Baseball History: The Viking Shamrocks

A small town best known for the Sutter family, has a lengthy history with the game of baseball and the Powerline Baseball League. The town of Viking is located south east of Edmonton along Highway 14 approximately an hour and half and 137 km from Edmonton. The Viking Shamrocks played in the Powerline Baseball League from 1968 until 1994, according to sketchy records, but the town of Viking had organized baseball dating back to July 1906. As of the writing of this article, it is the earliest organized baseball in the area, a year ahead of what I originally found which was 1907 near Daysland. Perhaps somewhere near by there was baseball even earlier, and one day maybe we can find out when and where, but until then the clubhouse leader is Viking in 1906.

 

The Viking Shamrocks were re-formed in 2016 to play in the Battle River Baseball League after last playing in 1994 in the Powerline Baseball League. (Photo: Twitter / VikingShamrocks)

 

Tucked away towards the back of the second volume of Viking In Progress (1991) is the history book’s sports and recreation section. Amongst it’s pages is a nice summary put together by Len and Maxine Josephison recapping baseball in the town from that 1906 summer until the 1990 season, when the book was being put together. Baseball in Viking follows a similar trajectory to baseball in other rural areas in the province. Picnics, rural tournaments and the occasional big money tournament was the extent of organized baseball until the early 1930s when leagues started to form. The leagues saw a few seasons of play before Canada entered World War 2, leaving most rural towns and villages without a baseball team as many of the communities men and women joined the military. Viking for example had a population of 480 in 1936 and 491 in 1941 and a total of 272 men and women listed in the history book as serving in World War 2. This led to most leagues ceasing operations for a period during the war with teams occasionally coming together to play an exhibition game or fundraising game at a local picnic. Viking would play in the Gas Line Baseball League in the 1930s before forming the Shamrocks to play in the Eastern Alberta Baseball League in the 1950s then moved into the Powerline Baseball League in the late 1960s until the mid-1990s. They would then be without an organized baseball team participating in a baseball league until 2016 when the Shamrocks would reformed to play in the Battle River Baseball League where they are still playing today.

Below is the information that was put together by Len and Maxine Josephison;


BASEBALL IN VIKING

by Len and Maxine Josephison 

Viking In Progress: Volume 2 (1991)

The game of baseball evolved sometime in the mid 1800’s and is said to have started in the United States. Canada probably followed with this popular summer sporting event shortly after as Viking was able to field a team not too long after the first settlers came to the area. According to previous records the first game in Viking was reported to have been held on July 4, 1906. The opposing team was from Hurry (now Bruce) and Viking one with a score of 26-11. Players at the time were James Barker, Evan Jones, Charles and Claude Councilman Chris and Ole Wollen, Otto Lund, Albin and H. Stenberg.

The game evidently continued to be popular pastime within the local community for years after as the Viking News carries reports up and down enthusiasm for baseball for the next eight decades. By 1913 it appears that baseball was fairly well established as the team was sporting sharp looking uniforms and taking part in local sports days and fairs and also defending the Viking Challenge Cup. As the game originated in the States several talented players brought their expertise of the game with them when they immigrated here. Tun Thunell had arrive from Minnesota in 1913 with his pitching abilities along with Pete Wangsness, Joe Wesley, John and Frank Slavik, and other players who arrived in those first years. Other early players were Holbrook, Hoskins, Herrick, Harvey, Thompson, Fuhrman, Dayton, Avery, Anderson, Wright, Bentley, Clements, P. Jones, Travis, Bradford, Elofson, Purvis, Fields and McLaren. Dr. Story was a frequent umpire at games. 

