Perham native: ‘Perham Connection’ put Concordia diamond program on the map
By JOHN W. DERMODY
Bucky Burgau has had the Blues for 27 years.
As a collegiate baseball coach, the Perham product has also been involved in America’s great pastime on several levels, not just as the coach of the Moorhead Blues American Legion team.
Don Burgau, Jr. grew up in Perham and has been successful as a player and coach throughout his diamond-studded life.
A big milestone was surpassed last week when his Concordia College Cobbers won a 400th game for him during a doubleheader at St. Peter. After losing a 6-5 decision in eight innings to the Gusties, Burgau’s Boys apparently put their offense in high gear and downed the host squad 22-13.
Saturday, the Cobs started with a 3-0 shutout over visiting Bethel, then the career record went to 401-287 as the Royals won the night cap 5-1.
"I always wanted to be in baseball," he said, looking back at coaching the Concordia team for 21 years. "But being a big league player was not in the cards."
Burgau noted that he got a start in coaching while still working on his studies at North Dakota State University. He took over a "shaky" program and tried to get it on a firm foundation and, during that time, got involved with the Blues’ Legion team.
As a high school player for the Yellowjackets, he was a student of baseball and has tried to maintain a solid approach to the game. A second baseman on the state championship Perham Pirates in 1966, he was just ready to enter his junior year when he lined up with his father, uncle Raymond (Stub) and such standouts as Al Stigman and Don Meyer, he noted.
And the "Perham Connection" has continued for Burgau, with several local athletes matriculating at the Moorhead private institution.
"Perham guys have been good for our program. They helped put the Concordia program on the map," he commented.
Some of the first ‘Jacket-to-Cobber transfers were Greg Schmid, who still pitches for the Wolf Lake amateur team, and Bob Schepper, manager of the Pirates. Both teams battle in the Hi-10 League’s west division.
A few others he mentioned were Dan Schroeder, Dave Schroeder and Robin Schepper, while four recent graduates are members of the current Concordia squad: Justin Stohs, Cory Brasel, Marc Winjum and Jeremy Morgenroth.
The Cobbers’ coach said it is gratifying to see an abundance of good high school talent being produced in the region, not just for Concordia but for other schools, too. For example, he mentioned that Ryan Breitbach (Park Rapids) and Cory Eckhoff (Wadena-Deer Creek) are toiling for the NDSU Bison.
Recently, Burgau’s squad played Valley City State University and Perham’s Eric Erickson started in the visitors’ outfield, while other players from Fergus Falls, Battle Lake and Pelican Rapids were members of the Vikings’ team.
"The bulk of our players come from a hundred mile radius," the coach noted. "And we have a lot of dual-sport athletes."
At the present time, the Concordia varsity nine has more than 10 players who also were on the gridiron last fall. First baseman Clayton Horgan is a good example. He is an outstanding punter-place kicker for the football team. The junior varsity lists another five footballers.
The fact that so many top-flight players exist "is a testament to baseball in the area," Burgau commented.
Being a Division III school, the four-year institution may appear to be at a disadvantage because no athletic scholarships are available. But a plus, he stated, is that the college "is very solid academically."
"Division III is the last place where a two-sport athlete can compete," Burgau continued.
That aspect of competition – along with Concordia’s high academic reputation – are strong selling points when talking to prospective student-athletes, he added.
Burgau said the early credibility he earned while coaching the American Legion team – along with its reputation – also enhanced his position as a college coach. Some of those same athletes "migrated" to the Concordia campus, while he also had an opportunity to watch good young players from a wide area. As the Cobbers’ reputation spread, recruits were more likely to consider wearing the Maroon-and-Gold.
Another thing that helped push the Cobs’ program upward was that he was able to schedule a spring trip for the ball team within a short time of becoming the Concordia mentor.
"It put us on equal ground; we had 19 games (played) coming out of the chute instead of two," Burgau explained. At first, the the Cobbers went to Kansas and Oklahoma – and were at the mercy of the weather. Now, the Concordia diamond ambassadors play about a dozen games in Florida each spring, then have two or three in the Metrodome before opening at home around April 1.
Concordia has had some great players, some of whom have gone on to play pro ball. Chris Coste and Brad Keenan were a pair he mentioned, both being right-handed pitchers.
He called Coste "uncanny," the way he "always came through in the clutch." The three-time All-American was probably the number one player in Cobber history, the coach emphasized.
Coste, who is expected to play again this season with the F-M RedHawks, "showed no fear," whether pitching or playing in the infield.
"He never let a mistake bother him. He never took it to his next at-bat," Burgau pointed out.
Burgau mentioned that two of his current standouts are expected to play amateur baseball this summer with the Pirates, while others will go in varied directions to play with teams in their home regions. Both of the players are Detroit Lakes sophomores and played last year with the DL Angels, a squad no longer functioning in the Hi-10.
