NORWAY – They may be 25-plus years removed from graduation, but a failed “cup check” is still juvenile, priceless comedic gold to these guys.
While Ron Wagner rolled around on the gym floor in pain after taking a groundball to the nether regions, his teammates were rolling with laughter. It was high school all over again.
“You know, it’s been fun,” Scott Peters said, not referring to Wagner’s issue. “Even just to come to practice like this and hang around the guys, talking about old stories. It’s something, no doubt, that I’m glad I’m a part of.”
Peters is one of 18 former Norway High School baseball players who will participate beginning this weekend in the 2013 MSBL/MABL Las Vegas Kickoff Classic. The amateur tournament is for those 45 and older.
Perfect Game USA in Cedar Rapids in sponsoring the team and has provided uniforms, in Norway’s old red and gray colors, of course. Here’s the really neat part: Jim Van Scoyoc is returning to the dugout to coach the team.
Just like old times. They hope that means lots of victories in the event, which begins with pool play.
“It’s pretty exciting, to be honest,” Van Scoyoc said. “I kind of poo-poohed going at first. I’m not a real fan of Las Vegas … But I got to thinking about it. The more I talked to Randy Walter about it, I got excited and changed my mind. These guys really like being together.”
Walter, a 1982 Norway grad, was the impetus behind what you could call the Norway Reunion Tour. He has played in previous Las Vegas tournaments on all-star teams from Iowa.
“I just thought 'Wouldn’t it be cool if we got a bunch of old Norway guys together for this?'” Walter said. “That just put the wheels in motion. Then once we got Coach, that was pretty cool. We’re not used to losing, he’s not used to losing.”
The team has players ranging from 1978 grads (Randy Brecht) to 1986 (Mike Himmelsbach). It has been diligently practicing each Sunday for months to prepare .
Van Scoyoc’s sister runs a newer indoor sports facility in Monticello, though most of the workouts have been at the Norway elementary school and at an indoor batting cage one of the players has on his farm.
“I feel like I’m 18 again,” said Steve Brecht. “The arm’s been a little sore. I’ve put on a few pounds. When Randy e-mailed me about this, I gave him a response in about 30 seconds. I told him ‘Count me in.’ I didn’t even check with the wife or anything. I said ‘I’ll worry about that later.’”
“I said ‘I’ve got a pacemaker and have had four back operations, but you can still count me in,” Wagner said. “Fundamentally, we’re probably as good as anybody. We’ve just got to work off the 30 years of being out of practice. That’s what I’m trying to do. But it’s pretty interesting how you pick up a ball and a bat and it comes back to you.”
Walter said there are tons of family members and friends of the players also making the trip. Destinations Unlimited hooked them all up with a financially reasonable flight-and-hotel package. But it’s not just the trip itself that will be the highlight of this experience.
It’s being back together and reminiscing about all those wins and state titles they had back in the day.
“This will be my fourth go-around at this tournament, but this one’s a little bit more special,” Peters said. “Back in the days when we played together, we had great teams. We had great teammates, a great coach. I never thought we’d be back on the field together. Especially with Van Scoyoc coaching. That’s like a once-in-a-lifetime type deal there.”
“They’re competitive people, extremely competitive,” Van Scoyoc said. “That’s showed up in their practices. In many ways, this is like watching the same guys I watched play from in front of the dugout all those years. We’ve had some good laughs. Heck, they still remember all the signals and everything. That’s amazing.”
Here is a list of the players going to the tournament, with their graduation years in parentheses:
Randy Brecht (1978), Al Erger (1979), Mark Brecht (1981), Randy Walter (1982), Scott Peters (1982), Tom Zumsande (1982), John Himmelsbach (1982), Steve Brecht (1982), Paul Myers (1982-book keeper), Rob Schulte (1983), Don Wagner (1983), Ron Wagner (1983), Doug Brecht (1984), Brian Butz (1984), Joel Schulte (1984), Al Becker (1985), Greg Brecht (1985), Regis Stallman (1985), Mike Himmelsbach (1986).