By Tom Lowrey, Senior Services Education Assistant
“If you build it, they will come,” said a mysterious voice to Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”
That same voice must have spoken to Gilbert A. Currie almost 50 years earlier, because he built it, and they indeed came… “it” being Currie Stadium, which Mr. Currie funded, and “they” being some very, very talented softball players and many thousands of their fans.
Currie Stadium was presented to the City of Midland in 1942, and became the home of the legendary Dow ACs, with players like Clyde “Lefty” Dexter, Al Linde, and Jimmy Walsh, who won two national fastpitch championships and a world championship! The team consisted mainly of Dow Chemical employees, some of whom, like Clyde Dexter and Bud Collins, were enticed into moving to Midland so that they could join the team.
A generation later, in the late 60s, a group of home-grown Midland athletes led by Johnny Overfield, a member of one of the last Dow AC teams, approached car dealer Tom McArdle about sponsoring a team. They quickly began playing state-wide and racking up championships. In 1972 McArdle began bringing in players from out of town, beginning with a couple players from Bay City. That year they beat a team from Ann Arbor six out of seven times. In September of 1974, Midland hosted the regional tournament which included several Michigan and Ohio teams. “There was just a huge crowd,” says Jack Starling, who played second base for Ann Arbor at the time. “It was unbelievable. We’d never seen crowds like that at all!” It was then that the idea of hosting a national tournament here in Midland was hatched, and people realized how important it was to have a really good home team to bring people to the stadium day after day. So Tom McArdle made a commitment to putting together a national-caliber team within five years. In 1975 the Ann Arbor team was dissolving and Tom McArdle asked Jack Starling and his wife to move to Midland. “They brought us up here, and we looked at the Community Center, saw the library, saw the Center for the Arts, and realized what a great opportunity it would be to raise a family here.” At the same time, top-notch pitcher Bob Ryan was recruited from Clearwater, Florida, and got a teaching job in Saginaw. McArdle also enlisted other players from Ann Arbor and Lansing, who would drive to Midland on weekends to play with the team.
“So Tom was putting together a group of Midland guys (Nels Cronkright, Oren Mieske, Jimmy Wright) along with some out-of-towners,” said Jack Starling.
The team kept getting better and better, and in 1979 everything came together. It just so happened that Terry Collins, a former Midland High athlete whose father, Bud, had played for the first Dow ACs team, had taken a year off from playing and managing professional baseball in the Dodgers organization. Terry was talked into becoming the player/manager for McArdle’s. New Zealander Owen “Fog” Walford, one of the top fastpitch pitchers in the world, joined the team. And a local speedster by the name of Keith Everett (now the Transportation Manager for Senior Services!) was added. “I was working at a local radio station, and Jack and Terry walked in while I was on the air and said, ‘Hey, Country, we got an opportunity for you. They’ve just adopted something called a designated runner in fastpitch, and that’s what we want you to do.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m in!”
And, of course, the rest is history. After losing one game in the National Fastpitch
Tournament, right here at Currie Stadium, the McArdle team went on defeat York Barbell of Reading, PA, 1-0 to force a winner-take-all rematch, and then capped it off with a 3-1 victory. The team then went on to win the 1980 World Championship in Tacoma, Washington.
The team has had a few reunions, and even Owen “Fog” Walford has traveled from New
Zealand to get together with his old mates. Luckily for us, a few of the guys will get together again at Senior Services to reminisce about that championship team. Second baseman Jack Starling, catcher Nels Cronkright, and first baseman Jim Wright, along with our own Keith Everett, will be here at Lunchtime Learners on April 13 to tell some stories and do some commentary as we show select video highlights of the Championship Game. Nels promises to bring the big trophy, and WSGW’s Art Lewis, who broadcast the big game, will be here, too. Sign up early by calling 633-3700 or sign up online here.