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After the war, Deer Creek baseball rose again

Photos provided Just one of many legendary teams -- from 1964, the team included: (back, l-r) Jerry Riewer, David Becker, Dale Becker, Dewy Bernu (drafted from New York Mills), Al Stigman (drafted from Perham), Les Zinter (drafted from Menahga), Bud Becker, Roger Wallace; (front row) Larry Pearson, Lyndal Snook, Ace Becker, Don Becker, Kick Breuer, John Becker, Bill Layman, Wally Estab; and bat boys Tom Layman and Billy Layman.1 / 3
A sign honors baseball great Elmer Becker who passed in 1988.2 / 3
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Elmer Becker loved baseball and he was a better-than-average pitcher. When small town baseball teams disappeared, and weeds grew up on the diamonds, Elmer joined the war effort.

Then 1948 came along. Coupons for gas became obsolete, and folks felt like going to games again. That's when Elmer called a conference with two ex-baseball players like himself, Einar Pearson and Bill Cornell, and the little town of Deer Creek soon had a team again.

Even back then, did those three men entertain visions of a Deer Creek team lugging home a trophy? Could be. A team could come from Skunk Junction, just beyond No Account Hill, and if they won a tournament put that place on the map in lights. Tall trees from little acorns grow.

On the home front Elmer and Selma Becker's family was growing. It didn't stop until it reached having five daughters and six sons. They had 11 children in 13 years.

The Beckers lived on a farm where everyone old enough had a job. Besides being head honcho on the farm, Elmer was the Deer Creek assessor, ran the pickle plant when cucumbers were in season, and was manager of the shipping association, often calling for trips to the stock yards in the city.

Their dining room table had places for 10. Any late comers filled a plate and sat down elsewhere to eat. Selma baked five loaves of bread a day for her family.

The Becker roster looked like this: The sons were Marvin (Bud), Donald (Don), David (Dave), John, Dale and Gary (Ace). Daughters Julie, Glenyce, Carol, Norma and Janet cheered their brothers on from the cheerleaders lineup since girls teams were still in their infancy.

Elmer taught each of his six sons his own unique style, to throw right handed and bat left handed. He saw to it that each one of the boys could play any position. They spent hours pitching baseballs into a horse collar nailed to the barn.

The Becker boys also made names for themselves in Hi-10 American Legion Baseball. David was already developing as a pitcher. One time he had a no-hitter, missing a perfect game by one walk. When the Legion team went to the state, John, Dale and Ace were playing.

Another time Dave pitched a doubleheader, winning both games. The next day, along with a couple of brothers, he pitched hay on the farm. After a game, did the Becker boys get to hang around and talk it over? Not on your life. There was a barnful of cows waiting to be milked.

Often having six Beckers and two Larry Pearsons on the diamond at the same time confused announcers. The one their teammates called "big" Larry, son of Milt and Ethelyn Pearson, played first base while "little" Larry, son of Einor and Irene Pearson, was a shortstop.

The team didn't have a name until they got in the tournaments and had to have one. They became the Deer Creek Cardinals.

When the Cardinals picked off Hinkley, Gaylord, Grand Rapids, Granite Falls and Cold Spring, they found themselves in the state tournament battling for the Region B baseball title. The day the big game was played found Deer Creek to be like a veritable ghost town. Folks were at the game cheering their team on, something everybody could root for.

None of this would have happened without Jerry Riewer, astute coach of Hi-10 American Legion Baseball as well as the Cardinal town team. This was his first school after graduating from college. When the town team was short a player he filled in. He was a pro at stealing bases. He coached five teams. Maryann, his wife, was a Deer Creek girl.

In Jerry's words: "My years of playing and coaching in Deer Creek were like being in Baseball Heaven. A few favorite memories are the time we were playing in the Regional Championship game. Somehow we got the bases loaded on the best pitcher in the area. Dave Becker was up to bat. The pitcher made a pitch that was called a strike. Dave did not agree and conveyed that to the umpire. The opposing catcher told David, 'You couldn't hit if you knew what was comin'.' David replied, 'Try me, give me a fast ball,' Foolishly, the catcher obliged. Dave sunk the ball far out in center field for a grand-slam home run, and we won the game.

"Another time involved Bud Becker. We were playing a night game in Staples. Again, the pitcher threw a pitch that the umpire called a strike. Bud thought it was a ball, and let the umpire know it. The Staples catcher said, 'Ah, quit your whinin' and get back in the batter's box.' The next pitch Bud hit a home run that may have cleared the outfield lights if my memory serves me right, that also was a grand-slam. I never again coached six brothers, and certainly not with the talent the Becker boys displayed."

From Deer Creek, Riewer went to Staples where, after 40 years of participating in baseball, 18 of those as head coach in Staples, he hung up his cleats. A Baseball Coach Of The Year award hangs among others on his wall.

Interesting sidelights of the Elmer Becker story by those who knew him best, his sons, are how fair he was, giving everyone their due. He liked kids, giving each youngster who ran after a foul ball a nickel from the supply in his pocket.

On Sunday, all the Beckers attended Trinity Lutheran Church. Often, when there was an early game it found Elmer on the umpire's mound in the same shirt he wore to church. Elmer was partial to one particular shirt he swore brought his team good luck. He wore it at the tournaments.

Selma did a great job managing the distaff side of the family. Each Monday by lunchtime six baseball suits hung from her clotheslines. Among her many other attributes, her daughters-in-law claim she was the best mother-in-law in the business. We loved her, the girls said.

Deer Creek and the Beckers are synonymous. All 13 of them graduated from high school in Deer Creek. Bud served in the Navy, John in the National Guard, Dale went to Vietnam and Ace to Korea.

When Elmer was informed the day before the awards that he was going to be inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame he was flabbergasted, completely taken by surprise. His sons recall their dad writing one acceptance speech after the other.

Sept. 30, 1979 found 10 young Beckers and Selma on hand to see their favorite guy get the prestigious award. Sadly, it looked like Bud might not make it.

Bud's wife, Judy, was due to increase their family circle anytime. On the morning of Sept. 30, she started walking the floor, wouldn't you know it?

Bud was miserable. He so desperately wanted to see his deserving dad get inducted, yet no way would he leave home base. After several hours he called "C'mon, c'mon, get the program on the road!" in the maternity room door.

Somebody must have heard him. Maybe it was his wife, the doctor, the baby, somebody did, because only minutes later a fine baby boy was born.

Bud made it to the ceremony in St. Cloud just in time to see his father inducted, well rehearsed acceptance speech forgotten. Elmer did a good job without it.

David was the Becker family's first tragedy. He lost his battle with cancer in 2002, leaving a young wife and family. Elmer turned in his earthly cleats for better ones in 1988, when he was 78.

Now folks who want to see a ball game in Deer Creek will find a neat diamond with bleachers behind a backstop that doesn't leak balls anymore.

Look for Elmer Becker Park, Highway 50, on the west side of town.