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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Mike Jackson leads '87 Pirates to state semifinals

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WINDOM -- The first call came in at 6:52 a.m. on the morning of July 13 when the last "Blast-From-the-Past" was published in the Globe, featuring a story about Ty Wacker's website information on the 212 Conference -- small town high school athletics -- from 1947-1974.

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At the end of that "blast" was a trivia question which asked readers to identify the name of the left-handed pitching ace for the Windom Pirates in the summer of 1987, who had a strikeout to walk ratio of 88 to 15 over 72 innings of area amateur baseball as the regional playoffs began.

That crafty lefty continued to shine for the Pirates through both the regional and state tournaments, helping Windom complete a remarkable 27-6 campaign and advance to the semifinals of the Class C State Amateur Tournament in Brownton -- the eastern most town of that fabled 212 Conference.

"Mike Jackson," said the first caller, long-time Windom resident Jack Kelly, who was largely responsible for "building" the baseball field at Island Park a half century ago. "Mike was a great pitcher for Windom, both in high school and for many years with the Pirates."

Kelly, who coached the Windom Eagles through the '60s and '70s and played multiple positions for the Pirates during his first decade in town, was the first to correctly call me with the right answer.

But more calls came as the day progressed.

Bernie Woizeschke, Donavon "Shorty" Flatgard, Pam Lindaman, Greg Rossow and Dane Nielsen -- all from Windom -- were correct callers two, three, five, six and seven, respectively, later that morning.

Lake Wilson's Mark Carlson -- who followed amateur baseball as a fan of the Lake Wilson Bison that summer -- was the fourth caller to correctly identify the Windom ace as Mike Jackson.

The next call came from Slayton and guessed one of the Carpenters.

Both Dan and Dick Carpenter were fine high school basketball players for the Eagles in the mid to late '70s, but neither played baseball for the Pirates.

I had given a clue that the trivia pitcher had the same name as a famous singer who had lots of hits in the '80s.

That, of course, would be Michael Jackson.

Richard Carpenter (and sister Karen) had lots of hits, too. But most of the Carpenter's top songs came out in the '70s.

My oldest son Lance (who lives in Fulda), Rick Haberman (Tracy) and Dan Schafer (Rosemount, formerly of Windom, after graduating from Okabena High School in 1970) completed the list of the first 10 callers and are hereby receiving a bit of "ink" for the correct response.

Several others -- including baseball "guru' Glenn Rogers (Brewster) -- called in with Mike Jackson as the answer in the following days.

Worthington High School athletic director Mike Traphagen, who lived in Renville for several years during his elementary school days, e-mailed in the correct answer to matching up the eigtht towns of the 212 with their correct nicknames.

Here is Mike's list:

Brownton Bears, Buffalo Lake Bison, Hector Bulldogs, Stewart Gophers, Danube Hawks, Renville Indians, Bird Island Panthers, Sacred Heart Vikings.

Once again, check out the 212 athletic conference website and you will be amazed at all of the pictures and informational facts about the athletes and teams from those eight high schools over a 27-year span, 1947-1974.

Jackson had amazing control of his curve ball

"Mike was tough," summed up Windom's Todd Armstrong who caught Jackson at several levels of high school baseball -- including the varsity seasons of 1981 and 1982. "He had a great curve ball and was so smart. Mike knew how to pitch."

Jackson, who pitched three seasons of varsity baseball for the Eagles before graduating in 1982, followed up his fine high school career with four seasons as a pitcher at the University of Minnestoa at Morris.

"I just pitched my freshman year (at Morris)," recalled Jackson, who works as an optometrist in Mankato. "But, I played a little first base and played some in the outfield my last three seasons."

"Mike was a switch hitter and a good all-around baseball player," praised Armstrong, who also played one season as a catcher at Morris. "He could hit the ball well from either side of the plate."

While Jackson sported a .348 batting average for the Pirates in that magical summer of '87, it was his pitching exploits that caught the attention of the local area as the Pirates were dominating from May through September.

"That was the best Pirates' team I have ever seen," declares Windom's Dave Fjeld, who was the Citizen's sports editor in '87. "That team had all the pieces and they knew the game so well which allowed them to react quickly to any situation.

"They could all hit and both Jackson and Timm Gronseth were outstanding pitchers. Jackson ended the season with a 12-0 record and an ERA of something like 1.21. His strikeout to walk ratio ended up being about 120-20 -- his control was just outstanding.

"The whole season -- including the playoff run through the league, regional and state tournaments -- was really fun."

The Pirates were indeed loaded that summer with an abundance of talented youth.

"We had good players at every position and had real top-notch pitchers," summed up Mike Haugen, a 1978 Windom graduate who was the Pirates' player-manager in '87.

"I kind of inherited the job (manager) from Jay Olson after he moved and began playing with his brother Lew at Dundas," recalled Haugen, who was 10-year veteran for the Pirates by then.

"Most of our players in '87 had been on the high school teams which played in five straight state tournaments, so we had a bunch of young and talented players."

Jackson, who had been the assistant baseball coach at UMM in the spring of '87, was a six-year veteran for the Pirates, beginning his amateur career in the summer of 1981.

"In high school, we lost some close games to end our seasons -- getting beat by St. James in the Region 2 finals (at Island Park) in 1980, dropping a 1-0 game to Storden-Jeffers (lefty Robert Weber) in 1981 and then being edged by Lakefield, 3-2, in the 1982 District 7 championship game -- so going all the way in amateur ball in 'amateur ball was really fun."

