BILLINGS — Reunions are often all about Memory Lane and Saturday’s Billings American Legion Hall of Fame banquet and fundraiser should be no different.
Six former Billings players will be inducted, along with Karen Maggert to be honored with the Dave McNally Award as a Friend of American Legion Baseball. Maggert is the wife of longtime Scarlets coach Dennis Maggert.
Lonnie Funk, Mike Robinson and Scott Studiner will represent the Billings Royals, although Funk actually played for both teams. The Scarlets’ contingent includes the late Brian Markuson, Mike Nardella and Warren Schaeffer.
Markuson, who passed away in December of 2017, made the team as a 15-year-old. His dad, Ron, recalled to MontanaSports.com one early road trip.
“When he was 15 years old, they (Scarlets) went back to Rapid City (S.D.), and he was pitching and a kid hit a line drive off of Brian’s head,” Ron said. “He ended up at the hospital and the next week, or the week after, Dennis (Maggert) came to me in the stands and said, ‘You know, I want to throw Brian tonight.’ And I said, ‘Well, I guess, Dennis, we’ve got to do it sooner or later and we’re going to see if he’ll ever pitch again.’ Like Brian was, he just went out there and acted like it was an everyday thing, like it never bothered him in the least that he got hit in the head.”
Funk played for both the Scarlets and Royals. He recalled how Billings Central students were only allowed to play for the Scarlets in 1968 but were eligible for both teams the following year. That’s when Funk made the switch and played for Hall of Fame coach Ed Bayne.
“We were out in the parking lot on the bus getting an Ed Bayne speech,” Funk said. “At the conclusion of the speech we had to get out and walk around the bus, all of us, and think about all the (past) players and what they were able to do in times of pressure and stress. That was a very humiliating experience, because I’m sure people were driving by wondering what the hell we were doing. It got me focused, we went in and won that game, went on to win the state championship in 1969.”
Studiner remembers his Royals career hinging on one particular night when he and another player battled for a final roster spot.
“I made the team on a one-game tryout, basically, is what the coach told me,” Studiner said. “He’s telling you that ‘This is it, this is your chance, you need to make the most of it because at that age, if you don’t make the team that year, you’re likely not to play again.’ I’ll admit, I wasn’t a great athlete, but one thing I could do was hit the baseball and that night I hit the baseball.”
Nardella made the Scarlets as a 15-year-old catcher. He occasionally engaged in chatter with opposing players, and not just behind the plate.
“Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah,” he said. “I believe it was in Sheridan, Wyoming, at a little tournament going on there. It was a Las Vegas team that had come in. Boy, they had some mouths on them. I remember that game, I had a grand slam and, as I went by the third baseman, who I remember really had a mouth on him, we had a few words as I was rounding third on that one.”
Doors open for Saturday’s banquet at 5 p.m. with the event set to begin at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 and available at www.billingsalbaseball.org.