For the love of the game
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”
— Yogi Berra
Bob Kostka of Gypsum has enjoyed a lifelong love of baseball. Last week, the sport returned some love his way.
On Jan. 26 during an awards banquet that featured a keynote address by famed Atlanta Braves star Dave Murphy, Kostka was inducted into the Fargo American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame. He is in good company in that hall — It is headlined by Fargo’s own Roger Maris, referred to as the “legitimate home run king.”
Kostka was informed about his induction a few months back. “It really came out of the blue,” he said.
After receiving the surprise news about his induction, Bob and his wife Ruthie were shocked when they arrived for the ceremony. They figured it would be a relatively low-key event with around 50 people in attendance. Instead they were treated to a ceremony that attracted around 200 people.
“He got the most amazing trophy you have ever seen,” said Ruthie.
“They call it a trophy but that really doesn’t do it justice,” said Bob. “I was just honored and humbled to be in the same room as the guys ahead of me.”
What did Bob do to deserve the accolades and the hardware? He loved the game of baseball both as a player and a coach. Heck, he has loved baseball since he was a little kid.
Bat boy to the stars
Kostka’s involvement with Fargo American Legion baseball began in 1947 when he was the bat boy for his father, coach Stan Kostka. That team would go on to win the North Dakota state championship that year.
In 1950 and 1951, the Fargo American Legion teams repeated that success with a hot player named Maris anchoring the lineup.
“Roger Maris was from Fargo and he was a mentor of mine. He worked for my dad so I knew him as a little kid,” said Bob.
When it came time for him to play for the Fargo American Legion squad, Bob made his own mark. As a 17-year-old player on the 1957 Fargo Legion team, he was named Rookie of the Year and won the state tournament batting championship title with an average of over .500. That team earned a 32-8 record.
When Bob returned to play Legion ball for the 1958 season, he hit .450 and helped his club to a 27-9 record. Bob then parlayed his outstanding American Legion baseball career to an all-conference college career at the University of North Dakota. During his college years he led the team in hitting for two straight years and batted .395 as a junior and .400 as a senior. He was named to the All-North Central Conference team in both 1962 and 1963.
After college, Kostka signed a minor league contract with the Minnesota Twins. He played with the Class A Orlando Twins of the Florida State League. During those days he met players who later moved on to the big league including a guy by the name of Billy Martin. “There’s a lot of stories to be told about him, but not in mixed company,” said Bob with a grin.
He noted in those days, baseball was a part-time job. “Baseball was different then because there wasn’t so much money involved,” he said. “Players had to work at the bank or the grocery to make money.”
Bob ended his playing days after graduating from the University of North Dakota with an education degree. He worked as a teacher, coach, counselor and principal in southern California for 12 years and then returned to Fargo in 1975 where he worked with his dad in the family business — Stan Kostka Sporting Goods.
“Baseball is a kids’ game. It has to be enjoyable. Practice should be as much fun as the games.”
Fargo Legion Hall of Famer
and EVHS volunteer
Eventually Bob retired from business and 12 years ago he and Ruthie moved to Gypsum to be near their kids and grandkids.
Bob never stopped loving baseball, however, even though his two sons choose to play hockey and soccer. But this spring, baseball has come back into his life in a Hall of Fame and in the hallways at Eagle Valley High School.
Bob and Ruthie have a couple of grandkids — Jake and Zach Cossette — who have inherited a love of baseball. Jake is a freshman at Eagle Valley High School this year and eighth grader Zach will be a Devil next year. With the grandsons playing baseball, Bob has been coaxed into helping out with the team. He likes what he sees.
“Quality attracts quality,” said Bob. He has high praise for Devils head coach Jesse Meryhew and the assistant and volunteer coaches who work with the team including Derrick Wiemer, Mike Greear, Paul Sabo and others.
“There’s a great atmosphere. It is going to be an interesting season. The quality is going to be there,” Bob predicted.
As he works with today’s young players, Bob is impressed with the preseason conditioning regime the Devils have started. “Back when I played, our idea of stretching was getting out of the car,” he said.
With his long history with the game, Bob’s baseball advice is simple. “Get involved with it No. 1,” he said. “Baseball is a kids’ game. It has to be enjoyable. Practice should be as much fun as the games.”
Bob believes that baseball never gets boring because there is always more to learn.
“Bob always says baseball is a thinking man’s game,” said Ruthie.
“Yes. You have to be aware of what’s happening all of the time and that’s for all nine guys playing,” said Bob. But even when you aren’t on the field, baseball demands your attention as a spectator, he said.
For those reasons, combined with a lifetime of playing and coaching, Bob loves baseball.
And judging by the comments from the young players he is working with at EVHS, baseball loves him too.
It would be really hard to spark a wildfire anywhere near Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek right now. Still, unattended campfires will always draw attention.