There's nothing quite like trapping a few muskrats before breakfast. Roll out of bed, get into the old pickup, put the waders on, tromp over those sweet, fragrant meadows of dawn (pause) and dew, slog through the crick to find out if there's anything in the traps....
"Look at this one," says the trapper. "Got him by three toenails. Another 20 minutes and he'd have been gone. Look at that coat. Isn't he a beauty?"
Well, beauty is in the eye of the trapper, and in this instance the trapper is Mike Boddicker of the Baltimore Orioles and Norway, Iowa. Having bagged the White Sox and Phillies in October as Baltimore swept to the American League pennant and the world championship, Boddicker is spending the off-season at home going after smaller game and loving every minute of it. In his scheme of things, family is first, baseball second and sports afield a real close third.
Boddicker loves to trap and loves to talk trapping; he gets just as excited about fooling a 60-pound beaver as fooling Mike Schmidt. Come to think of it, trapping and pitching both require cunning, daring and an ability to work your way out of the muck. But on this particular morning, Boddicker is tired. "I've got to give up either trapping or banquets," he says, and the way he says "banquets" leaves no doubt as to what his choice would be. Two nights earlier, at the Hanford Legion Post 5 in Cedar Rapids, White Sox Coach Jim Leyland had told the crowd at a dinner honoring Boddicker, "It's nice when you get such a big frog out of such a little pond."
Boddicker was the toast of America after his unexpected performance last season. The righthander started the year in the minors, at Rochester, but finished with a 16-8 record in the majors and an ERA of 2.77, second best in the American League. In the Championship Series he shut out Chicago 4-0 on five hits, striking out 14 to tie the major league playoff record, and in the World Series he three-hit Philadelphia 4-1. Both wins followed Series-opening losses by the Orioles.
People wielding notebooks, cameras and microphones became enchanted with tales of Boddicker's hometown and the grain elevator where he had worked in the off-season. There were a few notes of condescension in this latter-day Song of Norway—oddly enough, Baltimore Catcher Rick Dempsey's father, George, appeared on Broadway in the original Song of Norway—but there was a nice lilt to it.
It's nice to be reminded that there are still hometowns in this world, places that people can go back to. Norway is as good a hometown as anybody has ever had, and it has had as much to do with Boddicker's success as his famous foshball. Yeah, yeah, it's a cliché, but home is where the heart is, and this guy's heart is with trapping and hunting and the people he grew up with. Yeah, yeah, it's a cliché, but just the other day, Boddicker, wearing a baseball cap advertising Simplicity lawn mowers, walked over to his mother's house for a slice of apple pie.
Ninety minutes after the second game of the World Series had ended, Boddicker was still shucking questions, and one of the last ones was, "How does it feel coming from nowhere?" To which Boddicker replied, "No, that's Norway, Iowa, not Nowhere, Iowa."
Norway (pop. 633) is about 14 miles, as the pheasant flies, west southwest of Cedar Rapids. Just take U.S. 30 west out of Cedar Rapids for about 12 miles, turn left at the pink farmhouse onto 201, and you'll be there in no time.
Norway is in Grant Wood country—in fact, Wood hailed from Anamosa, 35 miles away—and the town is surrounded by billowing hills and sprawling farms. Iowa is more than corn. It's American Gothic, Herbert Hoover, Radar O'Reilly, wrestling, Bob Feller, The Music Man and corn.
Norway itself isn't much in the way of a metropolis. As Boddicker describes it, "No stoplights, no sheriff, no crime." The streets have no signs, and the houses have no numbers, but since everybody knows where everybody lives, who needs them? There's Main Street, which is not to be confused with Railroad Street, which looks like the main street to people who drive through on 201. The Chicago and North Western rumbles through town 25 to 30 times a day, occasionally stopping to pick up grain from Jerry Pollock's elevators and rattling the glasses in Norway's three taverns.
