Memories of Long Ago

by Carroll Canfield
St. Mary's College, Class of 1950

Webmaster’s note: This piece was originally written by Carroll Canfield as a letter to Mrs. Carol Wedemeyer, the widow of the late Herman Wedemeyer. It is reproduced here by permission. Mr. Canfield is a 1950 St. Mary’s graduate, teammate of Herman Wedemeyer’s, and member of the St. Mary’s Hall of Fame for his own exploits on the baseball diamond.

Dear Carol,

The recent death of your dear husband Herman prompted my memory to issue visions of a time in my life that is monumental.

When you and Wedey visited our home in Sacramento recently as our guests it was a renewal of a friendship with Herm that actually began before we had ever met personally.

The fall of 1945, when I was a senior in high school at Grant in Sacramento, St. Mary’s College, with grand local publicity, came to our city with a full house and was challenged by McClellan Air Force Base’s powerful football team.

Wedemeyer and the Galloping Gaels, or better known as the Whiz Kids as newsprint exclaimed humbled our local team as the score mounted to a lopsided total of St. Mary’s 58 and McClellan 0. Wedemeyer was heralded the following day in the press and he immediately became a hero to me as had Joe DiMaggio before him.

The following September 1946 I was honored to enter St. Mary’s on a baseball scholarship as a 17 year old pitcher. I did not know there would be 87 players out for the baseball team in the spring of ’47 and that 27 pitchers and Wedey would be a part of the baseball group led by famous ex New York Giant baseball great – Coach Johnny Vergez.

But, before the baseball season I’ll never forget the draw to my athletic heart. St. Mary’s earned an invite to the Oil Bowl in Houston, Texas and Georgia Tech was the opponent. Sacramento friend and college mate, Bob Carlson, and I left soon after Christmas 1946 and drove our model B Ford all the miles to Texas in the dead of winter. Arriving in Houston and becoming part of the festivities taught me that a Gael from St. Mary’s was seen as a special person and the parties and hoopla prior to the New Years Day game was a thrill to the team as it was to the two young boys from Sacramento. St. Mary’s lost, but what a memory to recall after all the years.

Later in the spring of ’47 and after the football pads were stored away at the college the baseball team was chosen and soon challenged all local town teams, semi pro clubs and colleges. Our baseball complex on campus was so active and we also trekked away from our home field. The team traveled in style within the red and blue painted bus with "St. Mary’s College" boldly imprinted on either side of our vehicle. We boys sang songs and greeted fans along the way as we were called the "Singing Saints." We were also a good team!

I recall pitching that freshman year with great relish—I had a 5 win no loss season as Wedey cavorted centerfield and drove in the runs. I watched Wedey with awe. He was my hero now in person. We became lasting friends my first baseball season at St. Mary’s.

Playing Stanford, California, USC, UCLA, and Santa Clara made our league one of the tops in the USA and baseball scouts followed our team wherever we traveled. Scouts were interested in Wedey and others of us who had built some reputations.

So it went that first season for me and baseball was not our total life. Bob Hope came to St. Mary’s to present his national radio broadcast over NBC from our old gym—a packed house—standing room only, April 16, 1948.

Tony Martin, Alumnus of St. Mary’s and Hollywood movie singing star led us in "The Bells of St. Mary’s" at the Cal Bear-St. Mary’s football game at Cal Memorial Stadium.

Joe E. Brown, the Hollywood movie star and other notables followed our talented team because of Wedey and their friend and our coach Johnny Vergez.

Our team also traveled in style as we went by train to Los Angeles and other cities. We were always housed at the finest hotels such as the Knickerbocher in Los Angeles as we played USC or in Hollywood as the guest team of UCLA.

The year USC were National Champions, when I was a sophomore, we whipped them at Wrigley Field as Wedey and Bill Van Heiut hit back to back four baggers over the center field wall, quite a feat. We came back to our campus and were heaped with praise from the student body and our teachers the Christian Brothers. Brother Jerome, Wedey’s economics teacher was especially pleased to greet us.

Carol, traveling to Sacramento to play the North Sacramento Merchants is another fond memory. My high school coach, Ray Desimone was the opponent manager coach. He had played at St. Mary’s as a second base star and our game prompted a standing room only crowd of fans totaling 4,000 in the stadium built to hold 2,500. What a crowd that night and the city buzzed that the famous Wedey and "his team" would come to our town for an exhibition baseball game. Besides news articles, there were even before and after game pictures of Wedey at bat and we locals on the team.

In the junior dormitory at St. Mary’s, teammate Al Silva from Woodland and I were treated to a new roommate—Herman Wedemeyer. When he was on campus the three of us shared our dorm room and had grand nights sharing stories of our youthful games and our childhoods—where we were born, our family history and more especially interesting to Al and me was all the great and romantic stories of the Hawaiian Islands and Honolulu. Wedey would spell out verbally wonderful pictures of hula dancers, days on the surfer waves of his athletic exploits with friends from far away.

As life goes, it is fitting that my friend became a mainstay on Hawaii Five-O for the 12 years that the TV program was aired to the mainland and beyond. To see Wedey as Duke all those years, reminded me of his place in centerfield for St. Mary’s with his graceful manner.

We were young, but the speed, agility, strong arm, fast legs, great eyesight and sense of the game in progress made my friend a star in more than the sport of football. Actually, baseball was the sport also in which Wedey excelled magnificently.

So, it is that 54 years has passed since I first viewed Herman Wedemeyer, the famous footballer as number 11. He shined at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento.

My wife, Carole and I traveled to the islands and were your guests for dinner at Wailea Country Club. You were wonderful to us and the floral lei presented is another memory which adds to the love for Carol and Herman Wedemeyer…

I present to you this short message of a long and glorious past and my memory of a dear and special friend, Herman Wedemeyer, St. Mary’s hall of fame—football and baseball!—An all American.

My games of golf at Olympic club in San Francisco and other sites with Herman are cherished! How fitting that your grandson, Tucker, is now at St. Mary’s playing well for the Gael golf team.

Our love to you and God Bless you and your family Carol.

Carroll Canfield

SMC Hall of Fame, Baseball 1976

and Carole too.

   
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