‘No-hitter legend’ earns way to hall of fame
“Bob Sczublewski, was “Mr. Softball around Little Falls; He’s a legend,” said Chip Leblanc,
who is a long-time, Little Falls softball player and former Morrison County Sheriff’s Deputy, now retired.
Sczublewski was involved in the city’s slow-pitch softball association as a player, coach, umpire, league president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, scheduler, statistician, groundskeeper, maintenance man and all around ambassador of good will for slow-pitch softball during 31 years, as a league official, 1970 through 2001.
“I like to be involved,” he said about also serving on numerous city and church committees, for many events, over the same years.
He was at one of the city’s 3 softball ballparks every evening, Tuesday through Friday, and on weekends when there was a tournament, during those 31 seasons. In its heyday in Little Falls, in the early 1980’s, there were as many as 42 teams, playing as many as 350 games during a season.
His wife, Judy, and their four kids knew where to find him.
“I love them, and I love the game,” 73-year-old Sczublewski said, “and it was a good way to also socialize with my friends.”
Sczublewski began playing city league softball (fast-pitch for a few years) in 1959 and played for 39 years, until 1998 when he was 55 years old.
He didn’t keep track of his statistics, couldn’t say how many softballs he bashed over the fence. Never the less, one of his favorite ball field memories is of hitting 5 home runs in one game.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound (in his playing days) Sczublewski’s advice about hitting in slow-pitch softball is, “You can never wait too long to swing.”
Major things about the game have changed since his over the fence binge. For example, to keep the strongest teams from dominating every game, throughout the state, a rule was enacted that now allows an entire, state sanctioned, B-class, slow-pitch team to hit only 4 homers during a game. Class A teams are allowed 6 homers, and Any after that are just a long flyball out, nowadays.
Back in the day, during a game, often, a dozen softballs cleared the fence, about 260 feet down the lines (left and right fields) and 280 to deepest center field.
Sczublewski has 39-plus years of great memories to savor.
Being elected to the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame in 2010, was a great honor for him, but he didn’t include it among his top three favorite memories.
Playing on a father-son team, with his sons, Tim, Ted, and Eric, for 3 years, giving his daughter, Irene, a lot to cheer about, is the memory he sounded most pleased about, as his smile widened.
Pitching a no-hitter, with 7 strikeouts–almost unheard of in slow-pitch softball–also came to mind, as he reminisced.
Pitching mattered more in those days, before the 12-foot high arc limit for pitches became another new rule.
“An unlimited arc was allowed when I started pitching…I’d practice throwing into a pail (from 46 feet away), trying to arc it as high as possible (well over 12-feet high),” Sczublewski said, “and I could throw a knuckleball, curve or spinner,” he said, “I could make the ball move.”
“When they went to the 12-foot limit, then a pitcher couldn’t do as much with the ball,” said Sczublewski, so we had to change the look by throwing a high one (but only 12-feet up), then a flat one–sometimes the hitter might get overanxious (you can’t wait long enough).”
“I pitched mostly because I liked to be involved in every play,” Sczublewski said. He also said that about all his volunteer work for the city’s softball leagues, “I liked to be involved.”
Still, there are the memories, including two state championships in the ‘age 35 and older’ league. He played for teams sponsored by Herbie’s Bar, Dobis Tires, Flavin’s Pub, Select Sires, West Side Bar (1985 state champ) and Little Falls Dray (1995 champ).
“Then, in the late 1980’s, the ball was made harder, about like a baseball, bats got harder too, hi-tech stuff,” Sczublewski recalled, “so, the ball came off the bat with enormous speed.”
The pitcher was only 46 feet away from the batter, and 1st and 3rd bases were 65 feet away. For comparison, baseball pitchers stand 60-feet away, and first and third are 90-feet from home plate.
“It kinda took the game away from the older guys–you need better reflexes,” Sczublewski said.
“While pitching, a line-drive hit me in the shin, whole leg was black and blue down to the toes,” he recalled, “and that kind of knocked me out of playing.” He was 55 years old. It was 1998, and within a few more years, the 35-and-over league faded away.
Done with the game? Hardly. “I like to be involved.”
