Bill Swank's latest book, Baseball in San Diego: From the Plaza to the Padres, is about the early history of baseball in San Diego from 1871 to 1936. How did this former Farmington High School student athlete become San Diego's most prominent baseball historian?

It all began on a cold February afternoon in 1952 at Johnson's barn located on the northeast corner of Second and Maple Streets in Farmington, Minnesota.

Dribbling a basketball from the Second Street home of their uncle, Ed Fahey, came two boys, Bill and Andy Swank. They were ages 11 and 10, a year and two years younger than I, respectively. They had just moved to town from Columbia City, Indiana and had come to brag about Hoosier basketball. Although younger, they brazenly challenged my brother and I to a game.

Mr. Johnson had put up the basket for his son, Norm, FHS '49, and a Farmington High School Hall-of-Famer. Cold hands, snow, and ice were part of the ritual. Having only to walk across the alley from our house at 716 Third Street, my brother Norman and I shot baskets all winter. We were often joined by Norman Whittier who lived "way across town". Whittier, a '55 FHS graduate, became one of the great pure shooters for the Tigers. Today, the former Johnson residence is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bell, and the site of the "barn" is the Bell's garage.

The meeting of the Lubke brothers and the Swank brothers in 1952 bound our friendship for life. The Swank brothers, from that day forward, began participating in all the activities that we enjoyed. This included Boy Scouts, and baseball and swimming as part of the Farmington Youth Commission's summer recreation program. In addition to those programmed activities, the Swank boys fished and swam in the Vermillion River, or "crick" as it was called. My brother and I were not so advantaged since we were not allowed to even go to "the crick". Sure enough, the one day that I did, I fell in and had to face the music. My brother and our neighbor, John "Buddy" Birkholz had dared me to walk across a log over the water, and I didn't make it.

Before leaving Farmington for San Diego in 1955, Bill Swank indeed became a basketball player when, as a freshman, he made the FHS junior varsity, or "B" team. The spark that flamed his love for the game of baseball came later in that same freshman year when he put on the spikes and uniform as a full fledged member of the varsity baseball team!

While still in Farmington, Bill, along with my sister Mary, were passionate Minneapolis Millers fans. On the other hand, my brother and I were rabid fans of the St. Paul Saints. After the Swank family's 1955 move to San Diego, William G. Swank, Sr. kindled the baseball flame by taking his sons to games at old Lane Field, home of the original Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. Interestingly, author Bill Swank's highly acclaimed wooden model of Lane Field constructed in 1997 is on permanent display at San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park.

Bill's fervor for recording the history of the game has been inspired by his respect for the players of by-gone days. They were the ones who answered the call "batter up" not for money, but because they liked the game, the roar of the crowd and the camaraderie of their teammates. Since his retirement in 1994 after 31 years as a San Diego County Probation officer, Swank has traveled widely to meet and interview former players and has written five baseball books.

Bill Swank has also given a great deal of time and effort crusading for pension benefits for old-timers of professional baseball who were not covered in their day. In addition, he recently led a successful campaign to recognize John Ritchey, the "Jackie Robinson of the Pacific Coast League" by having his bust placed in Petco Park, home of the National League San Diego Padres.

Swank's two most recent books, Baseball in San Diego: From the Plaza to the Padres, and, Baseball in San Diego: From the Padres to Petco, are available through Arcadia Publishing Company, $19.99 each. Contact the company through their website,, or telephone (888) 313-2665.

Yet it all goes back to four boys playing basketball at Johnson's barn in Farmington, Minnesota, one cold February afternoon in 1952.

Alan Lubke is a 1957 graduate of Farmington High School and lives in San Bruno, CA.

Bill Swank is the author of "Echoes from Lane Field", a book of facts and stats of the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League and filled with vignettes of its ball players based on personal interviews by this great historian of the game.

Read about Bill Swank and the House of David Baseball Club.
Bill Swank and I urge Farmingtonians to support
the citizens of the small town of Westlake, Louisiana
who are in turn providing aid to their brothers and sisters
who are victims of Hurricane Katrina!
Go to The Cajun page to read the story. -
Posted September 5, 2005

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