Baseball legend passes away

Published 10:31 am Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Former baseball player Dr. Norb Schmitt laughs as he recounts a story of Austin baseball legend Dick Seltz, left, at a field dedication for Seltz in August 2006. Field 1 at Riverland’s baseball complex is now known as Dick Seltz Field.

A lot of people in Austin know about Dick Seltz, the baseball coach.

Seltz, who coached baseball at Austin High School from 1951 to 1987, had a winning record in all 36 of his seasons with the Packers. He compiled 509 wins, 23 Big Nine titles, 16 state tournament appearances and two state titles. He was named National Baseball coach of the year in 1987.

But Seltz, who passed away Thursday, Oct. 11, was just as influential away from the diamond as he was on it.

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“He had a huge impact in Austin as a person and as a teacher,” said Joe Ciola, who played for Seltz in 1986 and considered him a family friend. “He also had a huge impact on the tradition of baseball. He was a really great man who lived a great life.”

Of all of the teams Seltz took to state, the last one was in 1970, and that team happened to include one of his three sons, Steve Seltz. Steve said his dad was well known for making a player field 50 ground balls in practice if he missed one in a game, but all of the Packer players had great respect for their coach.

“I was very glad as his son to be a part of [his last state tournament],” Steve said. “He was a great coach, but more importantly, dad taught everyone the fundamentals in life.”

Seltz’s daughter, Louise Berhow, remembers watching her dad coach. She recalls how her love for the game grew as she grew up around the game.

“He was always my hero, and I’ll miss him,” she said. “He was always a role model, and I love baseball because of all the games we went to.”

Seltz not only left a lasting impression in Austin, but made plenty of friends out of his opponents.

Dale Massey went up against Seltz while coaching for Rochester Mayo from 1967 to 1987. He had always looked up to the Packers coach and was surprised by how well Seltz treated him when he first came to the Big Nine.

“He was a great guy,” Massey said. “When I came in as a rookie I looked at Dick as the dean of Big Nine coaches. He took me in and I was just one of the boys. I had a great deal of respect for him.”

As great as Seltz’s achievements were, they were matched by his humility.

Joe Serratore, a Marcusen Park Baseball Association member, spent a lot of time talking to Seltz over the years. He moved into Austin the year after Seltz retired as coach. Serratore was surprised recently to find out Seltz was a serious Major League prospect before having to go into the military for World War II.

“Dick was a very humble man and rarely spoke much of his accomplishments both as a player and as a coach,” Serratore said. “His baseball teams always pitched and played good defense. He knew long ago what we all preach now: Pitching and defense win championships.”

Serratore would like to give Marcusen Park some added history as early as next summer by renaming the stadium Scheid-Seltz Stadium to pay homage to what Seltz did for Austin baseball.

“I only wish that I would have spent more time over the past decade visiting with him, he was an absolute joy to talk baseball with,” Serratore said. “As I get older, what really impresses me was that the man was truly a gentleman and a family man, as well as a good husband.”

A funeral service was held for Seltz at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John’s Lutheran Church.