We’ll learn little Rippey’s rich baseball heritage

RIPPEY, Iowa, Sept. 27, 2016 — It’s almost time for the Major League Baseball playoffs, and the Greene County Historical Society is going to help set the mood with a Friday, Oct. 7, program on one of this area’s best baseball stories – the grand heritage of the sport in Rippey. 

Rippey community leader and history-lover Mary Weaver will introduce the 1 p.m. program, which is free and open to the public, in the sanctuary of the Rippey United Methodist Church. And she will draw stories out of two of  the best players ever for the old Rippey High School Bulldogs and the Rippey Merchants town team – Les Zanotti (Class of 1954), now of Omaha, and Dan Peters (’55), now of West Branch, Iowa. 

“Baseball was big in Rippey, real big, back when we were in high school, and for a long time before and after,” said Zanotti. “We were one of the first places in the whole area that had lights on our ball diamond so we could play night games, and we were one of the first to have a grass infield.” 

The ball park was eventually named Walt Anderson Field, honoring a local banker and baseball booster. 

“We had pretty good teams when Dan Peters and I were in high school together,” Zanotti recalled.  “I was the pitcher and Dan was the catcher.  My memory is that we played a spring season, and with all the farm kids on our team, we sometimes had trouble fielding nine players because they were all doing field work at home. 

“The town team would have adult men from around the area, sometimes a college player or two and a couple of the better high school players.  We played a pretty good class of ball.  We had pretty good rivalries with Madrid, Slater, Linden and other towns, and the team often qualified for the state semi-pro tournament that was held late in the summer at the minor league baseball park in Des Moines.”

Early Rippey basesball photo library
An early Rippey “town team,” in this photo from the Rippey Public Library website.

Zanotti won a baseball scholarship and played for the University of Iowa.  He went on to play ball for a U.S. Army team during his two years in the military, and he recalls that there were five players with Major League Baseball experience on that team.  He went on into the sales business, then founded an executive search firm that he operated for 34 years before retiring. 

Dan Peters, whose father Jake Peters was the school principal in Rippey for 40 years, is one of the few – perhaps the only – former Rippey High School player to sign a professional baseball contract.  He was in the Milwaukee Braves organization for a year of minor league ball in Florida, then finished his education at Morningside College in Sioux City.  He became director of medical laboratories at hospitals in Sioux City, Fort Dodge and eventually Iowa City. 

Peters said he looks forward to coming home to Rippey and telling baseball stories.  

“Between Lester and myself, we out to be able to come up with quite a few stories,” he said. “They’ll be homespun, I’ll tell you that.” 

In the period from the late 1940s into the late 1960s, Iowa had three different high school baseball seasons – spring, summer and fall.  Some schools played one of those seasons, some played two or even all three, depending on whether they also offered other sports like football and track. 

The baseball park in Rippey, which then and now had a population of about 300, was so highly regarded that the Iowa High School Athletic Association made it the site of four state championship games.  Those were the summer ball championships of 1953, ’59 and ’60 and the fall ball championship of ’62. Three of those title games were won by powerful teams from Thomas Jefferson High School of Council Bluffs. 

The field eventually became the home of the East Greene Hawks, and after that school consolidated with Jefferson-Scranton to form the Greene County Schools, the diamond is used for sub-varsity games. 

The historical program on Friday, Oct. 7, will follow a “baseball lunch” in the Rippey Methodist Church hall, featuring brats and root beer floats.  That’ll be $8 per person.  Reservations are required for the lunch and can be made by members thru Wednesday, Oct. 5, with the historical society’s community contact persons. Non-members can RSVP for lunch by calling Mary Weaver at (515) 360-8046.

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