Former Minnesota Gophers All-American Mark Merila was the featured speaker at the fall meeting of the Halsey Hall Chapter on October 6 in Roseville, Minnesota.
Roger Raina, Howard Luloff, Stew Thornley, Lee Temanson, Bob Komoroski, Fred Buckland, David Rasmussen, Dave Jensen, Jerry Janzen, Art Mugalian, Steve Ginader, Rich Arpi, Gregg Nelson, Leanne Rohrbach, Cary Smith, Dan Levitt, Doug Kenison, Gene Zavadil, Mendal Mearkle, Scott Cummings, Doug Skipper, Dan Levitt, George Rekela, and Sarah Johnson attended the meeting, which featured three research presentations:
- Dan Levitt with Battle at the Dock! Based on research from his book, The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball, Dan outlined he formation of the Federal League and the attempt of Federal League owners to sign major leaguers as they returned from a world tour in the spring of 1914.
- Dave Jensen with An Enlightened Look at Concussions. A former surgical nurse, Dave described concussions and the damage done to the brain from them. He talked about players who suffered concussions from the past, including Wally Pipp and Mickey Cochrane, and modern players such as Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau. Dave explained how baseball has changed tits policy toward concussions recently with the establishment of the seven-day disable list for concussions, annual baseline testing, tests after a high-risk injury, and protocols for clearing concussion victims to return to the active roster.
- Chicago-native Art Mugalian talked about the collapse of the 1977 team, which held a two-game first-place lead after a 13-inning 16-15 win over Cincinnati at Wrigley Field on July 28, a game with 11 home runs. Jose Cardenal entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the last of the eighth, when the Cubs scored three runs to pull within a run, and stayed in the game, playing second base, in the top of the ninth. He booted a grounder by Pete Rose, the first batter of the inning, nd then was moved to shortstop and back to second base as manager Herman Franks tried to move Cardenal, normally an outfielder, to where the Reds were less likely to hit the ball. After the Cubs tied the game in the ninth, Cardenal moved to right field to start the 10th inning with right-fielder Bobby Murcer moving to the infield and ending up with a position line of rf,ss,2b,ss,2b,ss,2b,ss,2b,ss. The defensive gyrations by coaches Barney Schultz and Peanuts Lowrey, making the moves after Franks was ejected, along with bringing in Rick Reuschel in the 13th inning, worked out as the Cubs won. However, the Cubs lost 12 of their next 17 games to fall 7 games out of 1st. Chicago finished the season 20 games behind Philadelphia.
After lunch and the business meeting Mark Merila spoke about his life in sports. He grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, played hockey and baseball, and went to the University of Minnesota on a baseball scholarship.
Mark was an All-American in 1993, his junior season, and played on Team USA that season. While in college he also played summer ball in the Cape Cod League, where he had the chance to use a wood bat for the first time.
Mark was drafted in the 10th round by the Minnesota Twins but came back to the Gophers for his senior season. Just before the conference season started, Mark had a seizure, the result of a brain tumor. The tumor was benign, he was able to return to baseball, and he received All-America honors again. Because of his medical condition, he dropped in the draft and was taken by the San Diego Padres in the second round.
Mark played in the San Diego system, for Spokane and Idaho Falls, in 1994 and 1995. The Padres then asked him to be their bullpen catcher. In 2005, when the Padres were in New York, he had another seizure. The tumor that caused this seizure, in the left posterior temporal part of his brain, was controlled by chemotherapy, and Mark also participated in an experimental program using the drug Avastin.
He dealt with partial paralysis and a diagnosis that indicated he might have only a few months to live. No longer able to warm up pitchers, Mark became an assistant to Padres coach Glenn Hoffman, working with the team’s infielders and helping to steal signs. In 2012 the Padres made him a scout based in Minnesota. Working with a stopwatch and charting pitches, Mark determines how much time pitchers take to deliver a pitch and how long it takes a catcher to come up from a crouch and make a throw to second. He also looks for tendencies of pitchers and hitters.
Mark said he feels “very lucky to be back home, where I grew up, and be a part of baseball.”
The meeting concluded with Stew’s Big Balls beating Cary’s Jewish Major Leaguers 2-0 in Howard Luloff’s Jeopardy Quiz.
After the meeting several members went to a downtown watering hole to watch the playoffs.
— Stew Thornley