In his nomination of Sczublewski for the state hall of fame, the Little Falls softball league president then, Howard Kazeck, wrote, “Although Bob’s playing career is admirable and deserving of Hall of Fame selection, his total commitment to softball, off the field, is equally deserving.
“Bob has served as the League Director for over 35 years in Little Falls,” Kazeck noted, “He also umpired for over 20 years, and managed softball teams for over 30 years.”
“He established an annual banquet, at which time all trophies and awards were handed out, and it attracted tremendous crowds,” Kazeck said.
“Bob originally started as the league director with 12 teams,” according to Kazeck, “and worked diligently to see it grow to 42 teams in 1980.”
“To enhance softball,” continued Kazeck, “Bob started to keep stats of the players, (“I got 3 of my kids doing it and several ladies,” Sczublewski said) and the game results and stats were published in local newspapers and radio stations weekly.”
A ‘game of the week’ was broadcast live by KLTF radio in those days. Sczublewski believes that and the newspapers helped attract more out-of-town teams to the Little Falls league. The players enjoyed the publicity, he said.
“There is no doubt that sports in Little Falls and Central Minnesota would not be the same if there were no Bob Sczublewski,” wrote former Little Falls Public Works Director Jerry Lochner, when he, along with several others, nominated ‘Mr. Softball’ for the hall of fame.
Sczublewski has funny good memories too, like when an umpire made a very unusual call at home plate, one rainy evening.
The ball was hit to the outfield, and a base runner raced from third to be the game-tying score. So, as he came into home plate, with a throw from the outfield racing with him, he slid to avoid the tag, but the ground was so wet that it stopped him a foot short of the plate and he was tagged out, except the ump (not Sczublewski) called the runner SAFE. The crowd and the players went wild.
“He (the ump) said the runner would have scored easily if it had been dry,” laughed Sczublewski. And the call stood, tying the game. Justice was served when the team, that got ‘robbed’ by the ump’s weathered sense of fair play, ultimately won the game.
“Softball was a really big thing then,” said Sczublewski. The stands were filled and people lined up along the outside of the fences.”
Great memories. “Some of the best players I recall in Little Falls,” he answered, “were Bob Fenske, Jerry Pohlkamp, Greg Pont, Joey Masog Jr–he may be the best now, Bob Karnowski and Eric Sczublewski (his son).” He added, “I’m sure there are others deserving to be mentioned too.”
Someone else might include Sczublewski on that list, with his no-hitter, batting prowess, fielding agility, and knowledge of the game, skills which he began honing while starting as an outfielder on the Little Falls high school baseball team in 1960.
He continued improving while playing fast-pitch softball in the U.S. Army, between 1964 and 1966. He also played baseball in local leagues for Swan River and Sobieski teams, 1959 to 1970, and hit about 30 homers over the course of 150 games.
His path to the Hall of Fame wasn’t paved just by those natural and acquired skills. His desire to “get involved” had a lot to do with the ultimate honor also.
“Bob Sczublewski and John Balaski are the two people who get the work done,” the Little Falls Daily Transcript reported in a feature story in 1982, explaining what kept the then 33-team, 500-player league running.
Balaski was the league president then, and “was instrumental in the construction, improvement and maintenance of the three softball fields on the west side of LF,” according to the Transcript and Sczublewski. Balaski also played on two teams in different leagues in Little Falls, at the time.
Scublewski, retired in 2005 from Liberty Paper in Becker after 6 years there, and previously 37 years at Little Falls’ Hennepin Paper Mill until it closed, then he got more involved, preparing the Little Falls west side ball fields for softball and baseball games during the next 8 years.
He didn’t do it for the money, during those years of doing all he could for the game. “At first, there was no pay, then I started getting $200 each summer” he said, “and about 10 years later it got raised to $400,” (for all he did, including keeping the ball fields ready for about 300 hundred games each season).
He said again, “I liked to be involved.” Sczublewski also was in the MN National Guard for over 20 years.
He grew up on a farm near Sobieski, and didn’t play on a school team until his senior year, due to chores. But when his dad gave him a car for his last year of school, the young man said, “Well, I think I’ll play some ball too.” And play he did, on the way to the Hall of Fame.