Pirates top Heron Lake, Lake Wilson to earn state tournament trip

After winning the First Night League playoffs with a trio of closely-contested games (7-6, 5-2, 8-6) over the Heron Lake Lakers in the championship series (the first game went 11 innings), the Pirates tangled with Gopher League champion Lake Wilson in regional action.

With Jackson twirling a complete-game five-hitter and Steve Rogers clubbing a pair of home runs, the Pirates claimed an 8-1 victory over the Bison at Island Park on Wednesday evening, Aug. 12.

Minnesota Lake edged Windom, 4-3, in a 10-inning duel in the next regional game before the Pirates clinched a state-tournament bid with a 3-2 win over Lake Wilson in an elimination game in Worthington.

Jackson showed his hitting prowess in that contest, driving in Haugen (single, stolen base) with a sharp single into left-center field in the top of the eighth inning -- snapping a 2-2 -- with what turned out to be the game-winning RBI.

Jackson completed the game, pitching a pair of scoreless innings and the Pirates improved to 24-4 for the summer.

Mark Olsen, an athletic speed demon who played third base or shortstop for the Pirates, was leading the team with a spectacular .506 batting average.

"Mark could flat out hit -- for average and for power," recalled Jackson. "He could steal bases and play the field, just do everything well."

Gronseth, who ended the season with an amazing 50 RBI, was batting .465 (after the clinching win over Lake Wilson) and had driven in a team-leading 43 runs.

"He was so smooth," said Jackson of Gronseth, who was playing college baseball at South Dakota State in Brookings during the school year. "Tim made things look so easy."

Kent Elness, who Jackson said "covered a lot of ground in the outfield and hit more line drives than anyone else I remember," was hitting .421 prior to the team's final five games.

An all-state high school player in 1985, Elness was Windom's fifth straight Lions' All-Star selection that summer, joining his older brother Bob (1981), Jackson ('82), Olsen ('83) and Gronseth ('84) with previous honors.

"Those 1987 Pirates were loaded with high school all-stars," declared Fjeld. "While Bob Elness didn't play in '87, Mike Jackson, Olsen, Gronseth, Kent Elness, Chad Lindaman (1986) and Lance Jackson (1988) were all on the team, giving the squad six guys who were selected to play in the Lions' All-Star Game, which is quite an honor for a high school player."

Joel Frederickson, who had been Windom's starting catcher on both the Eagles state championship teams in '84 and '85, was catching for the Pirates in '87 and was sporting a hefty .387 batting average.

Rogers, who had moved to Windom from Worthington the previous winter, was hitting at a .379 clip and had blasted six home runs.

Jackson's .348 average was only the sixth-best on the team.

"That was the thing," exclaimed Fjeld. "There were no easy outs on that team. Up and down the lineup, every player could hit."

Lindaman, Chet Meyer, Steve Clark, Mitch Kaiser, Steve Sumey and Dean Jaacks were among the other regular contributors for the Pirates that summer, while Jeff Wollin, Brian Iverson and Jay Gerber were late-season draftees from the Worthington Cubs, who bolsterd Windom's pitching staff during the playoffs.

Pirates win three games at Brownton, Jackson strikes out 14 in opener

Minnesota Lake gave Windom its fifth loss of the summer with a 10-2 thrashing in the state-tournament seeding game, but it mattered litte as the Pirates did well at Brownton.

Starting with an impresssive pitching performance by Jackson, Windom opened the '87 state tourney with an 8-0 victory over Morris.

Mike Jackson was at his best that game, striking out 14 Morris hitters.

"There were some guys on their team that I had played with in college," Mike remembered. "I knew a bit about what their strengths and weaknesses at the plate, which helped. That was a memorable game for me."

"Mike had such a dominating curve ball," recalled Armstrong. "He could throw it from over the top and he could come kind of side arm with a sweeping curve. Either way, he could control it so well.

"Mike just had master control with his curve ball and was so tough out there on the mound. He could dominate a game."

A week later, the Pirates returned to Brownton for a busy schedule.

Gronseth smacked a home run and a double, while picking up the pitching victory (in relief of Jackson) in a 5-2 win over Maple Plain, putting Windom into the Elite Eight.

Lindaman (3-for-4, three RBI, two runs) blasted a pair of leadoff home runs (first and seventh innings) to lift the Pirates to a 4-3 win over Sleepy Eye in Windom's next game.

Wollin (in relief of Gronseth) picked up the pitching victory, striking out three Sleepy Eye hitters in the final two and two-thirds innings.

In the semifinals, the Pirates got two hits each from Clark and Olsen, but fell behind early (7-0 after two innings) and lost a 9-2 decision to Chaska, which won the state title a game later.

Wollin, Jackson, Kaiser, Sumey and Iverson all pitched for Windom in its final game.

"With the three games so close together, we kind of ran of out pitching," concluded Jackson. "We had a deep staff, but Chaska had some good hitters and we were wearing down."

But, a season which started in mid-May and lasted until the second week of September gave baseball-crazed fans like Dave Fjeld plenty of exciting moments through 33 games, which included 27 victories.

"I don't think we'll see another team like that one," concluded Fjeld, who himself threw one pitch -- a groundout to first -- to cap a no-hitter for the Pirates in a game at Lakefield the following summer in 1988.

"Getting that chance to pitch and get the final out in that game was a thrill," Fjeld said. "But the thrills of that whole 1987 season are unforgettable -- what a summer that was."

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