FREMONT, Neb. — The decades haven’t dimmed Bob Warner’s enthusiasm for Fremont baseball.
The 90-year-old was a proud member of the city’s first American Legion state championship squad in 1946. This year’s team recently ended a 73-year drought by becoming Fremont’s second Legion state champ.
“I’m tickled to death they won it,” Warner said. “It’s been a really long time.”
Warner, who still lives in Fremont, will follow Fremont First State Bank’s regional games on the radio. They will be played in Hastings, the same city that hosted the 1946 regional.
“I can remember what a big deal it was when we made it,” he said. “It’s great that these boys are going to experience that.”
Warner’s memory is still sharp about that state championship team, led by ace pitcher Paul Menking. He threw a 10-inning perfect game with 21 strikeouts in Fremont’s regional opener, a 1-0 victory over Wyoming champion Cheyenne.
“He was probably the best I ever saw,” Warner said. “He had a great fastball, a great curve and he never walked anybody.”
Warner smiles while remembering those carefree baseball days and the stories that go with them. He can’t forget the times when his Fremont team, which included players from surrounding towns, had to play on the road.
“The Legion folks got a farmer to donate a cattle truck for us to ride in,” he said. “They’d hook up a fire hose to wash it out and then put in two big benches for us to sit on.”
Getting to home games also was a chore, particularly for players who didn’t live in Fremont. Menking regularly hitchhiked from Arlington. Second baseman Roland Laaker, who didn’t have a driver’s license, stayed on backroads while piloting his parents’ 1933 Model A Ford.
Warner remembers the excitement that Legion team generated during a much simpler time in America. The nation was one year removed from World War II during the presidency of Harry Truman.
“Back then there was nothing for us guys to do in the summer but play baseball or shoot marbles,” he said. “Fremont didn’t have a swimming pool and the only golf course was private.”
The crowds were enormous for home games at Moller Field, Warner said.
“The newspaper estimated there were as many as 2,500 fans for the state tournament games,” he said. “The people were everywhere, all around the field.”
Those crowds led to an embarrassing moment during warmups one day when a baseball rolled under the skirt of a girl sitting inside the fence near the third-base line. Warner, the third baseman, never did go get the ball.
The game also was simpler. There were no helmets, the bats were made of wood and the uniforms were 100% wool.
The 1946 Fremont squad was coached by Virgil Yelkin, who went on to great success at Omaha University. He started the baseball program at Omaha U. in 1947 and won 439 games in 26 years.
“He was a very good coach but very demanding,” Warner said. “He pushed us to be the best.”
Fremont won that first state championship by posting three shutout wins, including a 4-0 victory over Omaha McFayden’s for the title. Then it was on to regionals at Pershing Field, later renamed Duncan Field — site of this year’s regional.
Following Menking’s perfect game, which drew national attention, Fremont couldn’t repeat that success. The team headed home after two consecutive losses.
“It went downhill for us after that first win,” Warner said. “But we were still really proud of what we’d accomplished.”
The players went their separate ways after that historic season, which for Warner meant a five-year stint in the Navy. He went on to work for the Omaha-based Hawkins Construction firm for 36 years.
He served on the Fremont City Council for 20 years and now enjoys retirement with his wife of 65 years, Nadine.
Warner said the 1946 team held its first reunion in 1991 and tried to get together every five years. The reunions have ended as the number of surviving team members dwindled to three — Warner, Laaker and shortstop Donnie Rice.
Menking, considered one of Nebraska’s best Legion players ever, pitched professionally for 10 years in the Chicago Cubs organization. He died in 2017.
With the Mid-South Regional set to begin Wednesday in Hastings, Warner said he’ll be cheering hard for this year’s Fremont team.
“It’s great they accomplished what they did,” he said. “They’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”
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Left to right, sitting: Tony Martin, Omaha Burke; Tyler Goodro, Omaha Creighton Prep; Scott Kaskie, Papillion-La Vista; Sam Merrill, Millard North; Connor O'Neill, Omaha Westside; Kevin Dooley, Papillion-La Vista; Matt Bowers, Omaha Roncalli; Dustin Koca, Omaha Westside. Kneeling: Jared Erspamer, Millard South; Tim Huber, Omaha Creighton Prep; Ryan Wehrle, Papillion-La Vista. Standing: Drew Schwab, Omaha Westside; Steve Winkelmann, Omaha Gross.
