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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boddicker Enjoys Trip Home for Kernels Tournament

Jim Ecker        
NORWAY, Iowa – Mike Boddicker took a stroll down memory lane during the Kernels Foundation tournament this past weekend when he returned to Iowa with his son, James, and the Mac-N-Seitz Indians for a WWBA event. Every time Boddicker stepped on a field, it brought back memories from more than 30 years ago.

“It’s pretty neat,” he said Sunday. “We played at the Kernels stadium, and then down at Iowa City at the University of Iowa, and then down at (Cedar Rapids) Jefferson this morning and now out at Norway. My son is playing on the fields that I played on.”

Boddicker, 52, was one of the most successful high school pitchers in Iowa when he starred for Norway High School in the 1970s. He still holds state records for most victories (76) and most strikeouts (1,122) during an Iowa prep career and ranks third in lowest ERA (0.64 in 617 innings).

Boddicker has lived in Overland Park, Kan., since he retired from pro baseball in 1993, but he returned to his roots for the Kernels Foundation tournament as an assistant coach for his son’s team that hails from the Kansas City area. He’s returned to Iowa many times over the years to visit family and friends, but this time he returned as a coach on the field.

Boddicker especially enjoyed stepping on the old Norway field again. He grew up on that field in a real hotbed for baseball, although times have changed since Norway High School closed in 1991 and became part of Benton Community High School.

“All we wanted to do was play baseball when we were little kids,” he said, gazing at the field, remembering. “It was tradition. The thing was, you’d win a state tournament, and then everybody in the town would go out and meet the team out on Highway 30, with the fire engine, and there’d be a big parade coming through town. And every kid wanted to do that, you wanted to be that kid that everybody looked up to. And we didn’t have any football here. We basically played baseball the year-round, until the snow started flying, and then we’d play basketball.”

Even before they were big enough to play on the big baseball diamond in Norway, Boddicker and his buddies played on a smaller, makeshift diamond in the outfield grass of the big field. They weren’t supposed to, but they did.

“We used to get chewed out, because we had a little field in left field,” he said. “The guy that used to take care of the field by the name of Jeff Pickard, he’d come and run us off. We had holes worn out where the bases were in left field here. We wanted a fence to hit it over, you know?”

Jim Van Scoyoc, the famed Norway High School coach and Boddicker’s brother-in-law, remembers those days fondly.

“You can’t see it anymore, but home plate was right there,” said Van Scoyoc, standing along the left-field fence. “Jeff used to come down here and he’d be screaming mad, telling them to get off the ball diamond. He’d leave, and they’d come back again.”

Van Scoyoc, now retired, was Boddicker’s high school coach, and they won several state titles together.

“Very intense, very knowledgeable about the game, and he could drive nails when he pitched,” said Van Scoyoc, offering a scouting report on Boddicker. “He could throw it right where he wanted to every time. I sat on a 5-gallon bucket in front of that dugout and he did it every damn time. It was fun when he was in the ballgame.”

There was more about Boddicker, too.

“Great guy,” said Van Scoyoc. “Very team oriented, a lot of leadership qualities. The things you like to have as a coach.”

Norway was a small high school, but the Tigers played with the big boys.

“We knew fundamentally we could beat any team in the state. Jim made you believe that, and you worked at it and knew that you could,” Boddicker said. “Basically, if you played the game and played it right, you could beat Cedar Rapids and Des Moines and Council Bluffs and Dubuque.”

Boddicker used his training in Norway as a springboard for success at the University of Iowa and then the major leagues. He helped the Baltimore Orioles win the 1983 World Series with a clutch Game 2 victory over Philadelphia, striking out Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan along the way. He led the American League in victories and ERA in 1984, going 20-11 with a 2.79, and finished his 14-year career with a 134-116 record and 3.80 ERA.

Van Scoyoc relished Boddicker’s success in the big leagues, especially that complete-game victory in the World Series.

“A beautiful ballgame,” said Van Scoyoc, who was there, “and then when he got done pitching that second ballgame – he struck out Mike Schmidt to end the game, if I remember right – he walked off the mound toward the third-base dugout, and he crossed the third-base line, turned around and looked at us and stuck his thumb up in the air. He stuck both thumbs up in the air, if I remember correctly.

”It was quite an experience,” said Van Scoyoc. “It was fun to watch, I’ll tell you. It embodied a lot of the things that took place here.”

Van Scoyoc preached the basics, including the ability to think your way through a ballgame. He taught his pitchers how to fool batters, to throw something they’re not expecting, to change speeds, to keep a hitter off-balance.

“You don’t have to be a big guy, you don’t have to be a strong guy,” said Van Scoyoc, “you just have to do the fundamental things that your position asks you to do and understand the game, and you can be very successful at it.”

Boddicker was not a big guy at 5-foot-11 and did not throw particularly hard in the major leagues, but he used his guile, intelligence and “foshball” to good success. He played for Baltimore from 1980 to 1988, then got traded to Boston during the 1988 campaign and helped the Red Sox make the playoffs in 1988 and 1991. He left Boston and joined the Kansas City Royals, where his salary reached $3.1 million in 1991 and ’92.

They made a movie about the Norway High School baseball program a few years ago called “The Final Season,” an account of Norway’s last season in 1991 when the school rallied for an improbable state title against all odds. Boddicker had a hand in that movie and wore a “Final Season” ballcap at the Norway field on Sunday.

“It was a nice family movie,” he said. “It’s never going to be an Academy Award kind of movie, but it was a very nice, low-budget movie, depicted the situation, the actors did a great job, I thought it was filmed well. We had a good time.”

The Norway field is still there, but Norway High School closed its doors in 1990. Things aren’t the same in Norway anymore as tradition, and time, have slipped away.

“It’s real sad. Very sad,” said Boddicker. “Eventually something was going to have to be done, because that school was falling apart up on the hill. But I think the town would have; I think we would have stepped up and done something. I know I sure would have, after I made it. I would have helped out. I don’t think they gave anybody in town a chance. The movie we did was pretty much about that.”

Boddicker did not return to Norway to rue the past, however. He returned to watch his son play ball, on the same fields he played on more than 30 years ago.

Mac-N-Seitz won its first game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, the home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then they won at the University of Iowa, then won at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School, then won at Norway. James Boddicker, Mike’s son, pitched a strong game in the victory at Jefferson, then James had an RBI single to help Mac-N-Seitz take an early lead in the game at Norway.

Some things don’t change.
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