The final chapter in the history of an organization that brought Midwest League baseball to the Quad-Cities and has supported the sport through charitable endeavors in recent years will be written today.
Members of the Quad-City Baseball Fans Association, which secured a minor-league franchise for Davenport in 1959 and owned and operated the club on a not-for-profit basis from 1960 to '86, will provide financial support to programs at several area high schools one final time today.
The group's charter expires on June 3 and rather than renew the 50-year-old document, current members have decided to disperse remaining funds this year and enjoy the memories that their volunteer and charitable work has created.
"It's time. We're not getting any younger," said Russ Rommel of Davenport, president of the association. "We all got into this because of our love for baseball and our desire to make sure that there was professional baseball here.
"Of all the pro sports teams that have come and gone over the years, only baseball has withstood the test of time. Our investment was worth it."
The organization's investment continued even after it sold the Quad-City Angels - a predecessor to today's Quad-Cities River Bandits - to Chicago businessman Harry Semrow in 1986 for $350,000.
In addition to clearing up operational and flood-related debt that prompted the initial decision to sell the team, the Quad-City Baseball Fans Association has pumped $398,983 from its sale investments into programs at area high schools and colleges in the 23 years since.
The group will add to that total today.
"As a not-for-profit, nobody in our organization was allowed to receive any money from the sale of the club," said John Nauman of Davenport, the group's treasurer.
That led to a decision to use its funds to support area high school and college programs.
"We feel like we have been able to make the dollars go a long way," Nauman said. "Of course when you look at what teams are going for today, we wish we would have been able to hold for a few more years. Times have changed."
When the association was formed, community-owned and operated teams were the norm across the country, using thousands of hours of volunteer labor to make things work, as Doris Krucker of Moline quickly discovered.
The Davenport Sox, a Three-I League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, moved to Lincoln, Neb., after the 1958 season and local businessman Hugo "Hooks" Kohn started a drive to bring a new team to Davenport's riverfront stadium.
He convinced Krucker, who worked in the same downtown office building, to assist him.
"There was a snowstorm the night of our first meeting and 13 people showed up. His motto was ‘Keep the Lights Burning' and it worked. People wanted baseball. We collected $1 from everybody in attendance and that $13 was our start," said Krucker, the secretary of the organization since its founding and the only active member of the group's original board.
"When I took the job on June 3, 1959, I had no idea it was a lifetime appointment, but it has been a labor of love. The friendships, the memories, I wouldn't trade them for anything."
All recall trips to baseball winter meetings taken on a well-traveled team bus owned by former board member and club general manager Gabby Crow.
There also were visits with big-league executives and former major-league players who visited the Quad-Cities either through their work with the club's parent organization or to participate in old-timers games the fans' association frequently hosted.
Former major-leaguer Lefty Gomez, in Davenport for an old-timers game, once watched a major-league all-star game in Krucker's apartment with some of her neighbors and friends.
"We've all had a lot of fun over the years," Nauman said. "It was the experiences we had, the chances to meet people and be around the game that kept us going."
There was a lot of work, too.
Board members volunteered their time to sell and take tickets, work concession stands and prepare the field for play, including the annual installation of sod necessitated by the facility's use as the home field for football teams from St. Ambrose and Davenport Assumption.
"After a full season of football, we laid sod every spring," Rommel said. "The work we put in turned into family projects for a lot of us. My youngest son practically grew up at the ballpark."
The group ran the club for two seasons as a Milwaukee Braves affiliate, 19 years as an Angels affiliate and six seasons as a Cubs farm club. There were good times and tough.
Board members recall several visits with long-time Davenport banker V.O. Figge in days preceding the start of a season, looking for quick cash loans to operate the team until in-season revenue began to arrive.
"If it hadn't been for him, we might not have been able to open several seasons," Rommel said. "Things always worked out, though."
Fans' association members still frequent River Bandits game at Modern Woodmen Park and marvel at how the business of baseball has changed.
"When we started, all the teams were community owned. These days, there are a few - Clinton, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Beloit - but it's almost unheard of," said Krucker, who also spent 21 years as the secretary for the Midwest League.
The organization's past will live once its books are officially closed next month.
Minutes from the group's meetings throughout its 50-year history fill 15 bound copies and will be donated for future generations to view at the Davenport Public Library's community history resource center.
How dollars invested by the Quad-City Baseball Fans Association from its 1986 sale of the Quad-Cities' Midwest League franchise for $350,000 have benefited area organizations:
- Davenport Central High School, equipment replacement after 1990 Duck Creek flash flood, $5,000
- Brady Street field lighting project, $74,854
- Donations to Iowa and Illinois Quad-City high school and college baseball and softball programs from 1988-2008, $303,600
- Donations to other youth baseball and softball programs, $5,600
- Donations to other charities and memorials, $9,929
Who are they?
