MATTOON – Twenty-five years later Mike Mose blames coach Gene Creek for the fight.
“He always had his one-liners,” Mose said of the former Lake Land baseball coach. “He’d say ‘tell that pitcher to wipe the ketchup off his chin.’ ”
Creek does not deny that he passed along some bench-jockeying traits he and Marty Pattin used on their non-pitching days as Eastern Illinois standouts.
“We’d say things like ‘Is that your belt you’ve got on or is that the equator?’ ” Creek said. “They were all clean. They had to be. But it was fair game. The NCAA has put at end to that.”
Then again Mose admits he was the one who actually aggravated the Meramec College pitcher who threw the baseball into the Lake Land dugout hitting Brian Loman in the face.
“I made a comment and he threw the ball and hit the guy next to me,” Mose said.
Then as former Journal Gazette Sports Editor Jim Kimball wrote in the game story, “Mike (Tyson) Mose led the Laker charge out of the dugout and was the first player to ‘greet’ Whaley lighting the skirmish between the two teams.”
Mose said the past week, “It wasn’t something we were proud of course but you have to take care of your teammates.”
Yes, these were teammates maybe even more so after that 7-6 win over Meramac marred by the bench-clearing brawl.
“It kind of united us,” Brad Stuart, the team’s shortstop said. “Not that we weren’t before that.”
The team is to reunite on Saturday for a 25th reunion of a 54-22 season that ended with a sixth-place finish in the NJCAA World Series at Grand Junction, Colo.
The team is to be recognized between games of Lake Land’s doubleheader against Olney that is to start at noon at the LLC field, and then a cookout is planned following the second game that will likely rekindle memories.
“We had what seemed like a bunch of misfits,” said former outfielder Steve Fischer who plans to come from his Tampa, Fla., home to the reunion. “We had the older guy Mike Mose and a bunch of young guys. We had six guys back if that, For us to go to Grand Junction was unreal.
“There were probably a few trips I could describe that really couldn’t be written in the paper but there were some good times. We partied as a team, we played as a team and of course we went to school together, it was just like a big family of kids.”
Those kids teamed together for a World Series berth.
“We did not have any players drafted,” Creek said. “It was just a group of good solid fundamentally strong baseball players and we were pretty deep in that category. Probably one of the strongest points of this team was the camaraderie. I learned over the years you could have all the talent you want but if they don’t get along you’re not going to be very good. I learned that after some years you have to have everybody pulling for each other.”
Others credit Creek as well.
“Coach Creek just allowed us an atmosphere to have fun,” said Mattoon’s Ken Gagnon, pitched the Lakers’ 10-2 win over Southern Idaho in the first round of the World Series before they were eliminated with two losses. “I know it’s kind of cliché but every single player on the roster contributed to the team sometime during the year. I’ve never been part of a team where there was so many players contributing. Most of the pitchers were freshmen. Brent Baker and Bob Summers the key go-to guys were freshmen. We just had such great team chemistry. We had so much fun, during the games on the trips. I think that helped more than anything. We were truly a team.
Gagnon also added with a laugh: “Mike Mose was kind of the team leader. He was the oldest one. It probably wasn’t the wisest thing having him the leader.”
Mose was a story all by himself.
The Stephen Decatur High School product came to Lake Land in 1984 as Creek’s top right-handed pitching recruit but hurt his arm, quit school and joined the Marines.
After a knee injury ended his military career, Mose decided to get back into baseball as a first baseman and was headed to Olney Central until Creek got word and steered him back to the Lakers.
That turned out to be a good move particularly when Mose tied a JUCO World Series record hitting three home runs in the first-round win
“We are heading to Grand Junction and we stopped about an hour and took batting practice,” Mose said. “I felt I was in a zone and I stayed in that for the first game. I tell everybody it’s because of the thin air. I was always pretty thick but I was more of a line drive hitter. I can remember it like it was yesterday and I’m 47.”
Older than 47, Creek hasn’t forgotten either.
“If I were making a highlight film of my career, the leading highlight was probably when I was standing there in the third base coach’s box and seeing Mike hit home runs on his first three times up in the World Series,” the retired coach said.
