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Sports view: The Coal League

By WALT BORLA
Sports contributor

The recent death of Mike Orphanakis in Salt Lake City conjures the memory of a young baseball player and the amateur Carbon Coal League. Mike, as a youngster in Hiawatha was a talented player in the Coal League who caught the eye of a major league scout who offered him the opportunity of spring training and a possible minor league contract with the organization the scout represented.

Mike was a versatile player who could pitch, play the outfield and hit with authority while playing for his home town team, Hiawatha in the Coal League.

Unfortunately he never was able to fulfill his dream of a baseball career due to an accident he incurred while working on the tipple at Hiawatha the winter of the year he was to report to the spring training camp.

This accident ended Mike's baseball playing days.

In its hey-day immediately following World War 11, the Carbon Coal League was an interesting combination of various teams representing primarily the coal camps in the county. At varying times the league consisted of teams in Sunnyside, Dragerton (now East Carbon City), Columbia, Price, Hiawatha, Kenilworth, Helper (as a minor league team supporting the semi-pro Helper Merchants) Wattis and Spring Glen.

Sunnyside, Kenilworth and Hiawatha regularly were the powers of the league due to the option these teams had in offering jobs to players in the coal mining operations of the companies supporting the teams.

It wasn't unusual to see a top notch player switch from one team to another with the offer of a better job.

Each camp had their own field and community support. Kenilworth's was in the cedars just off the present highway to the east as one entered town. Hiawatha had theirs against a hill side northwest of the town. There were two fields in the East Carbon area, the one at Sunnyside still in existence and another in Dragerton below what was at that time the East Carbon Junior High School.

The Spring Glen entry was a unique team sponsored by a Slovenia fraternal organization. The team, known as the Spring Glen Mudhens, fashioned their own diamond in the sage brush just off the present Gordon Creek road on what is now the west end of property owned by Lowdermilk Construction Company. The field became known as "Mudhen Stadium".

Games were played on Sunday afternoon and the annual UMWA Labor Day celebration was normally the end of league play, a playoff between the first and second half winners determined the league championship.

September saw some of the teams entering amateur tournaments, Hiawatha a consistent entrant in the annual Levan tournament in Central Utah and the Mudhens traveling to Oak Creek, Colorado. Memories of an era now long gone.




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