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Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Happy Chef in Mankato for sale, full of fastpitch softball memories

– The Happy Chef restaurant and adjoining property are for sale. It’s the original and surviving restaurant from a collection of 63 that were once operated in the Midwest by the Fredrick brothers.

“We’re still in business,” said Tom Fredrick, 81. “We’re going to stay in business.”

Mention Happy Chef and many people think of the towering, round Happy Chef figure that stood in front of numerous restaurants — and remains smiling today next to Hwy. 169 as you enter Mankato. Mention Happy Chef to others and they think of something else near extinction: men’s fastpitch softball.

There was a group of fast-pitchers that played out of Mankato starting in the late 1960s. They played Class AA (major) fastpitch through 1990. You could bring in players from anywhere and pay outsiders, if necessary.

The team had a variety of sponsors in the 1970s. Happy Chef took over sponsorship for the Class AA team from 1980 through 1990, and then for five more years with a Class A team.

“You could never work with a better sponsor than Tom,” said Marley Lloyd, an outstanding center fielder and promoter for Happy Chef. “We could fly to national tournaments while other teams took a bus.”

Happy Chef competed at the highest level in the International Softball Congress. If it happened to miss the ISC World Series (unlikely), the fallback was the ASA national tournament.

“We had Dale Root from Sheffield, Iowa, as our pitcher earlier in the ’70s,” Lloyd said. “Dale was one of the five best pitchers in the country. When he went back to Iowa, we brought in Leroy Jolstad in 1977. There weren’t many better pitchers in the world than Leroy.”

There was a home doubleheader on most summer Wednesdays and it would draw big crowds at Caswell Park.

“In the ’70s, Bob Darling from the [Mankato] Free Press would go with us to weekend tournaments,” Lloyd said. “We always made sure there was a brandy and Coke for Bob. He gave us great coverage. And our games were on KTOE radio.

“Fastpitch was the summer attraction in Mankato.”

Plus Three From Patrick

Happy Chef fast-pitchers noted for other athletic achievements:

Wayne Haefner: “Lefty” was an outfielder on the Gophers’ 1960 national champions. He coached and taught at Mankato Loyola and was a fastpitch standout.

Vernon Schoolmeester: A basketball scoring machine for Edgerton from 1962 to 1965. Second baseman for Happy Chef.

Jeff Nessler: Famously, threw in a half-court shot to give St. James the 1972 Class A title over Melrose. Shortstop for Happy Chef.

Reusse blog: Jon Najarian has intriguing candidate to be Gophers' next AD

Pete Najarian played linebacker for the Gophers from 1982 to 1985. He was an all-Big Ten second-teamer in his last three seasons.

Getting such a distinction as a sophomore in 1983 was quite an accomplishment, when you consider the Gophers as a unit had one of the worst defenses in the history of college football.

For instance: Najarian had a phenomenal tackling game as the '83 team was getting nudged 84-13 by Nebraska. The determination Najarian showed during that carnage in the Metrodome has been seen later in life as Pete, now 51, has built a career in the investment business.

Najarian would like to be the Gophers' new permanent (rather than interim) athletic director. I consider Pete a friend, so I'm not exactly objective on his candidacy. Neither is his brother Jon, who made the case in his brother's behalf in an e-mail sent to me this week.

By JON NAJARIAN

I know my brother Pete Najarian would be a great choice for the next Athletic Director of the University of Minnesota. Yes, Pete is a former football star for the University of Minnesota. He is in the hall of fame at the U of M and has won multiple awards for his academic and athletic accomplishments at the University of Minnesota.

I believe he is the only three time winner of the Carl Eller award for best defensive player for the Gophers. But those achievements alone are only a small fraction of the reasons I know he would be a great AD for the U of M.

Certainly a good number of Athletic Directors have been successful collegiate athletes, but Pete brings far more to the table than that. I've worked with Pete as my business partner since 1992 and in that time we've built trading firms that traded billions of dollars and managed hundreds of people across multiple states. This experience raising funds, managing people, setting budgets and achieving goals would be invaluable to the University of Minnesota.
 
When we sold our trading business in 2004 we immediately began building a team to help us create an online brokerage. Our firm won numerous industry accolades including best for options traders from Barron's for four years in a row.

We were able to accomplish this because Pete was both a tough negotiator and because of his ability to multi-task. We both had television contracts with CNBC, but Pete expanded his reach and that of our brand by signing on with ESPN and NBC Sports as well

His work with ESPN included monitoring and commenting on as many as 90 college football games on a single Saturday. If you can speak intelligently with insight about 180 disparate college football teams, coaches and programs, you can manage coaches, players and alumni relations at a prominent Big Ten institution of higher learning.

Also, Pete's daughter Alexis competes in Track & Field at another Big Ten school (Nebraska), so he is intimately aware of the support needed to keep a successful women's athletic program growing as well as the Title IX issues.

His rapport with coaches, athletes and alumni would be a fantastic boost for the University as it builds back to national prominence.

Yes, his vast army of fans on television would miss his daily presence and insights, but his ability to elevate the University through his passion for the University of Minnesota, fund-raising ability and media savvy make him the ideal candidate for Athletic Director.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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Today's Scoreboard

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  • San Diego

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    7

  • Colorado

    Pittsburgh

     

    - F

    3

    5

  • Miami

    Washington

     

    - F

    4

    3

  • Detroit

    Toronto

     

    - F

    3

    5

  • LA Angels

    Cleveland

     

    - F

    1

    3

  • Boston

    NY Mets

     

    - F

    6

    4

  • Kansas City

    Tampa Bay

     

    - F

    3

    2

  • NY Yankees

    Atlanta

     

    - F

    15

    4

  • Baltimore

    Texas

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • Seattle

    Chicago White Sox

     

    - F

    2

    0

  • Cincinnati

    Milwaukee

     

    - F

    0

    5

  • Houston

    Minnesota

     

    - F

    0

    3

  • Oakland

    Arizona

     

    - F

    4

    6

  • Chicago Cubs

    LA Dodgers

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • St. Louis

    San Francisco

     

    - F

    4

    5

  • Atlanta

    Indiana

     

    - F

    90

    84

  • Phoenix

    Washington

     

    - F

    63

    71

  • Minnesota

    New York

     

    - F

    68

    81

  • Los Angeles

    Tulsa

     

    - F

    66

    76

  • San Antonio

    Seattle

     

    - F

    69

    83

  • Los Angeles

    San Jose

     

    - F

    0

    1