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Prince family holds strong tradition in baseball for Colfax

by Marlys Kruger

COLFAX — There have been many families in the Colfax High School School District who have more than one generation of athletes competing in the same sport. This past spring, a third generation of the Prince family, Nolan and Brett,  could be found playing for the Vikings on the high school baseball field, while their dad Jeff and grandfather Clyde were on the sidelines cheering them and their teammates on.

Clyde, a 1951 Colfax High School graduate worked his way up the ranks from Little League and Junior Babe Ruth before playing for the high school team from 1948-1951. For any of you who read the “Out of the Past” in The Messenger each week, you will notice his name in the 65 years ago section quite often. Clyde was a pitcher and outfielder for coach Ken Poppy and remembers his playing days weren’t always about just playing the game.

“They wanted to put lights on the high school field our sophomore year so we could have night games,” Clyde said. “Coach Poppy said if we wanted lights, us players better be there to help put the poles in. We were all there and had to dig those 12 foot holes ourselves for the poles but it was really exciting to play under those lights. The only other place around with a lighted field was in Eau Claire so we felt pretty special.”

In the first night game played on the field, Clyde pitched a seven hitter against Bloomer but five Colfax errors led to a 10-9 loss. The school was chosen to host a pair of district games that year because of the lighted field and Colfax ended up losing 3-2 to Prairie Farm. For some reason, Colfax played a game the following week against a powerful and unbeaten Eau Claire team and lost 5-4. Clyde and Dick Newman combined to hold the Old Abes to their lowest run total of the year on five hits with 12 strikeouts.

“We played against schools that were way bigger then us,” Clyde said. “Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie. Whoever was close to us was on our schedule. But it made us better players and we were able to compete pretty well against them,” he added.

After high school, Clyde played for the village team, then entered the service and continued to play while enlisted. He returned to Colfax in 1959 and immediately started playing for the Colfax town team in the Dunn County League, then later played for Bloomer.  Clyde had the opportunity to play for former professional player Vic Johnson, and also had the chance to play against Bud Grant, (former Minnesota Vikings head coach) who was a pitcher for the Osceola team during the summer months. Clyde is very proud of the fact he connected for two hits off Grant in the game.

Clyde began umpiring baseball games of all levels and also officiated football and basketball games later on.

“I loved sports and it was another way to stay involved with it,” he said.”But I stopped when my boys started playing at the high school level so I could watch them. The best part for me as a player was being able to play with my brothers Tom, Denny and Rollie either in high school or during the summer,”  he added. For those of you who may wonder why the baseball/softball fields on Highway 170 are named Prince Park, they were named after Clyde’s brother Tom, who was also very involved with baseball, as a player, coach and umpire.

Clyde’s boys Tim, Rick and Jeff  were all active in baseball from the lower levels and throughout high school. Jeff was the only one however, to raise his family in Colfax. Jeff played his high school ball from 1986-1989 and was a pitcher like his dad but played infield when not on the mound. He made his varsity pitching debut as a freshman under coach Harold Brennan, losing 20-8 to Arkansaw as the team went 0-14 for the season. His sophomore year, playing for new coach Steve Schieffer, brought better things as he smacked a homerun and collected three RBIs in a 6-5 win over Prairie Farm to help the Vikings win their first game since 1985. He earned a save from the mound when the team won their first conference game of the season 11-8 over Plum City, but fell on hard times again when he was charged with the 16-3 loss in the sub-regional game against Fall Creek.

In his junior year, playing for his third coach in three years, that being Todd Kieffer, Jeff smacked a homerun and had a pair of RBIs in an 11-10 win over Boyceville and was the winning pitcher against Washburn, giving up one earned run with five strikeouts and seven hits in six and two thirds inning in the 6-5 victory. He finished his senior year with a 4-2 record on the mound and threw a four hitter in a 12-1 win over New Auburn in a first round regional game. During his high school summer months, Jeff played for Elk Mound and Boyceville because Colfax did not have enough players to field a team. He also began an umpiring career like his dad and moved into refereeing basketball and football.

“Certainly my dad and uncles had a big influence on me being active in sports,” Jeff said. “Not only playing but officiating. I was around the ball diamond all the time growing up and learned the game of baseball at a young age. I still play slow pitch softball and am coaching the Black Sox high school baseball team this summer so I guess  it will always be a big part of my life,” he added.

Jeff’s two boys Nolan and Brett played together on the varsity team this year after moving through the system with T Ball, Little League and Babe Ruth. Nolan graduated last month after a year of varsity while Brett was a sophomore second baseman. Brett currently plays on the Black Sox for his dad. And of course, both can be found behind the plate umpiring plenty of baseball games for the Colfax Recreation Department.

“We grew up around sports and having our grandpa and dad around to support us was great,” Nolan said. “We can use what we have learned from them throughout our lives,” he added.