Friday, January 6, 2012

A 400 Club Genesis

In 1976 a bunch of guys that I worked with at Koos Inc. decided to form a softball team. We played for The Sands. We were sponsored by Charlie Huck and played in the lowest city recreation League possible. The makeup of the team was quite diverse. There were a few fellows that could actually play softball, a couple of decent athletes, a bunch of guys that needed a new reason to go the bar and a catcher of ample proportions who ran things. That last guy would be me.

The season was a combination of competing against teams that were as lousy as we were and getting destroyed by a team called Tappa Hafa Kega Dai. It would be the first and last season of The Sands team. The players who just wanted a night out found a new reason to go to the bar. Meanwhile, the guys who could actually play softball wanted more, and under the guidance of the catcher of ample proportions formed the legendary 400 Club.

In 1977, we would play as The 400 Club in city league and as Koos Inc. at historic Finney’s West. Forrest McConnell initially sponsored our Koos Inc. team, with Peter Lederer filling that role when he took over the business. The 400 Club had only sponsor – the late Vern Ekern.

Vern Ekern was a barrel-chested Norwegian with hands that resembled old catcher’s mitts. Despite his incessant reminding of us to “stop down and spend a buck”, Vern was the best sponsor you could ask for. We always had full uniforms, complete with stirrups and entered all the tournaments we wanted. All Vern asked of us was to “stop down and spend a buck” and to throw an annual Beer Bust.

Throwing a Beer Bust was never a problem for the 400 Club team. Each year I would give every player twenty $2.00 tickets to sell. Being a control freak, I always worked the door and collected the money and raffle tickets. It was always a sellout and every year something “special” would happen.

For instance, it was during a 400 Club Beer Bust when I threw the only punch in my adult life.  An attendee who had signed his raffle ticket “Stormin’ Norman” was trying to become a bit too familiar with Vern’s oldest daughter Bonnie. Despite her polite rejections, Norman continued to accost Bonnie to the point that she finally requested my help.

Try as I might to explain to the slightly over-served patron that Bonnie wanted nothing to do with him, he persisted. Then he stepped over the line and grabbed Ekern girl by the arm. I grabbed Norman and pushed him toward the front door. Maybe I was being kind when I described him as being slightly over-served.

The man was drunk on his ass. That would be the only thing that could explain what he did next. After being shoved a good fifteen feet, he turned around and charged at me. Now I was by no means a tough guy, in fact I hated fighting. But I was eight inches taller and a couple hundred pounds heavier than “Stormin’ Norman”. And the knucklehead still charged at me!

After getting over my initial shock, I did what any gentleman protecting a young lady’s honor would do. I hit him. To this day I am not certain whether it was my fist or my forearm that connected with Norman. I am also not quite sure just where I connected on my intoxicated combatant’s body. What I am sure of is that he was headed toward the front door again, however this time he was air born.

Norman landed with a thud and was helped outside by a few of his friends who obviously had more common sense than he. With Bonnie’s honor in tact and her would-be assailant gone, the Beer Bust continued without further issue. 400 Club Beer Busts were always a highlight of the spring season.

In 1979 we finished second in the Rotary Club Tournament, losing to Valeri 2 in the championship game. Later that same season Margetson Construction eliminated us from the City Tournament in the Quarterfinals. Margetson would become a constant thorn in the side of the 400 Club.

Over the years, our team was successful in the city league and at one time had a streak of 38 consecutive games without a loss. Interestingly, the pitcher of the team that ultimately snapped our winning streak was Jim Nehls. This was significant because Nehls also pitched for Margetson Construction.

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Since my last blog was about the notorious 400 Club softball team, I thought that it would be nice to give a little more history about the team. The above was an excerpt from my book, Some Kenosha Softball, which is available at Sister Act on Roosevelt Road. I have knocked the price down to only $10.  Grab a copy now!

Until next time…from the booth.

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