Carpet Country

It was the fall of 1991.  Another softball season had just come to an end.  While most people were taking a few months to get reacquainted with family and settle back into a more “normal” life without softball, Tim Walker was restless.  His Philly Bar and Grill team had just completed a disappointing finish to the season at Nationals, as did all of the Iowa teams.  Tim and teammate/friend Brad Van Meter were looking for a “better” fit.  They started brainstorming in Walker’s basement coming up with names and making phone calls to guys they wanted to play with, guys who they felt could be compatible off and on the field. By November they had put something together.  It included guys from The Skatetown Rollers, Krantmans and their Philly Bar and Grill team. They secured sponsorship from Dan Stalzer, who owned a number of flooring stores throughout Iowa, and by December of that year, the Carpet Country Rollers were born.


From the beginning this team got along splendidly.  Walker hosted several pre season parties at his home so that the team could get to know one another and formulate a philosophy that they would carry into the season.


That 1992 season saw the team have mixed success on the field early.  There were some great wins and some frustrating losses, but through all that the team remained unified.  There was a huge tournament championship win in LaCrosse over the Eastsider’s in which the team breezed through it undefeated. That year culminated with a second place finish at the state tournament, which was highlighted by a huge comeback in the finals to force an “if” game, only to lose to the Graphic Edge 3-2.  The team was not able to attend the National tournament that year as it was held in Arizona and many of the team had already headed back to school for their final year of college.


1993 saw some additions and subtractions.  Once again, the team had a year of ups and downs but headed into the Nationals in Marshalltown with much optimism.  That was deflated in the first round with a sound 17-1 thumping at the hands of the Miller Taggers.  The team rebounded to win their next game which set up a showdown with the defending National Champion, Splinters Sports Club.  From the beginning it was a back and forth battle, played in front of one of the largest crowds the Marshalltown Softball Complex had ever seen.  The game included Carpet Country LF Red Van Cleave climbing to the top of the fence to take away a HR from the legendary Jack Kelly. To this day it is one of the greatest catches in the history of that complex.  The game went to the bottom of the seventh with Carpet Country trailing by two runs.  Red Van Cleave led off the inning with a walk, Tim Walker followed with two run home run that hit three quarters of the way up the light pole, estimated to have traveled close to three hundred feet.  Marty Freese followed with a double and after they walked Brian Keeney to set up a force out, Brad Van Meter hit the game winning homerun.  That game served as a spring board as the team went on to finish fourth, finally losing to Bobby Russ Sr’s ICE team, led by Pat Caputo.


Going into the 1994 season, the team made a few more changes to the roster in an effort to improve on their fourth place finish at Nationals.  Brian Preston and Scott Goecke were added and brought a new attitude along with a very aggressive base running style that was contagious throughout the lineup.  The team enjoyed a very successful league and tournament schedule and headed into the National tournament at Mt Prospect with high expectations.  Once again they finished fourth, only this time it was on foreign soil, so it was viewed as another major success.  It was in this year that the team also began to form many friendships with their rivals from the east.  Friendships that to this day still exist.


After the ’94 season the team got together and it was decided that they needed to add some speed and defensive help in the outfield.  At that meeting it was decided that they would add former Iowa Hawkeye CF Jay Polson, veteran Rick Barnes from the H & J’s HItmen.  These two proved to be very valuable additions early in 1995 as the team got off to a red-hot start, winning the first three “major” tournaments in Iowa.  The team headed into the Iowa state tournament feeling like they were the team to beat.  It was not to be though because the team lost a hard fought winners bracket final to their arch rival The Graphic Edge, then were upset in the loser’s bracket by H & F Distributing, leaving the team with a third place finish.  While disappointed, the team did not waver from their goal to win the Nationals.  The rallied two weeks later and won the fourteen-inch inch state tournament, their fifth in a row, and were now poised to make a serious run at Nationals in Mt. Prospect.


Labor Day weekend had finally arrived.  The National tournament at Mt Prospect was a spectacle to behold and Carpet Country wasted no time in their quest to grab the elusive sixteen-inch championship.  They won their first two rounds of games, setting up a matchup with Thee Dollhouse.  Carpet Country trailed early but rallied to earn a hard fought one run victory that catapulted them into the winner’s bracket final against Primetime.  Primetime came out smoking with Curtis Uidel delivering the big blow – a three run homer into the left center field bleachers.  Carpet Country would later fall to Primetime, which set a rematch with Thee Dollhouse.  This turned out to be a classic with the teams going back and forth rallying from deficits to take the lead.  Rick Barnes was fantastic with a 5 – 5 performance including an inside the park HR that gave the Rollers the lead for good and they held on for a 15-14 victory.  Next up, the National Championship game against Prime Time.


Playing in the finals at Nationals was a dream come true for many members of the Carpet Country softball team.  In their youth they had watched the greats of the game come through Marshalltown when the Nationals were held there.  They grew up in the game trying to emulate their style of play, walking in the box, cutting or dumping, going the other way and moving runners.  Now they had the chance to show what they had learned to a capacity crowd.


The first game was pretty much controlled by the Rollers from the outset as they never trailed and scored a victory setting up the “if” game.  The bats that were so hot in the games against Hollywood Casino and Primetime in the first game, had gone silent.  Eggs Czarnick seemed to have figured out a way to shut the lineup that had hit so well all weekend down.  Primetime held a commanding 5-2 lead heading into the top of the seventh.  The first two hitters were retired and the Rollers were down to their final out.  The dream seemed as if it were about to come to an end.  But the Rollers still had one out.  Brian Keeney was next up. He tripled into the right center field gap.  Brad Van Meter singled to right scoring Keeney.  5-3. Mike McCune doubled scoring pinch runner Tim Jennings. Ricky Barnes then singled off the first basemen’s mitt scoring McCune and tying the game!  Greg Van Cleave followed with another single moving Barnes to second.  LF Craig Hughes then hit what appeared to be a routine ground ball to first but he hustled all the way down the line and was called safe. Meanwhile Barnes was running hard all the way. He rounded third and headed for home with the go ahead run.  The throw came from first as Barnes collided with the catcher as he crossed home plate, SAFE.  The impossible had happened.  The Rollers had rallied from being down three with no one on and two out to take the lead.  Prime Time was retired in order in the bottom of the seventh and history was made.


The team played the following year under new Sponsorship and were called the Electric Company.  They finished a disappointing seventh at Nationals in Marshalltown that year.  After that the team fractured off into different teams with many of the players going on to play significant roles with Grand Slam, Walkers Garage, Stovers, Drink, Monsoon and the Old Timer Tavern.


Members of the team were, Brian Preston, Mike McCune, Marty Freese, Scott Goecke, Brad Van Meter, Tim Walker, Kirk Huehn, Craig Hughes, Greg Van Cleave, Brian Keeney, Jay Polson, Rick Barnes, Tim Jennings and Gary Wignall.


McCune, Freese, Van Meter, Walker, Van Cleave, Polson and Wignall are all members of the Iowa ASA 16 inch Hall of Fame. Walker and Huehn continue to play to this day.