Three bars might seem a lot for a town of 633, but the total is down from seven. Pete's Corral is the one with the great pork sandwiches and Ladies Night on Friday, Rich's Roost has beautiful pine paneling and a sign that says WE ACCEPT OUT-OF-TOWN CZECHS and Linda's Bar and Restaurant has Polish sausage on the bar. All of them have a pool table.
Norway also has two grain elevators, one garage, two gas stations, Bev's Ceramics, a barbershop, a sign shop, a meat-packer, a bank, a veterinary office, an insurance agency, a Foodland, a telephone company office and a public library. The local librarian isn't named Marian, although Marian Brownlie Dennis did write the town history.
The difference between Norway and all the other burgs you've known lies at the western edge of town. It's a baseball field. This diamond—and it does look like a jewel in an emerald setting—is sublime. There's an old, whitewashed grandstand behind home plate that almost invites you to sit down and watch the boys play—or to listen to stories about the boys who used to play here. This field has sprouted four major-leaguers, and may yet sprout more. "Norway," says Otis Tuttle, "is the baseball capital of the world."
Tuttle, 94 and class of '07 at Norway High, is the grandson of Osman Tuttle, a Norwegian emigrant who founded the town in 1863. He's also Norway's official baseball historian. "They've always had good teams here," he says. "I remember the town team back in '06 had a pretty good catcher named Prior, and he was the Methodist minister. Me, I could hit like Babe Ruth, but any woman could've fielded better."
The first local boy to make a name for himself in baseball was named Harold Trojovsky, until he changed it to Hal Trosky. They still talk about the home run the big Bohemian supposedly hit clear over the railroad tracks, which have to be more than 600 feet from home plate. "We knew about Trosky when I was growing up," says Boddicker. "I remember mowing the outfield grass, looking over at the tracks, and thinking about how hard he must have hit that ball."
Trosky was one of the most feared lefthanded batters in the American League in the '30s. In his rookie year with Cleveland, 1934, he hit .330 with 35 homers and 142 RBIs, and in '36 he batted .343 with 42 home runs, 162 runs batted in. Migraine headaches curtailed what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
Trosky, who died in 1979 and is buried in Norway, had a son, Hal Jr., who pitched briefly (1-0 in his two appearances) for the White Sox in 1958. The younger Trosky lived in Norway for only nine years, but he says he "gathered his instincts and enthusiasm for the game" there. He's an insurance man in Cedar Rapids now.
Fifteen years ago Jim Van Scoyoc came to Norway to teach industrial arts and coach baseball. He also married a local girl, Boddicker's sister Sheryl. Van Scoyoc has molded some outstanding players, including Max Elliott, a shortstop in the Padres' organization for a while; and Bruce Kimm, a scrappy catcher who became the third son of Norway to make it to the big show. Kimm was Mark Fidrych's personal receiver in 1976, Fidrych's amazing rookie year with the Tigers. "And I thought all those people were coming out to see me play," says Kimm, who was in and out of the majors from 1976 to '80 and was recently named the Cincinnati bullpen coach.
Older Norwayites like Kimm were heroes to younger ones like Boddicker. "They let us play with them," says Boddicker, "so we got better faster than we might have if we'd been by ourselves. To this day, I pitch just like Dick McVay [Norway Community High class of '68], same motion. We idolized those guys."
The local high school team was always among the best in the state, as was the town team. Norway High, with an enrollment of 140, has won 15 state titles in fall, spring and summer seasons; the most recent came this fall. But it might not be correct to say that Norway is a great baseball town because there's nothing else to do. If that were the case, Norway, which per capita must have more pool tables than any other place in the world, would be producing billiard aces by the bunch.
None of the major-leaguers Norway has helped produce has ever strayed too far from home when not playing. Trosky Sr. kept his house in Norway, and the Van Scoyocs now live in it. Trosky Jr. is in Cedar Rapids, and Kimm resides in nearby Amana and sells TVs in the offseason at the Montgomery Ward in Cedar Rapids. Boddicker also shows no signs of budging, even though his agent, Ron Shapiro, has suggested he live year-round in Baltimore to take advantage of business opportunities there. "You can't move a Boddicker if a Boddicker doesn't want to move," says Mike's wife, Lisa. For The Music Man Meredith Willson wrote a song called Iowa Stubborn. The Boddickers are Iowa stubborn.
