In 1977 the legendary 400 Club softball team was formed with yours truly calling the shots as the manager. We started out playing teams like Kerry’s Kritters. Before long we were competing with the likes of Tirabassi’s, Finney’s and Pitt’s Decorating. Over the years, our team had its moments of glory, at one point winning 38 consecutive city league games. In addition to league play, our team also did well in tournaments, filling the trophy cases of tavern owner and sponsor Vern Ekern. The 400 Club was a successful team that had made a name for itself.
While the team made a definite mark on the Kenosha softball scene, it should be noted that it wasn’t only for their triumphs on the diamond. The 400 Club also had a reputation for being rowdy renegades.
We were the proverbial square peg in a round hole. There were several colorful characters on the 400 Club. We weren’t always the nicest team and had gained some notoriety as the Oakland Raiders of the softball world.
That being said, there was a reason our team was successful, it was well organized. That was my job. I made sure entry fees were paid, that uniforms were ordered, that beer busts were scheduled and, most importantly, made sure we had players that were of 400 Club quality.
Because of our rebellious reputation, it wasn’t always easy attracting new talent to our squad of misfits. Not everyone was comfortable being a part of a team with a bad-boy image. The ideal 400 Club candidate had to have skills at the bar as well as on the diamond.
Acquiring just the right guy was much too big a job for just one man; it was a team effort. Since I wanted everyone’s input, this was a subject that was discussed at our annual Winter Meeting.
That’s right, the 400 Club had a Winter Meeting each year. Typically, it took place near the end of January, but no later than the first weekend of February. After all, our beer bust had to be scheduled before the season started.
As you might suspect, the 400 Club Winter Meeting wasn’t all business. Adult beverages were being consumed while team concerns were being discussed. Then, once it was decided what new players we were going after and the date for the beer bust, it was time to start doing some serious drinking.
Given the track record of our group, it should come as no surprise that the Winter Meeting could turn into a raucous evening of partying. However, by 400 Club standards, most of these get-togethers were not very memorable.
However, one particular Winter Meeting does stand out from all of the rest.
There was about a dozen members of the team in the 400 Club on that Saturday night in late January. The only other customer was a guy who rented a room above of the iconic tavern. He was known as “Larry D” and sat in his regular spot at the far end of the bar and was nursing a tap beer.
It looked like a relatively quiet night for the bartender, Skip. He liked it that way. Skip wasn’t what you would call energetic. The less excitement, the better. He liked it quiet. Unfortunately for Skip, it wouldn’t stay quiet.
Not by a long shot.
The “business” portion of the meeting had concluded and the guys from the team were relaxing with a few cocktails. For a 400 Club team activity, it was relatively subdued. That is until the front door suddenly exploded open and Mark Ekern burst in. Without any warning, he jerked Larry D from his bar stool and threw to the hard tile floor.
As a team, our jaws collectively dropped in astonishment. Mark was the brother of 400 Club stalwart, Glen “Munk” Ekern. Despite the fact that they were the sons of our sponsor Vern, they had nothing in common. Absolutely nothing.
Munk was, hmm, let’s see, I need to put this nicely. Munk was aggressive and loved confrontation. He was a big reason the 400 Club had the image it did. On the other hand, Mark was mild-mannered, unassuming and generally kept to himself. He didn’t seem to have a hostile bone in his body.
That was the reason we were so astounded. What could have possibly happened to provoke Mark’s physical attack on Larry D?
We got a clue when Mark hollered, “I told you to stay away from Bonnie, but you wouldn’t listen!” Bonnie was the eldest of Vern’s six daughters and a very sweet girl. Evidently, Larry D had persisted on hitting on her even though he was warned against it.
Mark had taken exception to this and let him know it in a very violent fashion.
The manner he used to express his displeasure with Larry D wasn’t for the faint of heart. He used his fists. He used his feet. He used tables, bar stools and anything else he could get his hands on. The enraged Mark didn’t give him a chance.
Larry D was helpless and could do nothing to protect himself from the onslaught. He was bounced off of walls and the bar, knocked to the floor, then picked up again so Mark could repeat the process.
It wasn’t pretty.
In fact, at one point, it got so ugly it prompted Red DiCello, no shrinking violet himself when it came to fighting, to ask me, “Shouldn’t we stop him, Paul?” Having a soft spot in my heart for Bonnie, I said, “No, not yet, let him go.”
Finally, when Mark began to ram Larry D’s head into the heavy wooden base of a video game, I told Red and the rest of the guys that now was the time to put an end to the vicious beat down.
After things had settled down, Mark left, but not before reminding Larry D in no uncertain terms that he had better “stay the f*ck” away from his sister. Larry D, broken and bloodied, could only nod his head as he slowly crawled up the stairs to his room located above the bar.
While we were picking up bar stools and getting the bar back in order, a visibly shaken Skip answered the phone. After a brief conversation, he hung up the phone and announced, “Vern said to get the guys a drink.”
The team roared its approval. Behind the bar, Skip just shook his head as he started setting up our drinks. Above the bar, Larry D tended to his wounds.
Yes, even by 400 Club standards, that was a memorable Winter Meeting.
Until next time…from the booth.