Carl Sturzenbecker’s uniform of the Morton’s Corners baseball team from 1957. The uniform is pure wool. Carl remembers how awful it was to wear this uniform in the heat of July playing baseball.
By Derek M. Otto
It’s April, I think. With the crazy weather last week, can we really prepare for spring?
I know some will be out and about with poles and bait looking for the large trout to catch. Anthony Frelock managed to reel in a brown trout weighing 7 pounds and it measured 27 inches; that was April 23, 1956 on the Cattaraugus Creek. So it is possible to find one that big in the area.
Fish stories aside, others will be gearing up for opening day of their favorite baseball team. Yes, that professional sport that hangs around from the crocus blossoming to the first snowfall.
This year, I am all of a sudden friends with people who share my same interest in the team I have rooted for for years—The Chicago Cubs. Wow, they win the series and everybody is a fan.
Speaking of baseball, I was approached by a friend to tell the story of Springville’s great baseball rivalry I don’t know if it will measure up to the scale of a Chicago White Sox versus Cubs rivalry, but it might.
As early as 1931, the Springville Merchants had a team in the western New York men’s league that was sponsored by the Buffalo Evening News. Teams were comprised of many leagues throughout the region.
Springville belonged to the Southern League for most of its existence. Teams from Gowanda, Gowanda State Hospital, Machias, Franklinville and Salamanca played in this league against Springville.
According to the Erie County Independent, in 1942 during World War II, the southern league merged with the Lakeshore league and Springville played against Hamburg, Farnham and Silver Creek too. The war had limited the number of men available to create teams. After the war, the league gained popularity again and many teams were back playing.
According to Carl Stuzenbecker, “When I graduated from Griffith Institute in 1950, I played for the Springville team for a year or two. I got to play a lot.”
However, things in Springville changed when Stuzenbecker was in the service. “When I came back around 1956, I went back to the Springville team,” he said.
As he recalled, there was growing animosity among players in Springville. “I didn’t belong to the ‘clique,’” he said. “I went the whole season without being out on the field. In 1957, when the Morton’s Corners team started, I went to play for them.”
In a 1997 interview, Don Kestner agreed with Sturzenbecker’s sentiments that the Morton’s Corners team was “an alternative to the Springville Merchants Team.”
The Morton’s Corner team joined the Central League. The 1961 Central League schedule listed Morton’s Corners playing Collins Center, Holland, West Falls, East Otto, Cattaraugus, and Chaffee-Sardinia.
For home games, the Morton’s Corners team played on the high school’s ball diamond. Springville played on the Community Park diamond, as they had for years.
Kestner recalled that one year Springville and Morton’s Corners were in the same league. As luck would have it, in the many games that Springville played against Morton’s Corners, Morton’s Corners won just one game. It would make it sound like Springville was the better team.
Sturzenbecker remembers that all the years he played for Morton’s Corners they went to the playoffs more than Springville. He recalled one playoff game against Amherst where they were clobbered. But it was the playoff game against LeRoy in the early 1960s that really got Carl excited. “We had all carpooled from Springville to LeRoy in Genesee County and we took Ernie Dallas with us. Ernie was a great ball player and athlete, but he also played on the Springville team. It was decided that we would let Ernie play with us.”
He remembered that the game didn’t go too well for Morton’s Corners. “We were down four runs to zero. It wasn’t my pitching but a lot of fielding errors that caused the LeRoy team to get the runs. I had struck out most of their players,” Stuzenbecker explained.
As his memories stirred more excitement, he continued: “I pitched, we made runs and won the game five to four! It was the only playoff game I pitched that we won!”
Sadly, he said, the refs figured out that Ernie was from the Springville team. “We had to forfeit the game.” To his credit as a good ball player, a headline from a local publication in August 1961 read, “Sturzenbecker MVP.”
Even after Sturzenbecker’s days, the Morton’s Corners team went to the playoffs.
Kestner recalled that in 1966, the Morton’s Corners team was in the same predicament, “We were playing Orchard Park against West Falls,” he said. “We were down nine to one and had two innings left. The team rallied and we won the title.”
By the late 1980s, it was getting harder to find men to play baseball. Sponsorships ended and so did interest. The old town teams went by the wayside.
Today we have a reminder of that old rivalry in the Fourth of July game played at Community Park, when two teams play a heated game of softball.