Boston Braves vs. Kiwanis

There are likely some lifelong baseball fans still around today who remember the days when the Boston Red Sox were only one of two major league teams in Boston.  There may even be a few who remember July 17, 1934 when the Boston Braves, the Red Sox crosstown rival, arrived in the St Croix Valley to play the St. Stephen-Milltown town team, then known as the Kiwanis. The Boston Braves are pictured above at the St. Stephen baseball diamond before the game. You might wonder why the Braves, who were in the thick of pennant race for the National League title, would come to St. Stephen to play a town team? The Braves had played the Pittsburgh Pirates in Boston on the 15th and were scheduled to play a doubleheader in Boston on the 18th. The answer, not surprisingly, was money. The Braves operated on a shoestring and the $1000 guaranty in Bangor, where they played on the 16th and St. Stephen was serious money in those days and, because the St Croix Valley was wild about baseball, the gate could potentially result in an even bigger payday.

This ballgame was no Harlem Globetrotters event where a group of clearly world class athletes abuses and amuses a group of local athletes for charity. The St Stephen Kiwanis baseball teams of the 1930s where very likely the best in Canada. They were nearly unbeatable in Maritime and Provincial competition during the decade. Pictured above is the 1932 Championship team. The team also often included the best players from Calais who were required by the New Brunswick amateur rules to become residents of St Stephen to play. This they did by spending a few nights during the season at the home of a St. Stephen player. The best catcher in the St Croix Valley in the 1930s was Theo McLain of Calais. Theo lived on Calais Avenue when he wasn’t “residing” in St Stephen and starring for the Kiwanis. He is on the far left, middle row in the photo above.

The teams arrived at the St Stephen Exhibition Grounds in full uniform, following the Calais Marching Band onto the field. The ball diamond was very primitive in those days, sharing space with the trotting park but this probably didn’t bother the Braves who were a pretty crusty lot. The Braves manager had but two rules for his players, show up to games on time and stay out of jail both of which he was willing to waive under appropriate circumstances. As ballplayers, however, they were very talented. The Braves had the seventh best record in baseball in 1934 which made them the seventh best baseball team in the world.  Wally Berger, their center fielder, hit 34 home runs in 1934 and had 121 RBIs. Today Wally would be making 25 million a year which makes it somewhat strange that the Kiwanis starting pitcher for the game was a 16 year old kid from Calais named Ken Kallenberg. Ken was phenom, the most exciting pitching prospect the Valley had ever seen and no one doubted he was destined for the major leagues. Still while it was asking a lot of the teenager it was also also an opportunity to showcase his talent.

Unfortunately it wasn’t Ken’s day. After a decent 1st inning he fell apart in the second, allowing several hits, a couple of walks, balked and even hit Wally Berger with a pitch. As he said later he was very nervous when he took the mound. The Kiwanis manager had only informed him the night before he was to start the game.  Cecil “ Lefty” Brownell, who relieved Ken in the third inning was understanding:

‘In all fairness to Kenny Kallenburg and to all our pitchers, they (the Braves) could have done that to any of us… A big-league ball club like the Braves; it doesn’t mean that we were that good to hold them down.’ 

Lefty had to face Wally Berger when he took over for Ken in the third and Berger took him deep, very, very deep.

‘What I remember most about the game was that hit by Berger. Now every time I come down to St. Stephen and I’m driving by St. George, I keep an eye open to see if I can see that ball,’ says Brownell with a twinkle.”

After the Kiwanis team settled down they scored some runs and their pitchers were able to keep the final score respectable. Everyone was pleased. Even though it was a weekday most employers gave their workers the day off and both border towns were filled with people in a holiday mood. More than 5000 paid to see the game and many got in free because the ticket seller at the gate abandoned his post to watch the game. Several hundred sneaked through the woods to watch from the outfield. Nonetheless the Braves boarded the overnight train for Boston with more than $1000 in the till but the prospect of arriving in Boston just a few hours before playing a doubleheader against a major league rival. They won both games.

As to Ken Kallenberg he was picked up by the Boston Braves in 1938 and put in its developmental program. He left the program to come home and help the St Stephen town team, then the St Croix’s, win the Maritime Championship. In 1939 he was signed by the New York Giants which is why he is wearing a Giants uniform above. After a decent season in 1939 with the Milford Giants of the Eastern Shore League, Ken found his stride in 1940, going 16-7 with a 3.20 earned run average. He did indeed seem destined for the majors but Uncle Sam intervened and Ken spent the next few years in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. He fought at Guadalcanal, the Solomons, New Guinea and Luzon and was wounded three times. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star for bravery and the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters. His injuries ended his hopes of a career in baseball but he was never bitter and was a popular and productive member of the Calais community until his death just a couple years ago.

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