More than 100 years ago, the biggest show in Cedar Rapids was a baseball series between the city’s best Irish and Bohemian players.
It started when those amateur players — who played for Don Reddy’s “Reddy’s Colts” and Joe Kvitek’s “Kvitek’s Colts” — gathered after practice in front of Alex Groundwater’s barbershop on Third Street SE.
The conversation started out on major league baseball but then evolved into an idea: How about dividing up the teams into nationalities, with the Bohemians versus the Irish?
What started as an idea for an impromptu game turned into a best-of-seven series — the so-called “Championship of the World.”
The first game took place at the Sinclair packinghouse diamond Aug. 1, 1910. A red-and-white Bohemia flag flew from one end of the bleachers, and a green Irish flag waved from the other.
More than 800 fans gathered in the stands to see the “battle of two nations.”
“The sons of Bohemia handled the bat in much better style than did the Irishmen,” The Evening Gazette reported. “They registered five hits, while the Irish team got only two. When it came to errors, however, the wearers of the green had the Czechs outclassed. The Irish made only two errors and the Bohemians registered four.”
The score reflected the errors, with the Irish winning the first five-inning contest, 4-3.
The series garnered so much attention that the Model Clothing Co., operated by Bohemian P.N. Serbousek and Irishman Eugene Quinn, offered $10 in gold to the series winner. The store owners also offered $1 in cash to any player who hit a home run.
Game 2 on Aug. 4 drew a large crowd — “at least 10,000” (a bit of blarney) — according to the news story, which noted, “On the rear side of the diamond and around the bleachers, the crowd was 100 feet deep, and a string of humanity extended all around the diamond.”
The crowd was so dense the ball was lost in that humanity a couple of times, allowing base hits when the ball couldn’t be retrieved.
The Bohemians won that game, 1-0. The Irish won the third game, 5-0.
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By then, news reports were referring to the teams by their nicknames: the Kolaches and the Shamrocks.
“These amateur players and the Bohemians and Irishmen who watch the game deserve credit for fine behavior,” The Gazette opined on Aug. 4. “Not a word of slang can be heard, and in spite of the awful yelling which is done by both sides, there is all fair play and honor for the baseball hero, be he a Shamrock or a Czech.”
The Irish won the fourth game, 7-4, and were poised to take the best-of-seven series Aug. 13.
But the Bohemians won that game, 8-1, thanks to first baseman and fan favorite Ed Krajicek, who hailed from Chicago and worked at the Sinclair packinghouse and who smacked a home run. The team was rewarded with fresh kolaches.
The Bohemians won the next game, too, tying the series at 3-3.
The seventh and final game of the series was scheduled for Labor Day at the Sinclair diamond but was moved to Sunday afternoon, Sept. 1, at the Alamo field, which was located where Roosevelt Middle School now sits at 300 13th St. NW.
The players preferred the Sinclair field because they liked to see if anyone could hit the ball over the Sinclair smokehouse. No one had been able to do that, though Krajicek, the Bohemian slugger, had parked one on top of the smokehouse.
A large crowd turned out despite of the rain for the nine-inning contest. The Bohemians won the title, shutting out the Irish, 5-0.
The Evening Gazette raved about the idea and its execution, with a bit of patriotism thrown in.
“The idea of having each team composed of the members of two nations, which make up a large percentage of the population of Cedar Rapids, proved a novel one indeed, and the public proved eager to find out which of these two nations gives the country the best players of the great American game,” the newspaper wrote.
“It is not only the skill of the players which is shown in these international contests, but each game played so far has shown what the American spirit really is. The games prove that men of two different nationalities whose origin has been in countries far distant from each other, and whose language has no relation at all, can live together as Americans. ...
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“At every game, the friendly spirit prevailed.”
Later that summer, the two teams played an exhibition game at the Marion Interstate Fair on Sept. 23.
The Independent baseball team of Iowa City challenged the winner of the Bohemian-Irish series for the “championship of the world.”
On Sept. 29, 2,000 fans gathered at Alamo Park to watch the two-city contest. The game went to the Bohemians by forfeit when the Independent captain objected to an umpire’s call and led his team off the field.
The next year, 1911, the Bohemians led off the series with an 8-0 win at Alamo Park on July 30.
The Irish countered by bringing in Jimmy LaValle, who once pitched for the C.R. Bunnies pro team in 1903. The contest went 11 innings.
“The way the Irishmen went after the Bohemians in the last half of the game and the way the Bohemians fought back was marvelous,” The Gazette reported. The game was finally called on account of darkness, still tied at 5-5.
The second championship series concluded Sept. 17 at the Alamo field, with 1,500 fans watching and new Chicago Cubs pitcher Cyril Slapnicka showing off his talents. The game ended in a 7-2 victory for the Bohemians.
In 1912, the Irish won the series.
In 1917, the Bohemian-Irish series was played at various ballfields, including Ellis Park, Alamo League Park and the Central Association minor league baseball park. It didn’t engender the same interest as in previous years — perhaps it was the impact of the world war — and it was the last one.
The series produced two professional players: Earl Tyree, who played one game for the Chicago Cubs in 1914, and Cy Slapnicka, who pitched for the Cubs in 1911 and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1918, but who made his mark as general manager and then as a scout for the Cleveland Indians; he died in Cedar Rapids in 1979 at age 93.
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