Viking Senior Men’s Baseball team 1914 – “Barker’s Pets”:
Evan Jones, Jim Barker, Joe Fuhrman, Art Thompson, Jim Dayton, Lee Harvey, Pete Wangsness, Allan Harper, Henry Thunell, Chet Avery. (Photo: Viking In Progress: Volume 2, 1991)

By the 1920s it was noted that the team was taking part in the prestigious Camrose Tournament as they “were able to furnish a team for the kind of ball that was desired”. The players along with the fans were travelling in cars by then for some destinations destinations such as Killam, Strome, Wainwright, Vegreville, Lavoy, Mannville and the villages on Highway 14. A new Ford or Chevy could be bought at McArhey’s and Collier’s Garages for around $850 and a used Ford for $75 and up. The latter probably being the most practical as the newspaper reports that on one occasion they had motored to Killam and the roads had been in fair condition as they had been dragged as far as the Correction Line but for some reason were poor after that, which was not unusual. In 1925 there were enough players for two teams; the second one was to play against the farm and small intermediate teams. In 1928 the Viking Elks sponsored a team named after them with Ben Runyon as manager. Players during those days where the Jones boys, Frank and Jack Slavik, Wilf and Clem Loughlin, Harland Hilliker, Wiley Brown, Horton, Therriault, Loney, Kirby, Halcomb, Hughes, Reishus, Gravert, Johnson, Watkins, Venner, Berksot, Parks, Magill, B. Richardson and Goshen. A hot pitcher that was frequently mentioned was Wilke and also noted where a group of promising youngsters Buzz Jones, Sid Ross, Max Gray and Marker. Local games were played on a diamond on the fair and sports grounds at the north end of town where the Extendicare nursing home is now located.

During the early 1930’s the Gas Line League was formed by teams from Tofield, Ryley, Holden and Viking. Players during that time were Fitzmaurice, Richardson, Hoines, Voight, Ray, Metcalf, Humphrey, Rasmusen, Kortzman, McAthey, Kaston, G.McLaren, Moore, Gallagher, Dorsey, Darrah, Stambaugh, Emerson, Castle, Brown, V. and L. Slavik. Some concern was voiced at a meeting in the spring of 1936 that a team might not be able to be formed as it was of the option that; “The young generation has taken to less strenuous sports such as softball, tennis and pingpong {sic}, and baseball has not the glamour or interest that it had a few years ago. That was before cars, Gramophones, radios and picture shows. Times have certainly changed.” By the time 1937 had rolled around there appeared to have been plenty of talent available and Viking once again had a ‘snappy team’ know as the Redcoats. J. Slavik and C. Loughlin were running the team consisting of several new players who had come up. Some that were mentioned were; G.Ash, L.Dobry, E. and A. Hardy, Finn, B. Young, Ronaghan, Elgie, C.Merta, C.Runyon, A.Streit and Clanfield. 

Although World War 2 was on in 1941, a team was still in existence with added newcomers, Bill Taylor, Cotter, Peterson, Mathieson, Cary and Conway. The organized sport of baseball was to see a decline for a few years to come as many of the local boys had joined the armed forces and were away. Sports days and fairs were still being held but baseball teams were reported to be “as scarce as hen’s teeth” and it was difficult to round up a couple of teams, even from other towns, for these events. It was not until 1948 that records of an organized team being formed are available, although some activity at the ball diamond was taking place the previous two years. Sandy Ross was apparently responsible for getting a team together for a while. Coming out during those days were Stan Jones, Lumir Dobry, with newcomers Morris and Floyd Kimball, Dick Rake, Andy Erickson, Al McIntyre, Gord Smith, Bob Thunell, Stan Ross and S.Seizler. 

Viking Shamrocks, Champis of EABL, Sept. 22, 1957.
Standing: Joe Makar, Bob Sutter, Bob Dunbar, Gordon Hilker.
Seated: Ken Fischer, Ron Prior, Larry Procktor, Gabriel Brissard, Brian Gaume, Kevin Gleeson.
Batboy John Trueman in front holding the handsome trophy donated by Northwestern Utilities Ltd. (Photo: Viking In Progress: Volume 2, 1991)