Mike's ancestors were among Norway's original settlers, having emigrated from Westphalia, Germany and gone into farming just outside of town in 1861. Mike's father, Harold—or Bus, as he was commonly known—was second generation, and he worked what is known as a hammer mill; he'd go from farm to farm with the mill in a wagon and grind grain. But the times did away with that business, and Bus became the custodian at the elementary school.
Mike was the last of Bus and Dolly's five children. Bus died when Mike was 10, and Mike's sisters and brothers helped Dolly raise him. "I used to think my oldest sister, Karen [who's 19 years Mike's senior], was my aunt," says Mike. "I remember being really surprised when I found out. She spanked me enough."
Dolly is still very much the matriarch of the family, and she's the biggest baseball fan. She's crippled by arthritis, and watches the Cubs every opportunity she gets. "Ernie Banks was my alltime favorite," she says.
"What about me, Ma?" asks Mike, who has come over for his apple pie.
"Oh, you're all right," she says. "People are always asking me if there's anything wrong with Mike. I say, well, there is one thing. When he comes home he dresses like a bum. Look at him."
Mike isn't the first athlete in the family. Bus was a good local catcher. Richard (or Butch), the elder of Mike's two brothers, was a legendary slugger in Norway, and the University of Iowa, which is only 30 minutes away in Iowa City, offered him a scholarship. But Butch turned it down, preferring to stay in Norway. He gets up at 3 a.m. each day to drive a Colonial bread truck. Mike's other brother, Robert, was a pretty good player, too, until he broke his clavicle. Now he's the human dynamo, teaching junior high, digging graves, mowing lawns, etc. Sheryl was a basketball player and a pretty fair pitcher in fast-pitch Softball.
"When Mike was a little kid, the only thing he ever played with was his little ball," says Sheryl. "Never touched his guns or his little red wagon."
Van Scoyoc first saw Mike play when he was courting Sheryl, and five years later he was coaching his brother-in-law in high school. Van Scoyoc keeps voluminous statistics on his players, and Boddicker's were extraordinary. As a pitcher he was 76-13 in four years (1971-75), with an ERA of 0.64. He allowed 272 hits, 155 walks and six home runs in 617 innings, while striking out 1,122. As a hitter he batted .397 in 230 games, with 34 homers, 221 RBIs and 72 stolen bases. The Montreal Expos drafted Boddicker in 1975 but didn't offer enough money, and he enrolled at Iowa.
Boddicker also led the Cedar Rapids American Legion team to three regional titles and into three Legion World Series, in 1974, '75 and '76. His coach at the time was Ken Charipar, who later became his father-in-law. In Norway, baseball is the tie that binds whole families.
As a freshman at Iowa, Boddicker made All-Big Ten as a third baseman, but after his sophomore year he decided to concentrate on pitching. A year later he began seeing Lisa. "It's funny the way they started dating," says Ken. "I ran into Mike at a game in Norway, and he asked me how Lisa was, and I said she'd just got finished with the dentist and wasn't feeling too well. That night he went and visited her, and pretty soon they were going out." Lisa, who at 5'9" is nearly as tall as Mike, was quite a basketball player her self in high school. "She outplays me all the time," says Mike.
After his 1978 junior season at Iowa, Mike signed with the Orioles and progressed from college to Triple-A ball in just 15 weeks. He made it to Baltimore the first time in September 1980, but that trip, and two more in '81 and '82, ended with a return ticket to Rochester.
The first time Boddicker was called up, he and his new bride just appeared on Shapiro's doorstep, and the agent took them in. An Oriole player had recommended Shapiro to Boddicker in spring training and the two families became fast friends. "Even though Mike hadn't batted in a game in more than a year, I knew he would hit well in the Series, because I've seen him hit in the batting cage behind my house," says Shapiro. "But he does so many things well. We once had a mouse problem in the house, and I told Mike about it. The next thing I know, he's caught the mice and he's showing them to me."