Clockwise from upper left: Omaha Westside's Tyler Knust, Omaha Burke's Tony Martin, Omaha Burke's Erik Bird, Millard South's Derrick Kendrick, Millard North's Robbie Knight, Millard North's Conor Gillaspie, Omaha Central's David Cleveland, Millard North's Jason Jewell, Millard West's Jon Reed, Omaha Westside's Darin Ruf, Millard North's Sam Merrill, Omaha Westside's Sam Murphy, Bellevue East's Tyler Cloyd and Omaha Skutt's Zach Herr.
Front row (from left), Bobby Lackovic, Omaha Skutt; Bryant Cotton, Omaha Central; Shaun Hoover, Millard West; Sam Murphy, Omaha Westside; Marcus Palimenio, Omaha Westside; Mark Waldron, Omaha Creighton Prep. Back row, Charlie Shaver, Elkhorn; Ian Dike, Lincoln Southwest; Kent Urban, Lincoln Northeast; Danny Hunter, Papillion-La Vista; Casey Hauptman, Millard South; Wyatt Kirwan, Omaha Westside; Pat Krebs, Omaha Creighton Prep. Not pictured, Brandon Kirsch, Papillion-La Vista South.
Standing (left to right, clockwise), John Reiss, Papillion-La Vista; Mark Waldron, Omaha Creighton Prep; Casey Hauptman, Millard South; David Hulsebus, Millard West; Ben Kline, Omaha Central; Kent Urban, Lincoln Northeast; Ty Kildow, Millard South; Kash Kalkowski, Grand Island; Jonas Dufek, Millard West; and Matt Freeman, Elkhorn. Sitting (left to right, clockwise) are Zach Willand, Papillion-La Vista South; Travis Parker, Lincoln Northeast; Drew Daubman, Omaha Westside; and Taylor Weisbeck, Papillion-La Vista.
First row, from left: Millard West's Steve Jensen, Omaha Gross' Brandon Winkelmann, Millard South's Ty Kildow, Grand Island's Kash Kalkowski, Millard North's Brett Koehn, Millard North's Blake Brisson and Lincoln North Star's Jake Benne. Second Row, from left: Ralston's Derek Landis, Omaha Creighton Prep's Derek Nelson, Omaha Creighton Prep's Joe Holtmeyer, Omaha Creighton Prep's Zane Hinkel, Papillion-La Vista South's Kendall Wehrle, Lincoln Southeast's Jake Kuebler and Lincoln Southeast's Josh Scheffert.
Back row from left, are Millard West's Brandon Bass, Millard West's Tyler Niederklein, Omaha Westside's Chris Williams, Columbus' Kurt Farmer, Lincoln Southeast's Josh Scheffert, Lincoln Southwest's Adam Peters, and Omaha Bryan's Aaron Beil. Front row from left are Creighton Prep's Mike Pritchard, Omaha Creighton Prep's Ryan Briggs, Nebraska City's Logan Ehlers, Omaha Westside's Jory Goldstrom, Millard South's Ty Kildow, Omaha Northwest's Kyle Kinman, and Papillion-La Vista South's Brian Donohoe.
Kneeling, left to right: Reed Svoboda, Lincoln Northeast; Kyle Kruger, Millard West; Mike Siwa, Om. Burke; Albert Johnson, Papillion-La Vista South; Cody Kottich, Om. Bryan; Brett Bass, Millard West. Standing left to right: Logan Ehlers, Nebraska City; Mike Pritchard, Om. Creighton Prep; A.J. Ladwig, Millard West; Caleb Palensky, Papillion-La Vista South; John Sorensen, Papillion-La Vista; Brad McKewon, Millard South; Joey Jones, Papillion-La Vista; Paul Rosales, Om. Gross.
From left top row: Justin Paul, Papillion-La Vista South, Albert Johnson, Papillion-La Vista South, Kyle Kubat, Om. Creighton Prep, Nate Griep, Millard West, Tanner Lubach, Lincoln Southwest, A.J. Ladwig, Millard West, Tyler Lane, Papillion-La Vista South, Casey Gillaspie, Millard North, Adam Morey, Millard West. Bottom row from left: Blake Headley, Millard South, Taylor Doggett, Lincoln Southeast and Quentin Urban, Millard South.
