By Nick Beversdorf
On Friday, members of the Merrill community gathered at historic Athletic Park to celebrate the induction of three individuals and the 2005 American Legion state championship team into the Merrill Baseball Hall of Fame as the class of 2016.
As ground crews still worked in the background to prepare the baseball field after the intermittent rain, the inductees lined up on the first base line. The induction started with recognition of players from the 2005 Merrill Edward Burns Post 46 team. The team won Merrill’s first AA state Legion tournament at Kimberely. The team earned their trip to state by beating Menominee in the Menominee regional.
In the final, Pete Sanders hit the longest ground rule double one would ever see and helped lead the team to victory. They posted a 5-0 record at the state tournament and had an overall record of 28-7. They had dominant pitching and strong hitting led by the tournament’s outstanding player Josh Osness, beating Denmark in the finals. Many players had been part of the team that finished third in Waterford the season before and capped a string of four straight seasons where the team reached the final day of the five-day tournament.
Members of the 2005 American Legion team include Paul Stiver, Pete Sanders, Jeff Servi, Jake Vachavake, Jake Rose, Eric Dayton, Nick Grunenwald, Jordan Stine, Kurt Annis, John Erickson, Walter Mootz, Josh Osness, Jake Kriewald, Shawn Schultz (coach), Luke Porath (assistant coach) and Ty Grunenwald (bat boy).
The three individual inductees included Nick Grunenwald, Stan Rothmeyer and Bob Natzke. Nick Grunenwald was a multi-sport athlete at MHS, earning his varsity letters in four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track. As a baseball player in Merrill, Nick played at every level as a team captain and achieved All-Star status. From 2003-05, he started for MHS at shortstop and is still among the top 10 all-time career leader in almost every hitting category.
In 2005 he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year, as well as the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year in Wisconsin. He played in the 2005 WCBA Coaches All-Star Classic in Oshkosh with his teammate Jordan Stine and his coach, Brian Artac, and he also played in the American Legion All-Star Classic at Miller Park.
He was signed to a D1 baseball scholarship at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, LA. Playing in the Western Athletic Conference, he played second base, SS and center and he was a four-time ALL-WAC Academic All-Star. He compiled a 0.300 career batting average, with 10 home runs and 52 stolen bases. His 52 stolen bases still ranks him fourth in all-time at LA Tech. His 0.387 single season average in 2006 is among the career all-time top 10. He played a total of 185 games at LA Tech and started in 129 of them.
Today, Nick resides in Nashville, TN where he is a corporate attorney with a specialization in mergers & acquisitions. His wife is currently working on a post-doctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University.
Stan Rothmeyer started playing baseball at Doering in 1951 at age 13. In 1952 he played first base in the Lincoln County All-Star game where he played all nine innings at age 14. From 1952 to 1955 he played center and SS for the Merrill Bluejays. He averaged .400 for three years with several inside-the-park home runs. In 1955 he, along with the team, made his first appearance at the state tournament. He had a double and scored one run.
From 1955 to 1957, Stan played for the Merrill Rangers in the Semi-Pro Wisconsin Valley League. In 1956 he had a three-week spring training camp with the Cubs in Lafayette, LA. He played in the State Tournament with the Rangers at Milwaukee County Stadium. He had two of six hits in Merrill’s 2-1 win. He had a grand slam home run over the stone wall at Athletic in left field in a comeback 16-15 win against Abbotsford.
In 1959 he won the Lincoln County batting title with a .540 batting average and seven home runs – with three in one game. He played eight of nine positions for Doering, all but catcher. He started pitching regularly in the 1960s. He had 18 strikeouts in one game and 14 against Hendrick for a 7-4 win, with 12 strikeouts in another game. He also had a no-hitter for seven innings in a 10-3 win over City Merchant; they game ended as a two-hitter.
Stan coached his older son’s little league team for four years in the ’60s though the ’70s. He coached his younger son’s little league team in the 1990s and he coached the Senior League All-Stars for two years and went to Buffalo, MN one year. He was the assistant coach with Rob for his grandson Jared and kept score in Senior League in the 2000s. He has been involved in baseball for 29 years and now watches high school and Brewers’ games.
Last but not least, Bob Natzke played his first organized baseball game in the spring of 1950 at Merrill High School. After that he played Legion baseball in the Lincoln County League. He last played with the Merrill Rangers in 1954.
Bob was born on Sept. 6, 1935 in the town of Corning. He married Janet Anderson in 1957 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Merrill. They were blessed with two children-Susan and David. After graduating from Wisconsin State College-Whitewater (now UW-Whitewater), Bob worked at Union Upholstering Company in Jefferson, Wis. In 1962 he returned to Merrill to work at Merrill Gravel and Construction Company from which he retired in 2000.
When his son started playing Little League in 1974, Bob started coaching baseball. He always coached under the creed “Play hard, play smart, have fun.” Although winning was always enjoyable, the most pleasure he received from coaching was seeing the players increase their ability and knowledge in playing baseball.
He coached Little League for 24 years until the league dropped teams. The JCs, which he coached, was one of the teams eliminated.
Bob believes that all people that make Little League possible deserve everyone’s applause. He also gives a special thank you to Floyd Korpi who was a quintessential component of coaching the JCs for many years. Bob hopes that all the JC players enjoyed their time with the team as much as he did coaching them. The crack of the bat and other familiar sounds that emanate from the baseball field will always bring back pleasant memories to him and feed his baseball addiction.
The Merrill Baseball Hall of Fame was started in 2010 and was celebrated by an induction ceremony and banquet at a local restaurant. In 2015, the celebration was moved to coincide with the annual Legion baseball tournament held at Athletic Park.