Alex Bauer, Ronn VanKrevelen, Dan VandeHey, Tom Steinbach, Billy Soule, Pavelka, Benson, Blanchard, Moselle, Cutshall, Hess, Hartmann and Hondo were all familiar names from the early 80s to late 90s in Minnesota Amateur Class B baseball.
Most of them played for the University of Minnesota and they all played for the Hamel Hawks. Hamel is located on Highway 55 just west of the 494 loop. That loop is notable because even though the present radius is 30 miles, no B or C team may cross into the 494/694 loop around the Twin Cities. Inside the loop is termed "Class A" player radius.
Now, it's only Tim Fleming from the old days. Tim who? You know, Tim Fleming. He was the smallest guy on the team, didn't look like he could harm a fly or be any problem at the plate, but he was the guy always setting the table for the big boppers, making a diving catch or turning a double play at his second base position to beat you.
"We (the core group) stayed together for 7, 8 to 10 years at least. We still get together,joke and remain friends. That doesn't happen today--Today if the kid doesn't play a lot in the summer, he moves on the next year. I'll never forget the days I played with those guys. We got better and we learned from each other. After the gmae, we'd sit around, have a beer and talk baseball. In today's game they can't wait to get out of there and leave," said Fleming.
Fleming, 52, started playing with Hamel in 1979 and continued to play baseball with the Hawks until they couldn't field a team in 2011. So he moved up the road to Blaine, where he played last season. But the more he thought about Hamel and the tradition, the more he knew he should give the Hawks one more shot. "Hopefully we can get this thing going again and start a tradition, said Fleming. Hamel will be in the Metro Minny League, the last league they played in before disbanding.
Hamel started its baseball program in 1926. The first State Tounament they went to was in 1975. Paul Fortin a local hardware magnate had built the Hamel field and worked to get local players, however, the local talent was dwindling when he convinced Dick Siebert, coach of the University of Minnesota Baseball team, to send some of his players west to Hamel.
The result was that Hamel became a force in Class B baseball. It also became a focus of the State Board. The Class A player rules were developed and Hamel was watched like a Hawk (so to speak). From 1982 to 2000 they made every State Tournament except 1986, 1993, and 1999. They won the the 1987 and 1997 State B Tournaments. In 1993 the Hawks were kicked out of the tourney for having an illegal player. "He showed us his license and it said St. Boni," said Fleming. "It turned out he lived four and a half miles down the road." St. Boni would have qualified but four and a half miles was inside the 494 loop. So since they couldn't go to the B Tournament, the Hawks went to Eau Claire and won their National Tournament.
"It's hard to just let all that go," said Fleming. "My son, Dominic, 20, played with Hamel a couple of years and now I will get to play with him again. A chance to play with him is fun and you don't get a chance to do that very often."
The make-up of the Hawks will be different than the glory days. Fleming is hoping to get a group of local players and their friends to play. He does lament that they can't get the 30 mile radius that most teams get because of the 494/694 rule. "We'll know more come March, when we see some of the college kids from the area play," said Fleming.
"It's a little different now, it's wood bat and let the kids play. It is not about winning it, it's about building it up again. Starting from scratch and building it. Word of mouth will get around and other kids will come and develop friendships---I'm just hoping that's what happens," said Fleming.