Editor's note: The previous version of this story said that 16 teams were selected to go to each district's regional. This number should have been 32 teams. It has since been changed to the correct number.
With Apollo 11 landing on the moon, the original Woodstock taking place, the Stonewall riots breaking out in New York City — 1969 paid witness to many events of significance in American history. At Ball State, the year saw one of the most successful baseball teams in the university’s history.
After months of planning, many phone calls, some airplane flights and long drives, this team will reunite after 50 years May 18 at the Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex.
“It’s amazing we’re still alive,” said Bob Rickel, graduate assistant for the 1969 team.
Rickel, who now lives in Elkhart, Indiana, went on to serve as head coach of the Cardinals from 1971-82. He also played third base for Ball State from 1963-65.
“The memories, you’d be surprised how vivid they are. It’s pretty amazing,” he said.
Also joining the 15 to 20 team members reuniting this weekend is Dave Torma, left-fielder for the team who now resides in Florida.
“I’m looking forward to it, I’m pumped,” Torma said. “The guys that I’ve spoken to, they’re all fired up, too.”
After missing a baseball promotion at a football game in the fall, Torma said he wanted to get the team back together to celebrate and honor their team turning half-a-century old.
“I wouldn’t miss this; I haven’t seen these guys in 50 years, some of them,” he said. “Just in the phone calls I’ve had, we were talking about the whole NCAA tournament up in Minneapolis and not reliving, per se, but just affirming and reaffirming what happened, who did what and just good memories.”
This team lives through the years in Ball State’s baseball history due to their performance in the NCAA District 4 Regional tournament in Minneapolis.
Back then, there were eight districts in the nation. The Cardinals were an independent team and not in the Mid-American Conference at this time. Each of the eight districts had four teams meet in a double elimination regional tournament, totaling to 32 teams competing in all. Only one team qualified out of those 32 for each region, bringing eight teams to the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
After the double-header win over fellow independent team Southern Illinois University, the 1969 team qualified for the regionals. Both Torma and Rickel agreed that Southern Illinois was arguably the best team in the Midwest and the nation at the time.
The team’s Head Coach Ray Louthen was on the selection committee for the NCAA District 4 Regional tournament, and these two wins helped him convince the committee to grant Ball State a spot in the tournament alongside Southern Illinois. But this selection didn’t come easy.
“We had a terrible start. I forget how many games we lost. We were losing to teams you couldn’t believe,” Torma said. “Then all of a sudden we got hot just about mid season.”
That mid-season rally helped propel them to Minnesota, where Ball State lost to Southern Illinois in the first game of the tournament, sending them to the losers bracket. Ball State fought back, though, defeating MAC champion, Ohio University and Big 10 champion, University of Minnesota.
Following these two wins, the Cardinals faced Southern Illinois again in the final game of the regional tournament. Torma, Rickel and the rest of the team could not clench a victory, though, as Southern Illinois went on to represent District 4 in Omaha.
Rickel said he is excited to reminisce on the great season they had and just catch up with the guys.
“Just to see the guys, just to share the stories and laugh about the incident up in Minnesota,” Rickel said. “The camaraderie was amazing, It’s still there when we get together. You just start remembering back and one thing leads to another, it’s a lot of fun.”
The first pitch in Ball State’s game against Toledo is at 1 p.m Saturday. The team will be recognized on the Ball Diamond during the seventh inning stretch, followed by a social and dinner for the team at the Alumni Center.