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Softball is still in Erickson's blood

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There's unfinished business on this desk from the 90 days of summer. Here's one at the top of my list:

In 1954, Dick Erickson was a 16-year-old rookie on the famous Blomkest fast-pitch softball team that would accumulate state, regional and nationals championships. He's still playing.

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Sure, his fastball has lost its zip, but he can still work the corners. The big shift is how far he now has to go to find a game.

Once there were fast-pitch teams in Blomkest, Lake Lillian and Willmar. No one played it any better. The fast-paced games -- usually lasting no more than 75 minutes -- drew hundreds, sometimes thousands of fans.

This summer Dick, with his wife Cathy, traveled an hour to Dawson to play in a fast-pitch pick-up league at the recreation park. Dick would pitch one or two innings (three tops); he'd stake out first base the rest of the time.

Dawson, Brooten and Freeport are among the final rural outposts of the once fantastically popular game.

At age 70, the game remains part of Dick's fiber. His still-athletic frame carries a few pounds less than when he wrestled at Willmar and started at right guard for the 1955 Cardinals that went 7-1.

He later played one year of football at St. Cloud State Teachers' College, then joined the Army. He played football in East Germany, too, before a knee injury.

Fast-pitch was always his passion, whether playing for Blomkest, Lake Lillian or the Hanson Silo team. His name is forever linked with others of the era -- household names at the time -- the Flanns, the Bjurs, the VanDenEindes and many more.

"Dick started playing before me and I retired before him," chuckled Gary Bjur, also a pitcher. "No one loves the game more. He was devoted to his plumbing and heating business, but Cathy knew there was one thing that could get him away from work and that was softball. She was always encouraging."

Cathy and Dick live one block off main street and the Erickson's Plumbing and Heating office and hardware store.

Dick shows the visitor to the home's basement. To one side two small, connected rooms display a lifetime of achievement in fast-pitch, football, wrest-ling and judo.

Searching his memory, he speaks warmly of the long-ago games, teammates and rivals. There are many MVP plaques and clippings extolling his pitching excellence. But his great pride is the couple's daughter, Patty.

An entire wall is reserved for the accomplishments of the record-setting pitcher, now an assistant athletic trainer at her alma mater, Southwest Minnesota State. He taught her to pitch, of course.

This century, opportunities for Dick to play have been few; efforts to kindle a master's league in Willmar flamed out. But clothing store-owner Jim Prestholdt welcomed him to play at Dawson.

Jim's dad Rudy, who passed away in 2006, is a charter member of the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame.

"Dad and Dick played against each other and on the same team, too, when they'd pick-up Dick for playoffs," said Jim. He's a 1974 Dawson-Boyd graduate retired from the Cerro Gordo team which is still going strong, winning a national title two years ago.

"There used to be teams all over," he said. "Now you have to go to Fargo, or Sioux Falls to find them. When I was young, we'd play in tournaments at Big Stone (S.D.) with 44 teams or in Fargo with 60 teams."

Prestholdt said Dick's joy in the game was obvious to everyone at the Dawson park.

"He's still fluid and he gives it everything he has," said Jim. "He just loves to play and to pitch."

Valley's 30th

The 30th-annual Valley Club Championships start today with the two-day Seniors Division (18 holes today, nine on Friday).

It's a popular event. The Men's Championship has 42 signed up for the 18-hole qualifier on Saturday. The Women's has 12 (plus eight in flights) and the Seniors 19 for the championship (40 in flights).

Club owner Nick Ebnet said Valley opened in 1976 and two years later the second owner, Duane "Wes" Westermann, started the club championships. Bob Dant's name is engraved as the first winner in 1978.

The 2007 Men's Champion, Riley Strehlow, won't defend, Ebnet said. Jenna Bernhagen will be back from college to defend in Women's.

4 for Hall

Four new inductees to the Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame will be introduced at Pep Fest at the high school on the Friday of Homecoming (Sept 19.)

A reception (3:30 p.m.) and banquet, at the VFW, follows and is open to public. For tickets ($15 each) phone 222-7168 or 231-8128 no later than Sept. 14.

The 2008 inductees are:

Mary Lou Arne, who started and directed the Cardettes 1955 through 1962, the first high-school pompom dance line in the state.

Jon Horning, a three-sport coach for 25 years, whose 1987 baseball team won the big-school state championship, the first state title for a boys team in the history of the school.

Terry Horan (1985), All-Conference in three sports before becoming an All-America wide receiver at Concordia College, where he has been head football coach since 2002.

Carl Carlson (1992), a nine-time letterwinner in three sports and a big-school state champion wrestler and four-time state qualifier. He wrestled two years at Minnesota. He joins older brother Chad in the Hall.

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