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Kevin Konkol gets inducted into the Shoreland Hall of Fame Class of 2019
The Denmark Devilbears
When I finished college and started my first real job in Denmark I noticed that The Village and Denmark and the School District of Denmark collaborated to build a new baseball diamond on Highridge Avenue. This was the site of the old Denmark dump and with any dump the only thing you can build on top of it is a park. Volunteers from the community stepped up and supported the venture not only financially but with manual labor as well. It was a beautiful diamond and I said to myself that it would be a shame not to have an adult team play on that field and represent the Denmark/Maribel area. Since I played in the Shoreland League and was familiar with it I thought I would put a team together and join their league.
In the summer of 1998 I kicked the idea around with some baseball players that had just finished high school and legion ball and they were interested in continuing to play baseball. We scraped together 10 guys and played a scrimmage game against a perennial powerhouse Kewaunee Chiefs. Lacking in the pitching department I called on my old Branch Blaze teammate Gary Bolle and asked if he would throw some innings that night. Gary did a great job and we ended up winning that game 7-5 (I am assuming that Kewaunee didn’t throw their best at us that game due to it being a scrimmage). That winter we did some fundraisers and put enough money together to buy uniforms and pay for a season of baseball. The folks at Denmark State Bank and Circle Tap were our biggest funders and gave us the start we needed.
The road wasn’t always easy for the Devilbears, there were two things that were difficult overcoming in running a team in Denmark. The first was the fact that there were no lights at the Highridge ball diamond. This meant that all home games had to be played on a Saturday or Sunday between 1pm – 5pm. Since I played for Branch all those years with no lights I thought that this would be easy to overcome but little did I know that I was wrong. We didn’t get many fans to the games which meant little to no revenue from the concession stand. It was also hard to get players when they knew that most of their weekends in the summer would be taken up by a ballgame or two.
The second issue that we had to deal with is getting good quality players who wanted to play baseball. There was a lot of talent in the Denmark and Maribel area however back then Underhand Fastpitch was the more popular game and Denmark sported two of the top 20 teams in the world, not to mention top 23U teams and a top 18U team which both competed in world tournaments. Players didn’t mind playing on the weekends when they would travel to different states and stay in hotel rooms and play 6 games. So we banded together those who wanted to play baseball and joined the Shoreland league.
The Shoreland League was rough on us with only one year in our first 5 that we actually had a chance for the 4th playoff spot but we lost out on it the last two games of the season. Games were sometimes long with scores reaching into the 20’s with help of the -5 aluminum bats and some teams that could really it the ball. We did have a few highlights, beating a good Howard’s Grove team on their field, battling a tough Algoma team with Jorgensen and Klessig pitching and a near perfect 7 inning game against Oneida that was broken up in the last inning by Lance King, who was a great hitter. Always loved playing against Oneida, they were great competitors and even better people and when you played at Oneida the 260ft left field fence and aluminum bats made it interesting!
We had to take a year or two of leave from the league due to a lack of money and players, I was trying to hold on to get the new group of players from the high school that were runners up at State in 2006. Those players decided to get a team together and play as the Denmark Devilbears. Shayne Micheals and Ryan Steffel (Ryan was on the original Devilbears team along with Ben Jeager, Jon Aerts, and Brad Daniels) put the team back together and I was happy to help them get things going again. Denmark put up lights the next year and the team was off and running. I was so proud of these guys putting the team together and competing like they have over the past ten years.
The thing that sticks with me the most is getting to play baseball with my younger brother Bob. He was playing with the Kewaunee Chiefs at the time and wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay there or play with us and take some lumps. I got to play with a lot of really good ball players over the years but Bob was my favorite by far. The local writer for the Shoreland League, Jack of Diamonds, even gave us a nickname of the Smash Brothers. My brother Bob is 9 years younger than me so getting to play together was a treat that I will cherish for sure. Stay tuned for a father/son duo on the same field!
I would like to give a special thank you to my Dad who helped with funding through the tough years. Thanks Dad!
Huge thanks to my wife who was supportive of my baseball career and the Devilbears team.
Thanks to all the players who played with me on the Devilbears team, hard to forget any of you!
Interesting note, two original Devilbears went on to manage different teams in the Shoreland league; Chris Cisler with the Two Rivers Polar Bears and Andy Froelich with the Manitowoc Bandits.
If you build it, they will come….
Field of Dreams