In May of 1953 a group of enthusiastic ball players and fans got together and formed a club that was to be known as the Viking Shamrocks. A lot of new talent was on that team during its formation – Game Brissard, Gordon Hoines, Erik Lefsrud, Percy Wilkie, Larry Prockter, Barney Ross, Kevin Gleeson, Bill Place, Jim Hemphill, Ivan Messmer, Pat Stiles – with Ed Stiles as coach. For a few years they played in the Eastern Alberta Baseball League with Vegreville, Two Hills and Sedgewick, and won the league trophy donated by Northwestern Utilities Ltd. in 1957. The Shamrocks had reached their peak by the late 1950’s when they entered the Alberta Provincial Intermediate B playoffs. For three consecutive years, from 1959 to 1961, they held the Northern Alberta title but were defeated by the Brooks Buffalos and Lethbridge Tigers for the provincial titles those first two years. However, in 1961 they were victorious after playing a very exciting final series against the Lethbridge Nisies. At the final game on September 17 in Viking, the score was 8-8 going into the eighth inning. After no runs in the ninth, the play went to a tenth inning. In the last half, Larry Procktor singled to first, Kevin Gleeson and Len Josephison go on with walks, Joe Makar came up with a hit brining in Procktor home. “It is interesting to not that the Shamrocks had played 35 games in tournament and playoffs that year, with 32 wins and three losses. A real record in any league.” – The Viking News. On the team that year were Game Brissard (general manager), Bob Dunbar, Ron Prior, Len Josephison, Larry Procktor, Joe Makar, Kevin Gleeson, Ralph Walker, Brian Gaume, Bob and Ken and Don Fischer, George Roddick, Wally Josephison, Dale Eikerman, Larry Noble and Loren Coultman. Bill Brookes was coach, John Akers was manager and Kent Haeberle was the batboy. Although they were not successful in the provincial playoffs again, the team was still playing some great and competitive ball in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. As a result of their reputation for being a winning team, they were invited to the renowned Lions Ball Tournament in Lacombe for a few years and they also played a number of other well known events such as the annual St. Paul tournament, for several years. Other local and area players joining those others in the following years were Joe Voltner, Doug and Rick Pratt, Vern Hafso, Les Beckner, John Andrukow, John Dorie, Milt Malik, Art and Brian Micklich, Dennis Danilak, Dale Bergum, Gary and Brian Sutter, Ken McIntosh, Jerry Slavik, Harvey Stroeder, Phillip Penner and Myron Chilibeck. Numerous others played with the team over those years and have not been mentioned since records are sketchy for a period of time. Gabe Brissard and Phil Rudell were coach and manager for several seasons with Brissard being largely instrumental in keeping the club going for many years. 

Viking Shamrocks, 1961 – Alberta Provincial Intermediate B Senior Baseball Championship team players.
Back: Dale Eikerman, Wally Josephison, Joe Makar, Gabe Brissard, Kevin Gleeson, George Loades (equipment manager), Ralph Walker, Bob Dunbar, Larry Noble, Ken Fischer, Bob (Butch) Fischer.
Front: Brian Gaume, Len Joesphison, Ron Prior, John Akers, Alberta Baseball Association representative Bill Brooke, Larry Procktor, batboy in very front is David Ash.
(Photo: Viking In Progress: Volume 2, 1991).

In 1968 the team had entered the Powerline League which they still compete as of 1990. The club was dormant for a short period in the late 1970’s as players had become as scarce as they had been in 1936. A smart new diamond has been built in the recreation park in the northeast area of the town and as baseball season rolls around each year, the efforts of Vern Hafso to form a team cannot be daunted. Over the past ten years there have been many second generation players; Laure Brissard, Rick Hoines, Murray and Darren Josephison, Richard and Patrick Voltner. Lineups have consisted of Vern Hafso, Bruce Ratcliffe, Doug Appleby, Glenn Dilworth, Colin McLaren, Bob Congdon, Barry Field, Reg Stefaniszyn, Ken Lefsrud, Don Voltner, Cliff Longman, Ken Zemanek, Blair McNabb, Ping Pon, John Hunter, Kim Neill and countless others. Apologies again made to any omissions. 

The Shamrocks have not participated in any major tournaments nor have they won their league playoffs as of the past few years, however, the dedication to keep this club together is a credit to those involved. Possibly one of the reasons for the team having up and down seasons is due to a low turnout of participants for this sport. The youth in Viking do not have the opportunity to develop the skills that are needed for the game. There seems to be a lack of interest in Minor Ball and the fact that it is no longer a priority in the sporting events in the schools is certainly a contributing factor. The game of baseball has played a large part in the social pastimes of Viking and community our the course of our history and hopefully will continue to do so in the future. 

Posted in Kris, PBL