Graydon “Soup” Stromme recalled a time in the 1960s when he and a pair of local sports journalists were high atop Wade Stadium in the “crow’s nest,” watching a Duluth-Superior Dukes baseball game.
All three, rabid Dukes fans, weren’t happy with a blown call from the home-plate umpire and let him hear about. The umpire promptly tossed them, even though one was serving as official scorekeeper and another was the Dukes’ general manager.
“And that ump went on to the major leagues,” Stromme recalled.
Stromme, along with the other two, Duluth News Tribune scribe Bruce Bennett and radio and television personality Marsh Nelson, stuck around and cemented their place as local legends, each one a Duluth institution and inspiration in his own way.
Stromme, who served as Dukes manager in the 1960s when it was an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers organization, made a nostalgic return to Wade Stadium on a wonderful Wednesday, the 91-year-old’s first visit to the historic ballpark since watching a St. Scholastica playoff game about five years ago.
While Dukes players no longer roam the outfield, the old ballpark is alive and well thanks to a $4.6 million renovation that includes artificial turf. The Duluth Huskies summer collegiate team is now the main tenant, and Stromme was there for the team’s season opener. The announced crowd was 3,491.
“If we averaged 1,200, we were doing all right,” Stromme said. “If it was 800, that wasn’t good enough. We didn’t have any money.”
Stromme grew up in the small town of Kenyon, Minn., in southern Minnesota. He was a standout in football, basketball and baseball, with the most success in basketball. He said his hometown had good facilities.
Stromme left the University of Minnesota basketball team in 1943 and enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in the Arctic Circle at a weather station on Coral Harbor during World War II. After the war, he enrolled at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minn., where he graduated in 1949. He played basketball and baseball for the Oles, and later had professional tryouts in both sports, playing pro baseball in southern Minnesota into the 1950s.
Stromme’s son-in-law, Gary Holquist, attended Wednesday’s game with him. Holquist is a former Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball coach.
“Soup won’t tell you, but he is still the all-time scoring leader in the history of the basketball program at St. Olaf, and is in their Hall of Fame,” Holquist said. “Can you imagine that? After all those years, and he is still their leading scorer? And he only played three years.”
Stromme began his teaching and coaching at Isle, Minn., and has resided in Duluth since 1955, where he coached football for 12 years, basketball for 18 years and baseball for 31 years for Morgan Park High School.
Karen Stromme, Soup’s daughter and Holquist’s wife, coached UMD women’s basketball for 23 years. She currently serves as Bulldogs’ associate athletic director in charge of internal operations. She was in Indianapolis for NCAA meetings and couldn’t attend Wednesday’s game.
Karen Stromme said she runs into her father’s former students all the time. They always ask how he is doing.
“They always tell me he made a huge impact in their lives,” Stromme said. “He was tough but fair and expected them to do their best. He always looked classy, and he expected his players and staff to look sharp, too. He thought coaches and players should hold themselves up to higher standards.”
Soup Stromme said the Tigers were a “top-quality operation,” in line with his beliefs, dressing well on road trips and taking care of their players. He recalled a player who grew up poor in Louisiana who sent most of his money home. The organization helped him out.
Stromme was introduced at Wednesday’s Huskies game as the “first and only general manager for the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league farm team” known as the Dukes. He served as GM from 1960-68.
The Tigers won the World Series in 1968, and many of those players had come through Duluth, including pitcher Denny McLain, the last 30-game winner in the majors, Gates Brown, Bill Freehan, Ray Oiler, Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup.
“We grew up at Wade,” Karen Stromme said. “My sister worked in the concession stand, and my brother and I pitched in where we could. The games were big events with fireworks and big crowds. He always made time for us there and we felt special.
“Dad has always looked for the best in people. I’ve tried to emulate his optimism. He taught me how to treat athletes with respect and professionalism.”
Soup Stromme said he still remembers when Wade Stadium was for the Dukes only, and when local high school baseball teams started using it.
“They said if you want to use it, use it,” Stromme said. “Just leave it the way you found it.”
Stromme wasn’t opposed to artificial turf given the current needs of the community and area.
While the field conditions may have worsened in recent years, it is nothing new. Stromme said they always had issues with standing water in the outfield in the ’60s. He would know. A GM wasn’t just a GM in those days. Stromme recalled many days raking the field, and he also pointed out how hard it was to find a quality baseball park.
“This is beautiful,” Stromme said of the new Wade Stadium. “It doesn’t bother me that it’s artificial. You have to be able to depend on it. What good is a field if you can’t use it?”
Stromme said the park pretty much looks the same as he remembers it except for the new padding lining the monstrous outfield wall, a welcome and overdue addition for scores of outfielders who can now attempt to rob a hit with far less fear of injury.
“I have a lot of good memories here,” he said.
That umpire you learned about earlier, by the way, was Bruce Froemming, who went on to ump a record 11 major-league no-hitters. Now you know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.
Soup’s story isn’t measured in no-hitters, wins and losses, balls and strikes, but rather the countless people he has influenced along the way. For that, there is no measure.
As Stromme made his way out of Wade Stadium on Wednesday, an old-timer, enjoying a perfect night to enjoy a tradition as old and American as apple pie, approached him just to say, “Soup, you kept baseball alive in the ’60s, when we could have lost the game. Thanks.”
It was just a small gesture, but for Soup Stromme, it made his night.
No ‘Soup’ story for you: Stromme nickname is a family secret
What’s in a nickname?
Graydon “Soup” Stromme isn’t saying.
“It’s not for publication,” he said with a grin.
Stromme, enjoying a Duluth Huskies baseball game last Wednesday at Wade Stadium, has heard people ask him that more than he has seen home runs hit at that old park.
Don Thomas, sitting next to Stromme along the right-field line, didn’t realize the question already had been asked and urged his friend to tell the story.
“Tell him how you got the name, Soup. We all want to know,” Thomas said.
Soup said Mickey, his wife of nearly 68 years, and his children, Lorrie, Karen and David know, and that’s all that matters.
Gary Holquist, Soup’s son-in-law, agreed.
“It’s a family secret,” he said, laughing.