by Mike Nistler
It was a grand old day at Schneider Field in St. Joseph last Saturday as old-timers who once donned the hometown uniform gathered to relive memories.
Some took a few swings of the bat. Some brought their old uniforms and gloves. And others just swapped stories, shared laughs and had a great time.
The event was organized by Mike Staller, who grew up just a baseball toss from the ballfield where his father, Tom, played ball. Tom Staller passed away on Christmas Day 2011.
“My hero died that day,” Mike said. fighting back tears.
By getting the old players back to reminisce, Staller was paying tribute to his father, he said.
“I’m doing this more for me than anything,” he said. “By hearing stories, my dad is still alive.”
The younger Staller, 52, is playing baseball this season for the St. Joseph Joes, despite having a pacemaker implanted in his chest. He gets two or three innings each game in at second base.
One of the men who took part in the reunion activities was Lloyd Pallansch, 73, who was one of Tom Staller’s best friends. At 73, Pallansch, can still hit and throw a baseball like a man half his age. Nicknamed “Papa Smurf” by former Minnesota Twin Al Newman, Pallansch is a regular at fantasy camps held by the Twins.
The men who gathered reminisced about the old days, when St. Joseph, just a small town, had two teams — the Saints and the Joes. The Joes were the “farm team” for the Saints, who could compete with any team in the state.
Many times, the teams were comprised of just a few family names. For instance, looking back at old box scores from those days you could find a St. Joe team that was made up of “four Krebsbach boys, three Pfannenstein boys and two Staller boys,” Staller said.
“Back then, baseball was the fabric of the community,” said Staller, whose grandfather Al played in the ‘20s and ‘30s. “People would go to church and then to the baseball game.”
One of the stories being told on this day was the day in 1959 that left-handed hitting Jerry “Bubba” Pfannenstein hit a baseball so far into right field that it bounced and landed on top of the El Paso Club. Pfannenstein was in high school at the time. and he remembers hitting the “fat fastball” off of rival Cold Spring’s Buzz Theis.
St. Joseph and Cold Spring were such bitter rivals Pallansch said he has a friend who to this day refuses to eat bread made in Cold Spring because of the rivalry.
“We hated those guys,” Lloyd Pallansch said with a laugh.
Those old teams had some players who actually spent time in the minor league for professional teams. Buddy Rebar is one. Tommy Krebsbach is another. Krebsbach, who didn’t want to talk about those days, was a shortstop who spent a few years in the New York Yankee organization.
“We learned more about baseball from Tommy than all of our coaches,” Jerry Pfannenstein said.
Tommy Krebsbach was the youngest of four Krebsbachs who played baseball for St. Joe. The others were Teddy, John and Jake. Tommy, his friends said, benefited from his brothers’ tutelage.
Tommy Krebsbach played for the Saints as a high schooler. Then, when he was a freshman at St. John’s University, he was noticed by a scout for the Yankees, thus beginning his pro career.
One of the highlights of the day for Staller was being able to throw batting practice to Pallansch as well as his dad’s brother, Jimmy Staller, 73.
While the old-timers hit, the current players for the Joes — many in their 20s — fielded the batted balls. And Chuck Pfannenstein, who caught for St. Joseph from 1953 to 1963, even sported his old uniform as well as the catcher’s mitt he purchased some 48 years ago.
“The guys had a blast,” Staller said. “I think Mel Hiltner, after throwing out the first pitch (before St. Joe played Sartell) and being handed a game ball signed by all the alumni there, was close to tears as he handed the ball to his wife Sharon saying ‘look at the ball these guys gave me.’ He smiled ear to ear all afternoon.”
It was a grand day indeed.