2 55s Bandits relive their collegiate story, reunited at 2010 Series
By MIKE MURPHEY
Roy Hobbs Baseball
Back in the early 70’s, Bob Britz and Brock Kiecker were Minnesota farm kids trying to fit in on a college baseball team in the city, so gravitating to each other at St. Cloud State University was natural.
“We bonded right away,” Bob recalls, “because most of the players were from big towns, and here were these two kids right off the farm.”
Britz was as catcher with power who grew up near Lastrup, Minnesota, population 84. Kiecker was a hard-throwing pitcher from tiny Fairfax, who was used to putting up big strikeout numbers.
Their skills were honed in the competitive and historic arena of town ball, in which each tiny outpost in rural Minnesota fields a team to play against the other towns. Their performance in high school and town ball earned them scholarships to St. Cloud State.
From 1971 to 1973, they were as close as friends can be. They practiced baseball together for 3 hours a day, 5 days week. Sat and talked on the long bus rides – like the one from St. Cloud to Oklahoma to play a team coached by Wally Moon. One summer break, Brock called Bob and asked if he could come to Fairfax for a couple of days. He was struggling on the mound in the town team league. He thought his college catcher might help straighten him out.
“So I went down and caught him for a little bit, and I could see his arm angle was wrong,” Bob remembers. “He made an adjustment and he had a fantastic game that night.”
Then in 1973, Bob graduated and it was all over. He went on to his career as a coach and teacher. Brock continued to focus on baseball, but hurt his arm before he could take the next step, so he settled into a career in construction and followed his brother, Dana, who was 10 years younger, as he made it all the way to the Major Leagues as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
Eventually, the game called both of them back to amateur competition.
“I guess I kind of wanted to show my brother I could still play,” Brock said, “and with time my capabilities came back. Medical people can do things now they just couldn’t do in the 70s, and I no longer have shoulder problems.”
Bob picked up the game again in the 1980s, playing in amateur leagues around the Twin Cities.
Two years ago, Bob was practicing with the Minnesota Bandits, preparing for the annual trip to the Roy Hobbs World Series, when one of his teammates said he knew of a pitcher named Brock Kiecker who would certainly help the team.
“And two weeks later, after 36 years, Brock and I were playing catch again,” Bob said. “It was wonderful. Everything’s come full circle. We see each other two or three times a year now.”
When he’s catching Brock in Roy Hobbs competition, the past 40 years melt away, Bob said.
“Knowing what Brock can throw, I try to set up hitters exactly the same way we did in college,” Bob said. “He’s nice and calm. He doesn’t get rattled. He can still throw – of course not like he did in the 70’s – but when you’re playing people your own age, everything evens out. It’s like we’re back there again.”
Now in their 60’s, neither Brock nor Bob have plans to quit playing any time soon.
“No, it’s still too much fun,” Bob said.
“Seems like the last two years I’ve pitched better than I have in 30 years,” Brock said. “There’s nothing comparable. Maybe if I get to the point I feel like I’m not making a positive contribution to the team I’ll try something different. But, you know, there’s guys in our area still pitching at 75.”