Today's overachieving Cardinals, who made some noise in the MIAC baseball tournament, bring to mind Max Molock's powerhouse Redmen of the 1970s.
Marc Weisenburger attended St. Mary's in Winona from 1971 through 1975. The athletic teams are now called the Cardinals rather than the Redmen, and the school is now a university rather than a college.
And St. Teresa's, the neighboring all-girls school, also is gone -- closed in 1989.
"We spent a lot of time on the hilltop in pursuit of those fine young ladies," Weisenburger said.
He came from a Catholic high school in Chicago, as did so many St. Mary's students of that era. He was a catcher at a time when the Redmen were an MIAC baseball powerhouse.
Weisenburger lives in Plymouth. His son Adam is a catcher with Brevard County, Milwaukee's Class A club in the Florida State League.
On Saturday, Weisenburger was in attendance as St. Mary's attempted to recapture some of the school's former baseball glory with an upset run in the MIAC tournament.
The Cardinals were picked to finish last (11th) in a preseason poll. They were 0-6 and outscored 49-13 to start MIAC play. Then, St. Mary's went on a 10-4 run to claim the last spot in the four-team playoff, and shocked St. Thomas (rated No. 2 nationally in Division III) with a 4-2, 10-inning victory on Friday.
That put St. Mary's in the winner's round vs. St. John's at 2 p.m. Saturday. It was a gorgeous day at Minnetonka High's outstanding, all-turf ballpark. There wasn't much that could happen with the Cardinals that would take the splendor out of this baseball afternoon for Weisenburger.
This was particularly true when a reporter said, "You played for Max Molock, I presume," and the Max anecdotes started flying.
Molock was the St. Mary's baseball coach for 43 seasons before his retirement in 1983. I encountered Max late in his tenure, and found a coach as obsessed with making certain every foul ball was retrieved as in what might be the result of that day's ballgame.
"When we had practice at home, we would have 150 balls -- three buckets, 50 balls in each," Weisenburger said. "The cafeteria closed at 6 o'clock. Practice ended at a quarter to 6, Max would say, 'OK, fellas, count the balls.'
"We didn't want to miss dinner, so we'd be counting, '41, 42, mmm, 46, 47, mmm, 50 ... OK, Coach, we got 'em all.'"
Molock had a system where he put the baseballs in a pair of large, hot-air tumble driers with erasers.
"It worked," Weisenburger said. "The baseballs came out dry and clean. We had baseballs five, six years old."
Molock used the same bus driver -- called "Big Al" because he weighed 140 pounds.
"Max didn't believe in writing down directions," Weisenburger said. "Every time we went some place new, it was a comedy skit. Max saying, 'Al, you gotta go, left, Al,' and Al saying, 'No, Max, right.'
"Max would win the argument, and he'd be wrong. We were constantly lost."
Molock claimed to run the St. Mary's baseball program on $3,500 a year. This included a biennial "long trip" -- by bus to the Deep South.
"Max was always tracking down an alum in these various cities with a connection to a restaurant," Weisenburger said. "We'd go 50 miles out of our way if it meant a free meal for the team. Of course, we'd get lost and we'd be yelling, 'Max, we played a doubleheader. We're starving back here.'"
Molock was an outstanding player for Winona in the Southern Minny League. "He was about 62 and he'd jump in the cage and say, 'Weisenburger, throw me a few,' and start hitting line drives," the former catcher said.
Max died in 1984, shortly after the death of his wife, Irene. "Max called her 'The Missus,'" Weisenburger said. "Max took Irene polka dancing every Friday night. She threw out the first ball at a game every year. Everyone said Max died of a broken heart."
For a time, it appeared the spirit of Max Molock was looking over St. Mary's again Saturday, as the Cardinals carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning before St. John's rallied for a 4-2 victory.
That sent St. Mary's -- with its pitching depleted -- into an elimination game against the talented Tommies.
"I'll say what I still say to my old teammates: 'Go, Redmen,'" Weisenburger said.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org
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