BLAST FROM THE PAST: SDSU teammates sign pro contracts in 1960s
WINDOM -- They played against each other -- and guarded one another -- in the 1962 Region 2 basketball championship game in St. Peter.
The following year, they were teammates in both football and baseball at South Dakota State University (SDSU) in Brookings, S.D.
A few years later, these two good friends were in each other's wedding party -- and they still keep in touch by rooting for the Jackrabbits, who recently had both their men's and women's basketball teams play in the NCAA tournament.
But, from 1962 to 1966, Windom's Ed Maras and Wells' Ron Meyer were helping the Jacks win North Central Conference championships in both major outdoor sports.
And -- after completing their stellar two-sport careers at SDSU -- they each signed professional contracts.
Maras -- who was selected as the first baseman on the the 1966 College All-America baseball team of the year, which included Arizona State slugger Reggie Jackson as the right fielder -- signed up with the Baltimore Orioles.
Meyer, who quarterbacked Wells High School to back-to-back undefeated seasons in the Middle Eight Conference in the autumns of 1960 and 1961, signed a pro football contract with the Chicago Bears after being selected in the seventh round of the 1965 draft.
Some of Meyer's story was told by this author in a "Blast From the Past" in August of 2009.
After emerging on the scene with a fine performance against Nebraska as a sophomore early in the 1963 season, Meyer led the Jacks to the NCC league title and nine victories.
He continued to star on the gridiron for SDSU during his junior and senior seasons, setting numerous school and conference passing records.
"Ron could throw the ball," declared Maras, who was on the receiving end of many of Meyer's passes over those three seasons on the Jackrabbits' varsity. "He was a terrific passer and a smart field general. We always felt we had a chance with Ron as our quarterback."
George Halas must have felt that way, too, as "Papa Bear" picked Meyer as the 107th overall choice to help his team which featured Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka.
But, Meyer was released by the Bears and picked up on waivers by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He played briefly in four regular-season NFL games in 1966, including starting at quarterback against the St. Louis Cardinals on Nov. 27 in St. Louis.
"That was quite a feeling," remembered Meyer about his one-game start in the NFL. "It's was a dream come true."
He completed seven-of-19 passes for 59 yards, including a 17-yarder during that '66 season, but didn't make the cut after the 1967 Steelers' training camp.
Meyer finished up his teaching degree at SDSU and became Windom's head football coach for 20 seasons, winning Southwest Conference titles in 1971 and 1975.
Meyer's only regret may have been signing his contract on the day he was drafted, as that made him inelgible for baseball that spring.
"It seemed like a good deal to me," he recalled. "I was excited about the chance to play pro football, but I did miss the chance to play my senior season of baseball."
Maras leads Jacks at the plate, on the mound
Maras, who caught Meyer's first touchdown pass -- a long bomb at Nebraska -- for SDSU, was drafted in the 20th round by the Green Bay Packers.
But he chose baseball instead.
"I gave football some thought," said Maras, who caught 89 passes -- 13 of them for touchdowns -- during his three seasons as Meyer's favorite target. "But, I loved baseball and was a pitcher at heart."
Capable of delivering a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, Maras compiled a 7-2 record on the mound for the Jacks in '66 and sported a 2.60 ERA.
He was also outstanding at the plate, leading SDSU in hitting for three straight seasons, including a .391 batting average during his junior campaign in 1965.
"Ed could pitch and he could hit," praised Meyer. "He was a heck of an all-around football player, too. He could sure catch the ball and, as a tight end, he was a great blocker. Ed sometimes played both ways, being used as a linebacker on defense when needed."
But Maras -- the youngest of 12 children, seven boys (older brother Joe was one of southwest Minnesota's premier fastpitch softball hurlers for years) and five girls, born to John and Anna Maras of rural Windom -- had spent his summers pitching for the Sioux Falls Packers in the Basin League and was drawing the interest of Major League scouts.
After completing his collegiate career, he signed with the Orioles and was sent to their Rookie League farm team in not so far away Aberdeen, S.D. where he played first base.
After pitching in the Instructional League in Florida in the fall of '66, Maras returned for another season with Aberdeen in 1967.
He spent 1968 pitching Class A ball in Stockton, Calif. and then moved up to AA with Dallas in the Texas League during most of 1969.
That summer of '69 -- when Apollo 11 made its historic first moon landing -- was a great one for Maras. Between the two clubs, he won a total of 17 games, including twirling a no-hitter during a 14-game winning streak.
Maras was a step from the majors in the summer of 1970 as he pitched -- much of the time -- out of the bullpen for Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings in the Class AAA International League.
"I had a good summer with Rochester and then had a very good winter pitching in the Dominican Republic (future Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers, the Oakland A's ace closer, was among his teammates)," remembered Maras about his continual movement up through the Orioles' system. "I was invited to Baltimore's spring training in 1971 and pitched in maybe a five or six exhibition games, including complete games against a couple of college teams."
But, the Orioles under manager Earl Weaver, were the defending World Series Champions and they were loaded with quality pitchers -- Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Pat Dobson -- whom all won 20 or more games that season.
"Earl told us it would be hard to make the team," Maras summed up about his spring training experience. "We had about 45 guys and I made the first cut, being one of 32 still on the roster as the season approached. But it was clear who the next guys to get cut would be."
Joining Maras for another season at Rochester was future slugger Don Baylor -- who later helped the Twins win the World Series in 1987.
After spending part of the year with the Red Wings, Maras was optioned out to Winnipeg and finished his six year minor league career in Canada.
"I was 25 and hadn't made it yet, so they were looking at younger guys by then," concluded Maras about his experience. "But, I had fun doing what I had always thought about and dreamed about as a kid -- playing baseball and getting paid for doing something I loved."
Maras retired from the professional ranks after that 1971 season having won 53 games as a pitcher (53-35) and after a couple of years away from the game, he returned to action with the legendary Renner Monarchs, pitching in the 1975 South Dakota State Amateur championship game.
Now living in Urbandale, Iowa -- a north Des Moines suburb -- with his wife Pat, Maras has many fond memories of his baseball years.
"When I watched the Major League All-Star Game in 1975, I was somewhat awed by the fact that I had played with or against 17 of the 18 starting players at some time in my minor league career or during that spring I was with the Orioles."
One of the non-starters for that '75 All-Star Classic was Los Angeles Dodgers' right-handed ace Don Sutton.
"I roomed with Don when we pitched together one summer for the (Sioux Falls) Packers," Maras recalled. "At the end of the season, I was asked to go with a team out of Michigan to a national amateur tournament in Wichita, Kan.
"I couldn't go because football practice was starting at SDSU. So, I told them about Don and he went down there and had a great tournament. He ended up signing with the Dodgers and made it big."
So what about basketball, the sport which Maras and Meyer first competed against each other in -- 50 years this month?
"We had a great intramural team," declared Maras. "We won the league championship (at SDSU) a couple of times."
"Yes, we did," agreed Meyer. "But during my junior year -- after a couple of varsity players were injured -- the coach asked me to join the team, which I did.
"I helped out in practice, but didn't play much in the games -- just enough to earn a letter, which made me ineligible for the intramural tournament."
Meyer and Maras teamed up together in intramural basketball at SDSU in the winter of '65-66 -- the last time they played as teammates -- before the lure of professional sports opportunities took them far away from the old "Quonset Hut" steel dome-shaped "barn" at Gustavus where the '62 regional finals were played between Wells and Windom.
Coming next week: A 'Blast' about Windom's 1962 boys basketball team.