Those three homers gave Mose a team-high nine homers for the season to go with his .333 batting average.
For most of the season the leading power hitter was Effingham’s Chris Hutts, who had seven homers and a .332 batting average and died of cancer in 2003.
Outfielder Sean Martin of Bethany wound up with a team-high .353 batting average, Stuart of Mount Zion hit .347, infielder Bob Ingle of Pleasant Hill had seven homers, seven triples and 16 doubles while batting .328 and another Mount Zion product Fischer stole 25 bases and had 15 doubles batting .332.
Baker from Crete-Monee posted an 11-2 pitching record with a 2.51 ERA, Gagnon after starting 0-4 then finished 11-4 with a save, a 2.49 ERA and a team-high 67 strikeouts in 104 innings and Metamora’s Summers was 10-3 with a .244 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings while two other hometown Mattoon products Steve Otto, 6-2 with a 2.76 ERA, and John Shepley, 5-2 with a 3.14 ERA, were contributors to a staff that had a sparkling 2.91 team ERA.
Those are numbers the former players may see at their reunion reading comprehensive scrapbooks kept by Gagnon’s mother.
Other memories need no scrapbook.
“As much as the baseball, which was great, it was just how well all these guys from small towns in Central Illinois got along,” said David Quinn, a second baseman/outfielder from East Peoria now living in New York and planning to make the trip to the reunion. “We had nicknames. We just had a lot of good loose group of guys. We didn’t have any superstars.”
“I think most people remember when Mike Mose hit the three home runs in the game. I think most people thought we were ready to win it all but then reality sent in. And then I think the stretch run Ken Gagnon had. He really got on a role and was our ace and led us into the tournament.”
Stuart said: “If you look back you remember the games and success the teams had, but if you talk to guys it was more the stories, things at Grand Junction, off the field, the trip out there. We had a really quality group of guys. We had a quality coach. We had a lot of fun and memories. When we get together we’ll be telling stories: Remember we when we did this, remember that. That’s the memories, the bonding that took place.”
Those memories include how Mose, who by the time he returned for his sophomore year at Lake Land was 21 and married, helped support his family as a bartender at the Mattoon Elks Club.
“We had guys who were a close knit group,” Mose said. “I think what put us over the top was our pitching. Mostly of the position players were from the area. We knew each other and had played each other from legion. We hung out and played intramurals together.”
Oh yeah, Mose, who went on to be a head baseball coach at Stephen Decatur and now is Mount Zion’s athletic director, also gives the Lakers’ coach credit for more than just providing one-liners.
“Creek knew the game inside and out,” Mose said. “When I went to coaching high school baseball I developed my strategies by the way he coached.”
Coaching help also came from Kurt Stretch as an assistant.
“Kurt was a very big part of this ballclub and very instrumental in the team being so closely knit,” Creek said.
Now Mattoon’s parks superintendent well know for grooming impressive baseball fields in town, Stretch did his part with the facilities back then.
After that wild game against Maramec, Stretch for the next game hung boxing gloves in the Lakers’ dugout.
Contact Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-238-6856.
LAKERS’ POSTSEASON RUN
Score Pitcher of record Game winning RBI
LLC 8, Rend Lake 3 Ken Gagnon Sean Martin
LLC 4, Olney 1 Bob Summers Chris Hutts
Lake Land 9, Parkland 7 Brent Baker --
LLC 8, Rend Lake 3 Ken Gagnon Sean Martin
Lincoln Land 12, LLC 7 John Shepley --
LLC 11, Rend Lake 4 Brent Baker Rick Pezzuto
LLC 5, Lincoln Land 2 Troy Elias --
LLC 2, Lincoln Land 1 Steve Ott Steve Fischer
Great Lakes District
LLC 14, Kishwaukee 4 Ken Gagnon Chris Hutts
LLC 13, Grand Rapids 8 John Shepley Mike Mose
LLC 7, Grand Rapids 3 Troy Elias --
LLC 10, Southern Idaho 2 Ken Gagnon Mike Mose
San Jacinto 14, Lake Land 4 Brent Baker --
Southern Idaho 13, Lake Land 3 Bob Summers