Back row, left to right: Jordan Schroer, Lincoln Northeast; Taylor Elman, Omaha Creighton Prep; Nate Griep, Millard West; Casey Sayles, Omaha North. Second row: Matt Warren, Omaha Skutt; Brayden Young, Lincoln Southwest; Marcus Ethen, Millard West. Third row: Danny Regan, Millard South; Kevin Connolly, Omaha Creighton Prep; Jack Wilson, Millard North; Jake Placzek, Papillion-La Vista. Front row: Austin Groth, South Sioux City; Danny Suiter, Lincoln Southwest; Colby McPike, Lincoln Northeast.
Front row, from left: Papillion-La Vista South's Josh Kiger; Millard West's Ryan Merrill; Millard South's Jake Huscroft; Lincoln North Star's Tyler Coufal; Wahoo's Quinn McGill; Omaha North's Brendan Jensen; Omaha Creighton Prep's Jeff Albrecht. Back row, from left: Omaha Westside's Mike Waldron; Norris' Jakson Reetz; Lincoln East's Jake Hohensee; Waverly's Sam Tewes; Lincoln Southwest's Brayden Young; Norris' Byron Hood; Omaha Westside's Jake Meyers.
Clockwise from left: Omaha Skutt's Jake Barton, Papillion-La Vista South's Grant Suponchick, Norris' Byron Hood, Omaha Creighton Prep's Dillon O'Doherty, Omaha Westside's Mike Waldron, Omaha Roncalli's Alec Bohm, Lincoln Pius X's Michael Helman, Omaha Westside's Devin Stueck, Bellevue West's Cole Patterson, Lincoln North Star's Brook Bolles, Norris' Jakson Reetz, Millard West's Logan Jacik, Omaha Westside's Jake Meyers and Omaha Westside's Drew Fitzmorris.
From left, Seward’s Ben Klenke, Papillion-La Vista’s Jack Kalina, Papillion-La Vista South’s Grant Suponchick, Papillion-La Vista’s Grant Van Scoy, Lincoln Pius X’s Michael Helman, Omaha Westside’s Matt Waldron, Southwest’s Logan Foster, Omaha Westside’s Mike Waldron, Millard West’s Cole Stobbe, Omaha Westside’s Alex Nielsen, Millard North’s Bryce Rogokos, Elkhorn’s Drew Smith and Millard South’s Nate Mallott.
Back row (left to right): Brett Vosik, Creighton Prep; Cole Stobbe, Millard West; Brandon Bena, Creighton Prep; Spencer Lear, Millard West; Zach Argo, Norris; Joey Machado, Creighton Prep; Nick Nelsen, Blair. Front row: Calvin Rudolph, Millard South; Wyatt Divis, Lincoln Northeast; Jacob Uhing, Elkhorn; Logan Foster, Lincoln Southwest; Jonah Ulane, Millard South; Mojo Hagge, Omaha Skutt; Drew Smith, Elkhorn.
Front row, from left: Austin Schultz, Norris; Shay Schanaman, Grand Island; Dylan Phillips, Creighton Prep; Drew Gilin, Millard South; Josh Culliver, Creighton Prep; and Isaiah Peterson, Lincoln Southwest. Back row, from left: Perry, Millard South; Max McGuire, Lincoln Southwest; Joe Roecker, Elkhorn; Cam Taylor, Bellevue West; Colby Gomes, Millard West; Noah Sacco, Millard North; Nick Henrichs, Omaha Westside; Garrett Kocis, Millard West.
From left: Lincoln Southeast's Logan Van Treeck, Roncalli's Alex Rodgers, Omaha Burke's Hunter Waugh, Creighton Prep's Dylan Phillips, Millard West's Colby Gomes, Creighton Prep's Owen Richter, Millard South's Kyle Perry, Creighton Prep's Evan Laney, Elkhorn South's Will Reetz, Norris' Zach Argo, Grand Island's Shay Schanaman, Norris' Austin Schultz, Grand Island Cole Evans and Millard South's Drew Gilin.
From left: Max Anderson of Millard West, Austin Callahan of Fremont Bergan, Cole Evans of Grand Island, Caleb Riedel of Millard West, Alex Wize of Omaha Burke, Cooper Prososki of Bennington, Sam Wibbels of Hastings, Tyson Gerdes of Millard South, Drew Wessel of Millard South, Sayer Diederich of Elkhorn South, Noah Greise of Millard South, Cam Frederick of Lincoln Southwest, Connor Barnett of Papillion-La Vista, and Noah Olson of Omaha Burke.