Remembering the Mallards

History of former Minot baseball team in need of preserving

Alex Eisen/MDN
A Minot Mallards baseball cap sits perched on a roof overhang at the entrance of Corbett Field, formerly known as the Minot Municipal Ballpark. The Mallards once called this stadium home decades ago.

Alex Eisen/MDN A Minot Mallards baseball cap sits perched on a roof overhang at the entrance of Corbett Field, formerly known as the Minot Municipal Ballpark. The Mallards once called this stadium home decades ago.

It’s been 20 years since the Minot Mallards vanished for a third time.

From being the baseball team that captivated the city in the 1950s and 1960s to finding new life in the 1990s, the remnants of the once popular ball club in Minot has slowly diminished over time.

Spotting a Mallard’s hat in Minot is now a rare sight. The old stomping grounds at the Minot Municipal Ballpark have since been renovated and renamed to Corbett Field. And, if not for the efforts of William ‘Bill’ Guenthner, information about the historic Mallards would be difficult to find.

Age of Technology

The legacy of the first Minot Mallards’ team from 1950 to 1957 in the Manitoba-Dakota (Mandak) League lives on today in large part due to a website Guenthner created years ago and can still be viewed at attheplate.com/mallards/.

Player biographies, pictures, personal memories and a lot more can be found with a click of a button. Most of the information posted online comes from memorabilia and strenuous research collected over years by Guenthner.

The time-consuming project began out of nostalgia, a Sunday newspaper and the internet.

“I was visiting my hometown of Minot for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration,” Guenthner said. “I was at the airport leaving to go back home and I picked up a Minot Daily Newspaper to read on the airplane, and I found out that the Minot Mallards had been reincarnated as the Minot Mallards of the independent Prairie League.”

That was the most recent Mallards’ team and they lasted three seasons from 1995-97. Despite having great success by winning the Prairie League Championship in 1996 and 1997, the league went bankrupt and the team folded.

A reunion for the previous Mallards’ teams was what caught Guenthner’s attention in the newspaper.

“While I couldn’t go back because I had already made my trip to Minot,” he said. “I wrote to the people organizing the reunion and I got them to send me a copy of the reunion booklet. Shortly after that time, I’m not sure of the year, the internet started to get really popular and stuff started showing up on the internet about the Minot Mallards. So, I started emailing people and collecting information.”

Guenthner focused mostly on collecting data from the Mandak League Mallards and the following Mallards’ squad that was a part of the Northern League from 1958 to 1960 and the 1962 season. He later decided to get rid of everything but the Mandak information. A decision he now regrets.

“I wish I wouldn’t have done that because there are people younger than me that live all over the country and some of them were bat boys or something for those other teams,” he said. “They really drew a crowd as well and had some high caliber baseball teams.”

Yet, getting Mandak Mallards’ material was seemingly abundant at the time.

Guenthner worked closely with Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster and reporter Jay-Dell Mah and his associate Barry Swanton in exchanging new facts. Among other things, Swanton wrote a book on the Mandak League and Mah is responsible for putting together a comprehensive website on Western Canada Baseball.

“I was feeding them information and I had collected quite a bit,” Guenthner said. “Whenever I went to Minot for a visit I would go to the library, get on the microfilm readers and I would go through the different seasons and start collecting really detailed information. Every player and every game. Finally, those two fellows convinced me that I should start a website.”

The website, launched in 2005, was updated by Guenthner for five years or so before things started to get stagnant.

“I kind of used up the world’s interest in the Minot Mallards,” he said. “I wasn’t getting any more new information, so I shut down the website. Quit paying the fee. Then, later, Mah adopted my website into his.”

‘Fuzzy Memories’

A section on the Mallards’ website includes what Guenthner coined as ‘fuzzy memories,’ which he described as “memories passed on” that “aren’t always that clear and accurate, and secondly, people have a warm and fuzzy feelings about them.”

There are tales from former players to the bat boys with even a memory from Guenthner, who was born in 1943 and grew up watching the Mallards. Memories that add color to the fading portraits of the past.

“I can remember as a kid going to the ballpark, the same ballpark they have now, and that grandstand would be completely full,” Guenthner recalled. “They had bleachers on both sides, all the way to third base and first base. They were full. People sat on the grass along the foul lines all the way out into the outfield to watch those games on a Sunday afternoon. It was really the biggest thing and the kids just loved it.”

The Mandak League Mallards bolstered the likes of baseball Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Willard Brown, albeit for short stints. Most notably, Paige was contracted to pitch in just three of Minot’s first five games at the start the 1950 season to help generate interest in the team.

About one fourth of Mandak Mallards players came from the Negro leagues and 17 out of the 147 total players had Major League Baseball experience.

During the eight-year span, the ManDak Mallards won three pennants (1952, 1953 and 1954) and three playoff championships (1952, 1953 and 1955). Their overall regular season record was 299 wins and 240 losses.

Amidst the success, youngsters like Guenthner got to be right into the middle of the action.

“The players were good to the kids,” Guenthner said. “We would go to the ballpark early and we could go out on the field during batting practice and shag balls. I guess there weren’t any active lawyers in Minot then because there wasn’t any concern that somebody would get hurt.”

Guenthner was raised in Minot’s Eastwood Park and would walk over to the ballpark with his friends. He started taking interest in the Mallards when he was around 10 years old and followed them closely throughout the Mandak League.

He graduated from Bishop Ryan in 1961 and then the University of North Dakota in 1966. Guenthner moved out to the East Coast after college to work for a chemical company and hasn’t lived in North Dakota since. He currently resides in Delaware, but still makes frequent visits back to the area.

“My mother is still there,” Guenthner said. “She moved from Minot to Mohall two years ago to enter a nursing home. I make trips back to Minot every year, sometimes several trips a year to visit my mother.”

An Untimely Visit

One trip back to Minot in 2011 didn’t go how Guenthner had planned.

“I had made arrangements with the director at the library to donate all my stuff,” he said. “The year I was going to deliver it, the library was closed because of the flood.”

Guenthner’s collection is extensive: an autographed baseball from the 1953 team, homemade baseball cards, photos, letters, scorebooks, the reunion booklet, Swanton’s book, his own book called “Minot Mallards of the ManDak League, 1950-1957,” Minot Daily News clippings and more.

All of it is still in his possession, in Delaware, and is in danger of being lost forever.

“It really belongs in Minot,” Guenthner said. “It will never survive out here. It will end up in the dumpster out here. If the library, the university or some organization wants it, then I’d be glad to donate everything that I have if they are willing to pay the shipping.”

So, perhaps this Sunday newspaper article can aid in protecting what it helped inspire decades ago.

For those interested, Guenthner can be reached by email at bguenthner@verizon.net.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.

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