The coach called righthander Doug Muzik "as good a pitcher as we’ve had since Chris Coste."
Matt Nustad, an infielder, led the Cobbers in hitting a year ago as a rookie, and currently ranks first in home runs for the Concordia nine.
Burgau also said he got word recently that another local standout will attend Concordia next year. A. J. Bunkowske, a catcher-pitcher from Vergas who attends Fargo’s Oak Grove High School, will join the Cobbers’ ranks.
"That made my day," the coach said, adding that news about a recent injury to the athlete’s knee was "better than anticipated." The young player will apparently be able to compete this summer.
He reiterated his philosophy, first stated in these pages four years ago in a "Diamond Dust" series: "The good Lord put me on earth to coach baseball. I know how to coach baseball…I’m at home in the dugout."
Burgau reaches 400 mark at Concordia; amateur baseball gets ready to wail
Bucky Burgau has been a shining light for baseball. He first made his mark in Perham as a 16-year old second baseman playing with the state championship Pirates (1966) and has had a fine double-barreled career in the border city of Moorhead.
Now in his 21st year of coaching at Concordia College, Don Burgau, Jr. recently won his 401st game as the Cobbers’ coach. In addition, he has been the brains behind a few hundred more victories as the coach for the Moorhead Blues American Legion club for 27 years.
As noted in an interview with the Cobs’ head man, it hasn’t always been roses. When he first took over, there was no spring trip. And contrary to the belief of some critics, the teams have worked hard on the southern swing. It isn’t just beach-and-sun tan time.
At first, the trips were Midwestern excursions -- to Kansas and Oklahoma – for perhaps a dozen contests with anybody willing to get on the schedule. Later, the Cobbers moved the spring trip to Florida where the weather was more reliable.
Bob Schepper, manager of the Pirates, played for Burgau in his second year at the Moorhead school. It was an adventure.
"We were lucky to get maybe six games played, because of the weather," Schepper noted recently.
And there was no "per diem" of $25-$50 as some touring squads – today’s teams on the various pro levels, for example -- get for each player. Some nights, the Cobbers – after all 18 players and two coaches had been jammed into a pair of vans with a ton of equipment – simply sacked out on the floors of hospitable churches.
Food, it was pretty basic, Schepper noted.
In the morning, Burgau and assistant coach Sonny Gulsvig would put out the Cobbers’ version of a continental breakfast: fruit and rolls, usually. Before a game, Gulsvig -- the raconteur who entertained the players with endless stories -- would haul out a couple of loaves of bread and some sandwich meat and – presto – a pre-game meal. (No, the "loaves and fishes" story will not be used as a parallel here…fish stories from Gulsvig, perhaps.)
The "basic food groups" (different from today’s grease, pizza, fat, cholesterol-laden or spicy…) would then feature something like an apple and a can of pop to round out the vittles prior to going into action. (A case or two of Barrel O’ Fun chips would have been a welcome addition, huh, Schep?)
In the evening, things were better. Each player was allowed $6 to cover food at a restaurant. If cheap smorgasbords/buffets existed then, I’m sure the Cobs got full value for their bucks. But if a player went over the $6 mark, he paid the difference, the current Bucs manager noted. Of course, money bought more around 1980 than it does now.
Schepper, who played for the Cobbers for four years, as have many other Perham athletes, said the Concordia nine usually went against teams like Washburn University and Emporia State. But rain or wet grounds, not snow, were the things that most often hampered the pre-MIAC schedule.
Outfield was usually his spot, although he toiled on the mound in relief on occasion – in exhibition or non-conference games, Schepper said.
"Where it didn’t count," he laughed.
AMATEUR BASEBALL ON TAP. In the next couple of weeks, the local amateur baseball leagues will get underway. The Countryside League starts on April 25 and the Hi-10 rolls into action a week later.
As noted in the interview with the Cobbers’ head coach, two of his standouts are planning to play with the Pirates this summer. Doug Muzik, a righthanded hurler, and Matt Nustad, an infielder, will join Schepper’s team when college ball is finished.
While Nustad has power and hits for average, Muzik can smack the horsehide, too. So the Perham team will be able to fill some holes even though they are losing some players.
Jeremy Kovash, injured early last year in a boating accident, will not be at first base this campaign. And at least two players are expected to take their talents to Dent where they will play for manager Marv Hexum’s Ramblers.
Of course, there will be other shifts around the leagues, too. We will try to detail as many as possible in preview stories next week and in the following edition of the Enterprise-Bulletin.
With pro baseball struggling, why not become a fan of college and amateur ball? Take in a game at the Cobbers’ field. Or check the schedules in the next few days to see where Corliss, Dent, Vergas, Perham, New York Mills and other teams are playing.
There’s nothing better than an afternoon at a ballpark. Fishing? C’mon, you can do that in the early morning or when the sun goes down.