was how much time coach Jackson devoted to all of us boys,” Hanson added. “He wouldn’t give up on anybody. He never got angry, but he was persistent in making sure you got it right.”
Right up to the last pitch of a state championship.
— — — — —
Creston Pee Wees win title
(The following is the Aug. 7, 1967, account in the Creston News Advertiser, written by Sports Editor Max Sandeman, about Creston's state championship in the Pee Wee State Baseball Tournament with a 2-1 victory over Sioux City.)
KINGSLEY — Creston's 7th and 8th graders moved to the finals of the state Pee Wee tournament Sunday night when they defeated Sioux City, the northern Iowa champions, 2-1.
The victory sends John Jackson's club against the seventh district champions (Council Bluffs) at 2 p.m. next Sunday at Kingsley. (That game was not played as Council Bluffs forfeited because of lack of available players.)
Sioux City had won the northern title by taking 12 straight victories in a 61-team district meet. Creston won the Diagonal tournament and is undefeated. Unlike Pee Wee play here, boys up to 14 are eligible to play in this tournament.
Creston scored first in the third inning as Bob Lesan singled home Greg Kenyon, who was on via an error and advanced on a single by Mike Veitz.
Creston made it 2-0 in the fifth as Veitz singled and came home on Kim Hanson's safety.
Sioux City got a run back in the sixth to make it 2-1 as a double and a sacrifice fly brought in a run. Two walks in the seventh inning made things look bad for Creston, but a strikeout and two groundouts ended the Sioux City threat.
Veitz hurled three-hit ball for Creston, striking out nine and walking four. He also aided the hitting with two singles and scored the winning run.
Lesan singled in the first run, Bill Antisdel collected two safeties and Hanson had a run-producing single.
Creston had six hits while the Sioux City pitcher struck out nine and walked two.
The Creston team will be action here this week in their own tournament at VFW Field.