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Spotlight on past Ely Sports Hall of Fame members: Paul Starkovich

by Mike Turnbull

This weeks’ ESHOF spotlight is on Paul Starkovich. Paul graduated from Ely Memorial in 1968 and was inducted as an ESHOF member in 1996 as one of the representatives from the 1960s.

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to visit with Stark and interview him. Anybody who ever played baseball in Ely or is a fan of Ely baseball has probably heard a story or two about his pitching exploits. It was a treat to be able to get him to talk about his baseball days.

While in high school Paul played football, basketball and baseball. He played football for John Ackerman and Bob Prawdzik. George Marsnik was his basketball coach and VFW/Legion baseball coach. Bob Drescich was his high school baseball coach. Paul dominated the local baseball scene in high school, VFW and American Legion catching the attention of pro scouts and college coaches. I have been told by many that Paul threw harder and had the best slider of any pitcher in northern Minnesota. Despite scholarship offers from the Universities of Minnesota and Iowa among others Paul decided to pursue a professional career.

Paul said, “A Baltimore Oriole scout spent time in Ely watching me pitch in the summer after my junior and senior years in high school. I signed with the Orioles after the state legion tournament was finished in 1968. I would have signed for nothing but Coach George Marsnik told them I wasn’t signing unless they covered my college education. The Orioles came up with a $4,000 signing bonus to cover those costs. I have always been thankful to George for that.” Paul parlayed that bonus into an AA degree at Vermilion CC, two years at UM-Duluth and eventually an elementary teaching degree from San Francisco State.

“My first few years I wasn’t able to go to spring training because I was attending college to maintain my student exemption and would head to my assigned team in June. Those first two years at Vermilion I helped Bob Altuvilla coach baseball and worked out with the team.”

The Minor League Baseball career stats show Paul played seven seasons of professional baseball. He pitched in three different major league organizations; the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. Stark pitched at all three minor league levels, Classes A, AA, and AAA.

Paul’s minor league journey took him all across the country. Aberdeen Pheasants, Stockton Ports, Lodi Orions, Lewiston Broncs and Asheville Orioles, all Baltimore affiliates.

While with Kansas City he pitched for the AA Jacksonville Suns and AAA Omaha Royals where he played with Dennis Leonard and George Brett. He played briefly with the San Antonio Brewers in 1975, a Cleveland Indian affiliate before retiring from professional baseball.

Officially Paul’s career stats read 39 wins and 30 losses, 4.36 ERA, 87 games started, 16 complete games and two saves.

When Paul joined the Orioles in 1969 he knew he had to use the opportunity to work his way to another club if he had any chance of making it to the major league level.

“The Oriole organization was loaded with pitching. In 1971 they had four 20 game winners. Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally.”

Paul was very successful in his first two seasons at Aberdeen. He went 11-7, highlighted by a 20 strikeout performance against the St. Cloud Rox.

In 1971 Stark went to spring training with the Orioles and made the best of that opportunity. He went on to a 7-6 season at Stockton in the California League. Paul cherishes that first appearance at spring training.

“I was in awe of the whole atmosphere. The clubhouse was full of guys I idolized. Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, etc… My locker was next to Jim Palmer. One day I got called to the big field to pitch some controlled batting practice. Andy Etchebarren was my catcher and Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson was the first batter I faced. To put it mildly, I was nervous. On the first pitch I hit him right in the middle of the back. Earl Weaver came out of the dugout and I figured I was done. Earl yelled at Robinson, ‘Brooks, I don’t think the kid likes you.’ Things improved the rest of the BP session.”

At this point in our interview, I am just enjoying the stories and the excitement in Stark as he goes on.

“It gets better. About a week later I got to go over to Bradenton, FL with the big club and pitch against the Pirates in an exhibition game. I was called in to pitch relief. Already nervous, I hear Willie Stargell, another future Hall of Famer,  announced as the hitter. First pitch, I hit him in the hip. Willie charged the mound. I could run then, so I ran toward centerfield. Middle infielders Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich were laughing as was Paul Blair when I got to centerfield. Turns out, I was safe, my catcher Andy Etchebarren had tackled Mr. Stargell behind the mound and saved me.”

In 1972 Paul went 5-4 at Lodi & Lewiston. In 1973 he moved up to AA Asheville and went 4-2 after going 7-1 at Class A Lodi. In 1974 he was traded to Kansas City. He pitched for AAA Omaha Royals and the AA Jacksonville Suns where he played with Dennis Leonard and George Brett. Bob McClure was my home roommate in Omaha and John Wathan on the road. While there Paul developed elbow trouble (Tommy John). “I asked for my release and got another shot with San Antonio (Cleveland Indians) in 1975.

In 1976 Paul came back to Ely and went to work at Inland Steel.

From 2000-2014 he served as a professional scout for the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals. He did play a little more baseball one summer in the late 1980s.

“I was talked into playing town ball with the Blue Sox. At the end of the season Mike Tezak, Ray Podominick and I were drafted to play with Marble in the state tournament. I got to pitch against the Gopher summer travel team. Struck out 18 and lost 1-0. Bob Bolf lost a fly ball in the lights.”

This is over 10 years after Stark’s competitive career and elbow trouble, still dominating batters.

Paul, who currently resides in Babbitt said that during his time in the minors Omaha was his favorite stop.

“I loved the city and made several close friends there. Playing at Rosenblatt Stadium was an honor. I visited there as much as possible after my career ended and several of my teammates there have made their way to Ely to fish. I will admit though that the California League was my favorite to pitch in, perfect weather.”

Note: The ESHOF Committee is taking nominations for the class of 2024 until March 1, 2024.

The 2024 Class will be honored during the All-Class Reunion this summer. The 2024 class will include athletes from the 1980s through 2009. The pre-1930s through the1950s were inducted in 1976 and the 1960s and 1970s ESHOF members were inducted in 1996.

Nominations can be emailed to Tom Coombe at the Ely Echo, tcoombe@aol.com. Tom will forward nominations to the committee.

Include as much information as possible. Minimum: Name, graduation year and sports played.

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