Baseball athlete takes a look back at playing for a legend.
Previously published in the Cardinal Connection.
Editor’s note: It is the 30-year anniversary of Saint Mary’s College legend Max Molock’s death. Molock coached the Saint Mary’s baseball team for 40 seasons before retiring in 1983. Former player Mark Meyer recently wrote this article to share his thoughts on playing for Molock.
By Mark Meyer ’83
About a year ago I exchanged a couple of brief emails with a former teammate who had just been named to the Saint Mary’s Sports Hall of Fame. I congratulated Todd Borndale (Class of 1985) for his fine baseball career and a well-deserved honor. Not surprisingly, “Borny” deflected the accolade and instead reminded me how much we had enjoyed the game during our days in Winona, toiling at the foot of the bluffs on a field named after our legendary coach.
“Back in the day we played the game the way it was supposed to be played, and we had a good time playing,” Borndale wrote. “Winning was important, however, having fun seemed to be just as important.”
At the center of the controlled mayhem was the aforementioned legend, Max Molock, a Casey Stengel-like throwback with a seemingly gruff exterior who knew how to motivate his players and at the same time help them cultivate an appreciation for nuances of the game. The hit-and-run, double steal, backing up third on a throw from the outfield and the pickoff plays at second base sometimes consumed a good portion of practice time.
But when they worked – and they did – you became an instant believer. Like the time Max’s shortstop-playing grandson, Dan Dieterman, and I worked the two-look reverse pivot to second and caught a Rockford College baserunner flat-footed and unable to avoid being tagged out.
The 30-year anniversary of Max’s passing prompted me to look back on an important part of my Saint Mary’s education. On and off the field, Max instilled in us a level of commitment strong enough to maintain a sense of purpose without sapping an unbridled enthusiasm for the game. Sure, there were days when his assessment of your performance wasn’t entirely complimentary but it was delivered in a way that you felt compelled to prove him wrong and better yourself as a player and team member.
Our 1981 team epitomized Max’s determination to field a championship ballclub. We were four parts Canadian, four parts Winona, with some Chicagoland and Wisconsin cheesehead all blended together. Hard-throwing Francois Durocher (Sorel, Quebec) and rubber-armed Jim Gajewski (Milwaukee) gave us two of the top pitchers in the league while local standouts Jeff “Rebel” Wiltgen (catcher) and Matt Smith (left field) provided the much-needed senior leadership. Slick-fielding first baseman Doug “Chipper” Chapiewsky, hard-nosed second baseman Rene Boisvert, lefthanded power hitter Pat Roche and freshman center fielder John “Okie” Stutsman helped comprise a lineup that placed the final feather in Max’s cap: an MIAC cochampionship at 71 years young.
The highlights in Max’s career are too numerous for this space but watching him saunter off the plane in Hilo, Hawaii, in March 1982 and then be greeted by a couple of the island beauties had to be one of them.
Coaching his grandson in his final season, 1983, no doubt was another. Shortly thereafter Sports Illustrated feted him with a “Faces in the Crowd” mention for his 40 years as coach at Saint Mary’s.
Me? I was an average high school pitcher who left Winona with a bachelor’s degree and a whole new appreciation for the opportunity to taste success on the baseball field and enjoy every minute. Heck, Max even let me serve as captain the day of his last game when we swept a doubleheader from Concordia College on a neutral field in Cold Spring, Minn., to prevent the Cobbers from winning the conference title.
Things had gone so well that day that our postgame dinner meal included a rare trip to the dessert bar. It was truly icing on the cake from the man who had made it all possible.
Thanks for everything, Max.