Current members of the Quad-City Baseball Fans Association board:
Officers: Russ Rommel, Davenport, president; Cliff Smith, Davenport, vice president; Doris Krucker, Moline, secretary; John Nauman, Davenport, treasurer
Additional board members: Bill Best, Davenport; Jeff Heuer, Davenport; Bill Jones, East Moline; Curt Kasper, Bettendorf; Diane Lambert, Davenport
Opponent: Dayton Dragons
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Modern Woodmen Park
FYI: Today, Autograph Baseball giveaway, Rhythm City Guaranteed WINSDay and IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union Youth Night; Thursday, Scotts Miracle Grow NASCAR appearance and Thirst-day Thursday beverage discounts; Friday, Biker Night, ALS Night and postgame fireworks
Opponent: Fort Wayne TinCaps
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.; Monday, noon
Where: Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport
FYI: Saturday, Pete Kozma bobblehead giveaway, Habitat for Humanity Night, Redneck Night and Rockin' Saturday postgame concert featuring the Dani Lynn Howard band; Sunday, Salute to Apples, Agriculture Night and US Bank Family Sunday; Monday, Senior Citizen Day
Opponent: West Michigan Whitecaps
When: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Fifth Third Park, Comstock Park, Mich.
Opponent: Lansing Lugnuts
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Alliant Energy Field, Clinton, Iowa
FYI: Today, Peanut Free Night; Thursday, Thirsty Thursday beverage discounts; Friday, Maid-Rite/Mediacom LumberKings team photo giveaway and Jefferson Elementary PTA Night
Opponent: Great Lakes Loons
When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.; Sunday-Monday, 2 p.m.
Where: Alliant Energy Field, Clinton, Iowa
FYI: Saturday, LumberKings Youth Clinic Day and postgame fireworks; Sunday, Mediacom Cancer Awareness Day jersey auction, Dons Jewelry concept earring giveaway, Family Day and All Faith's Day; Monday, Regalia Memorial Day flag giveaway
Opponent: Peoria Chiefs
When: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: O'Brien Field, Peoria, Ill.
BY THE NUMBERS
Consecutive games that Clinton's Maximo Mendez has reached base safely, the longest streak in the Midwest League this season
AROUND THE HORN
Beloit: After opening the season with a .393 batting average, Snappers infielder Ramon Santana has been named by the Twins organization as its minor league player of the month for April.
Burlington: Playing with a gel pack on an injured thumb, outfielder Nick Van Stratten returned from the disabled list by driving in seven runs during a 4-for-6 game vs. Wisconsin last week.
Kane County: The Cougars' Ben Hornbeck is the Midwest League pitcher of the week after allowing one run over 13 innings in victories against Burlington and Quad-Cities. The southpaw struck out 16 batters and walked three while scattering six hits.
South Bend: Midwest League wins leader Trevor Harden was promoted by the Diamondbacks to high-A Visalia last week. Harden was off to a 5-1 start with a 2.39 ERA this season.
West Michigan: Whitecaps third baseman Ron Bourquin is the league's batter of the week. The former Big Ten player of the year from Ohio State hit .521 with four doubles, two homers and eight RBIs during the week.
Have a question pertaining to the Midwest League, the River Bandits or the LumberKings? Steve Batterson will find your answer.
You can email it to Steve at sbatterson@qctimes, snail mail it to him at Steve Batterson, Quad-City Times, P.O. Box 3828, Davenport IA 52801 or call him at (563) 383-2290
Summer home for Gabella's son
Two at-bats in an exhibition game between the Burlington Bees, managed by his father, and Southeastern Community College won't keep Burlington Notre Dame junior Cody Gabella off the field this summer.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association suspended the son of Bees manager Jim Gabella for the entire 2009 season because he broke a rule that prohibits a high school player from playing against college players or teams in that same sport in an organized game.
However, the infielder has found a home with the Midland Redskins, an amateur team based in Batavia, Ohio.
"God works in mysterious ways. We were so upset when that decision came down to suspend him for his junior season, but God brought a better opportunity for him,'' Jim Gabella told The Hawk Eye. "It's going to be better for him to be seen by colleges and professional scouts and be able to play against good competition every day.''
Bees player Eric Hosmer, an alumnus of the Midland team and a 2008 first-round pick of the Kansas City Royals, recommended the team as an option. Jim Gabella, who makes his offseason home in Burlington, said his son will return to the field for his high school team in the summer of 2010.
"I just have to make sure I don't play him in a single game next year,'' Gabella said.
Clinton's Alliant Energy Field has had a good scrubbing during the LumberKings' recent road trip and the club will host its second peanut-free game tonight, allowing fans with peanut allergies to enjoy a game without worrying about coming in contact with peanut products.
Peanuts, normally a ballpark staple, will not be sold to fans attending the 6:30 p.m. game.
River Bandits' keepers
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, Quad-Cities has two of its more unusual giveaways of the season during upcoming days.
The first 300 fans attending today's 7 p.m. game against Dayton will receive an autographed baseball. Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes and Tina Wesson, the winner of "Survivor: The Australian Outback,'' are among people who have signed balls that will be given away.
The River Bandits' will hand out 2,000 bobblehead likenesses of 2008 Quad-Cities shortstop Pete Kozma, the Cardinals' first-round pick in the 2007 draft, at Saturday's 6 p.m. game against Fort Wayne.
Rehabbing Bonderman helps Whitecaps
Major-league pitcher Jeremy Bonderman made his first start of the season Saturday at West Michigan, striking out four in a seven-inning outing against Great Lakes.
The right-hander, who hadn't pitched for the Detroit Tigers in nearly a year because of a blood clot last June and an injured shoulder in spring training, allowed two runs on six hits.
The rehab start was the first of the year for a Midwest League team.