Baseball is alive and well in Norway … Iowa

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Photo courtesy of Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway
Norway, Iowa, was settled by Norwegian immigrants, but these days, the town is more closely associated with American baseball. The tiny hamlet was inspiration for the movie The Final Season.

MICHAEL KLEINER
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

In one of the iconic lines in the movie Field of Dreams, the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) asks the builder of the baseball diamond in a cornfield in Iowa, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), “Is this heaven?” “No,” says Kinsella, “It’s Iowa.”

About 83 miles away from the movie site in Dyersville, sits the tiny hamlet of Norway, Iowa, population about 520. For almost 160 years, since returning soldiers from the Civil War brought the game of baseball home with them, Norway has had a love of the game embodied in Field of Dreams.

From 1965 to 1991, Norway Community School, enrollment 101, won 20 state baseball championships and was runner-up four times. Overall, it’s been to the tournament 29 times. The school shuttered its doors after the 1991 campaign and became part of the Benton County School District. Norway has its own film about itself, The Final Season, filmed in 2006, about the high school’s final run to glory, filmed on location.

The Norway Bandits won its final Iowa Amateur Baseball Association semi-pro championship in 2013, the same year as the town’s 150th anniversary. Despite its size, Norway has sent four players to the major leagues, 19 to the minor leagues, and many to college ranks. Over on East Railroad Street, sits the homage to itself, the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway, complete with a Hall of Fame.

Photo courtesy of Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway
The sign over the entrance to the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway is clearly reminiscent of a stadium scoreboard. The museum was largely built by local volunteers and former players from the town.

Is there a relationship between the two famous towns of Iowa baseball?

“We support their museum, and they support our museum,” said Shona Frese, the 78-year-old museum manager/curator, by phone. “There’s no connection except for the love of baseball.”

Frese, who is half Norwegian by DNA, shares that love and was able to rattle off different historical information. She married a village native and settled here in 1966. Her late husband played baseball and her son played on the championship teams in the 1980s, college ball at Kirkland Community College and Mount Mercy University, and now he umpires games.

Osman Tuttle set out west from Norway, Ill., a center of Norwegian immigration since 1834. He came across the land in Iowa that would become Benton County, Iowa. He applied for land at Indian Hill. In 1863, the Union Pacific Railroad extended through Norway, and Tuttle provided five acres to Chicago and Northwestern railway for a town. His stipulation was that it be called Norway.

The timing coincided with the Civil War. Frese relates that not only did the Civil War soldiers bring baseball home, but Justice Kimm had served under Abner Doubleday, believed to be the inventor of baseball.

“Justice Kimm, who was a German immigrant, came back here and he started his own team, Team Kimm, and things grew from there,” said Frese. “It was a little town. There wasn’t much else to do. Baseball became their sport.”

Generations later, Bruce Kimm was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1969. The catcher played 186 games from 1976 to 1980 with the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, and White Sox, with a career .237 batting average. In 1997, he won a World Series ring as a coach with the Florida Marlins.

Pitcher Mike Boddicker was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1975, but he opted to attend college. In 1978, he was drafted by Baltimore and made his mark with nine of his 14 years in the majors with the Orioles, which included a World Series title in 1983. He was 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA that year, finishing third in Rookie of the Year balloting. He was 20-11 with a 2.79 ERA and 261.1 innings pitched in 1984, finishing fourth in Cy Young Award voting. His overall record was 134-110 with a 3.80 ERA, with nine seasons of double-digit victories. He pitched 2.5 years with Boston, two with Kansas City, one with Milwaukee.

First baseman Hal Trosky played nine seasons with Cleveland (1933-1941) and two with the White Sox (1944, 1946). His career batting average was .302, with 331 doubles, 58 triples, 228 home runs, 1,012 RBI. His best season was 1936, hitting .343, 45 doubles, 9 triples, 42 home runs and league high 162 RBI.

His son, Hal Trosky Jr., was drafted by the White Sox in 1955. The right-hander got into only two MLB games in 1958, finishing 1-0 in three innings pitched.

Impressive for a small town.

“Everybody plays baseball in Norway, from the time they can walk,” said Frese. “They play baseball all summer long, day and night. They played and played and got really good from doing that. They had a softball diamond and an empty lot in town they played on.”

One of the legendary school coaches was Bernard Hutchison (1965-1971), who noted after the first state title in 1965: “Baseball is a fever here. Our town team won the Iowa Valley Summer League. Both our Little League teams won their conferences. When I get the boys, they have quite a baseball background.”

After The Final Season was released, an idea for a museum started to germinate. “At the end of the movie they showed the 20 championship trophies,” said Frese. “People started asking if they could come and see them. A guy in town owned the building that was the original bank in Norway and donated it. The building was in terrible condition.”

Former players gave back. Now, working as carpenters, electricians, and contractors, “they each did a part of the remodeling.”

The museum opened in 2009. The first Hall of Fame class was inducted in 2021. All staff are volunteers.

The diamond also underwent some major renovations. The semi-pro team plays there, as do high schools and colleges on occasion.

The website notes, “… a ball diamond was always Norway’s first love.”

 

Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway

112 East Railroad Street

Norway, IA 52318

Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 1–3 p.m.

Phone: 319-227-2044

By appointment: Shona Frese 319-721-6288

or Gary Boddicker 319-981-7689

norwaybaseball.com (includes video tour)

 

This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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