Those neighborhood pals are headed to the Hall.
The Alton Bucks, a talented men’s slow-pitch team from the 1970s, will be inducted into the Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame at 6 p.m. April 11 in Decatur.
Guys who grew up together and remain friends will celebrate their softball success during festivities at the Decatur Hotel and Convention Center.
“We have about 50 people going, including players, their families and friends,” pitcher Mike Drake said.
They’ll tell stories of yesteryear and update one another on their latest developments.
“Most of the guys live in the area,” shortstop Steve Angelo said. “We’re still buddies.”
Outfielder Lonnie Wilson said, “We started as a neighborhood team and we have stayed friends throughout the years. We were a community team that started with players from Alton and Marquette high schools.”
Drake noted, “We were basically a city team.”
Former Bucks Jim Berry, Tom Brown, Jim “Spencer” Buescher, Mark Burris, Bob Bushnell, Bill Cunningham, John Dixon, Steve Doerr, Hank Dunham, John Elliott, Rick Faccin, Ron Fitzgerald, Henry Grabbe, Phil Grigg, Bob Hoffman, Brad Jacobs, Jack Jamison, Charley Johnson, Greg King, Don Koppenhaver, John Meeden, Jim Mormino, Tim Palmero, Mike Purcell, Neil Schultz, Chris Wickenhauser and manager Dan Beiser also will be enshrined. Palermo and Beiser will be inducted posthumously.
“We started the team when most of us were just right out of high school,” Angelo said. “We just gelled and we never had any arguments.”
Beiser helped put together the Bucks in 1971, when Willie’s Coin Shop and St. Patrick’s merged forces. Two years later, they finished second to Champaign IGA in the 1973 ASA Class A finals. It was their best finish in the Illinois finals, but hardly their only accomplishment.
The 1976 squad won 40 consecutive games and logged a record of 101-22. Their eight-year run from 1971-78 featured a 603-189 record, including numerous Alton championships. From 1973-75, they won 44 successive city league games. In addition, the Bucks finished first four times in the competitive Wood River league and snared the St. Louis Super Classic league crown in 1976.
At state, they also finished sixth twice, ninth once and 12th one other time.
“We were playing softball seven days a week back then,” Drake said. “There were nightly league games, tournaments on weekends and guys would even play with different teams at times.”
The old Henry Street diamonds, near the Clark Bridge, often served as the Bucks’ home. They’d also play frequently at the West End field in Wood River, Jersey City Park or various venues throughout Southwestern Illinois.
Drake said, “We were a bunch of teenagers sometimes playing against guys that were 10 years older than us. But we had speed and defense and we were fundamentally strong, even if we had little power.
“Dan Beiser was the motivator. He convinced us that we could beat anybody.”
And most times, they did. Eventually, the Bucks broke up, but many of them continued to play. Drake, for example, pitcher for the 1985 Kohler’s Tap team of Alton that won the ASA Class AA championship.
“Most of the guys went their separate ways to play with different teams,” Drake said.
Although most of the Bucks were from Alton, they did tap into other local communities — Wood River and East Alton, specifically — for players. Angelo, Bushnell, Dixon, Doerr, Drake and King were among the Bucks receiving All-State recognition.
Now, you can still spot many of them around the Greater Alton area.
“Some of the guys go to Alton High sporting events, like basketball or football,” Drake said. “Or we will see each other at the grocery store.”
The Bucks’ bond remains a tight one. They enjoy one another’s company.
“We were a bunch of kids that wanted to play ball and have fun,” Angelo said. “We did that and we played together.”
Wilson said, “We have stayed close to each other on and off the field.”