Friday, September 5, 2014

Road from Rushville led to 7 years as pro pitcher

by Larry Miller

It'd been a long time since I'd read an Omaha World-Herald newspaper.  So when I stopped for lunch at Perkins in Lincoln, Nebraska, last Monday (9/1/14), I bought a copy.  Inside, as I sat down and glanced at the front page, I found dessert even before I placed my order!  A photo and story that pulled me back to northwest Nebraska more than half a century ago.

Beneath the fold on the front page of the Monday World-Herald was a picture of Dale Hendrickson, long-time coach and teacher at Morrill, Nebraska.  Sixty years ago, young Dale Hendrickson was a baseball hero to kids all across the panhandle as he launched a seven-year career in pro baseball that brought him a lot of fame — if not fortune.

We remember his stellar mound performances for the Chadron Elks baseball team in 1954 (see photo below) just before he signed a contract with the Milwaukee Braves.   He was all of 17 years old!  But you really need to check out the full World-Herald story.  And don't miss their links to a story about the re-dedication of Modisett Park in Rushville — and a really fun video about the baseball camp and community of Rushville! 

Dale Hendrickson as a left-handed pitchers for the 1954 Chadron Elks —  and 60 years later at Hendrickson Field in Morrill where he was Athletic Director for some 25 years.

Hendrickson was also a standout basketball player at Chadron State College. Despite having to cut short a couple of seasons in order to fulfill his baseball commitments, he amassed 860 career points, according to Con Marshall.  Hendrickson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1960 and went in to education after he left pro baseball in 1961.  He's married to Gayle Babue of Chadron, whose father, Paul, will long be remembered as President of the old Chadron Sports Club (We still long for a return of the ball caps like the one Dale is wearing above in his Chadron Elks uniform!).

In 1993, Dale Hendrickson was inducted into the Chadron State College Athletic Hall of Fame.  And that's really quite an honor, one of many in his career.

But for all of us young baseball players of the 1950's —whose aspirations were to be "big league ball players" — Dale Hendrickson's achievements were inspiring and indelible.  We've never forgotten them.  And Modisett Ball Park in Rushville helped launch the Dale Hendrickson adventure (See more about Modisett Ball Park below). 

Did we tell you that he struck out Mickey Mantle?  And "Moose" Skowron?  And Tony Kubek?  And "Yogi" Berra? And…