There are advantages and disadvantages to being a pitcher, especially a non-power one like Boddicker, in the Baltimore organization. On the one hand, few teams can teach or appreciate a pitcher whose forte is changing speeds with control as well as the Orioles. On the other hand, they have so many good pitchers, somebody has to be left behind. After a while Boddicker became tired of being that somebody.
His impatience came to a head in the spring of '82 after he and then-Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver disagreed about his role. "I became really frustrated," Boddicker says. "I finally went to Mr. Peters [Hank Peters, the Oriole general manager, whom Boddicker holds in high regard] and asked him to trade me if Baltimore didn't want to use me. He told me to wait, that the Orioles would need me soon, although he added, 'If you really want a trade, we'll try to help you.' " After spending most of '82 in Rochester, Boddicker pitched in seven games for Baltimore at the end of the year, and even though he was sent down at the end of '83 spring training, he continued to be confident.
The call for Boddicker came on May 5, after Jim Palmer was disabled, and 12 days later, in the second game of a double-header, he shut out the White Sox, the same team he would stifle in the playoffs. Boddicker remained in the rotation because, coincidentally, in the first game of that same doubleheader Mike Flanagan had hurt his knee.
Properly schooled in the Orioles' precepts of changing speeds and throwing strikes, Boddicker soon established himself as a formidable pitcher. One of his deliveries is the foshball, a combination forkball and "fish," the Orioles' slang for change-up. "What really helped me," says Boddicker, "is that I seemed to follow Scott McGregor in the rotation for most of the season. Just from charting his pitches in every start, I learned a lot."
The postseason showed just how much—and an important part of Norway was there to enjoy it. After the playoffs, an RV left Norway bound for Baltimore. In it were the Van Scoyocs, Karen, Butch and Bob, and Lisa's parents. "I'm thinking, now don't embarrass us, Michael," says Sheryl, "and he's probably thinking that this is like pitching against Amana High."
Boddicker is a natural in many things. For the previous few winters he had worked for $4.50 an hour at Pollock's grain elevators, doing a variety of jobs. He would be there again this winter if he had the time. Boddicker is no country bumpkin, but then, nobody else in Norway is, either. He's quickly becoming an accomplished banquet speaker, although he'd much rather be out in the fields with his chocolate Labrador puppy, Hershey (a gift from a Baltimore physician), or playing with his 8-month-old son, Corey.
"I just like being home," says Boddicker, who's picking up most of the $3,000 cost of new dugouts over at the high school. "I like seeing my family every day, and at Christmas I like getting together to exchange gifts. When it snows, we like going over to each other's houses to play canasta or charades. Norway is a nice place to live."
Friday, Nov. 4, 1983 was proclaimed Mike Boddicker Day in Norway: no 76 trombones, no 110 cornets, no big parade. What they had for him was a cafeteria-style supper at American Legion Post 234, and 315 folks had the walls straining. The mayor, John Stoner, said Mike's was a Horatio Alger story. The White Sox' Leyland, in the area on a hunting trip, said, "Mike has it all: character, poise and talent. And a real pretty wife." At the end of the evening Boddicker was presented with a few gifts, and don't think the townspeople don't know the way to his heart. He received a gold-plated trap and a shotgun.
A few days later, in a steady rain, Boddicker was out in the fields behind Joe Schulte's farm looking for pheasants with a friend, Kevin Schulte, and Hershey—or Fleahead, as Mike calls him. A cock pheasant was sitting very tight as Boddicker and Schulte walked by him, but Hershey, stumbling along behind, wandered near the bird and up it went.
In the time it takes for a foshball to reach the plate, Boddicker wheeled around, saw the bird was a male, waited a moment to see if Kevin wanted the shot and fired. The pheasant, cleanly hit, dropped to the ground.
The look on Boddicker's face told you why he's here to stay.