FOX 9 Town Ball Tour: Family's baseball photo reveals rich history in New Ulm, Minn.
NEW ULM, Minn. (FOX 9) - When Dan Backer stumbled on an old black and white photo, he had one fact and one hunch. He knew the batter is his dad, Cal, who passed away two years ago. But, he guessed, "there's probably a story that goes with it."
Intrigued, Dan started walking the alleys of New Ulm near his dad's old childhood home on Washington Street.
"I was looking for a garage with three windows and not knowing if things had been torn down or new."
And then fate stepped in. Actually, it drove right up to him.
"This older gentleman gets out of the car and asks me, 'Can I help you?' And I walked over with my phone and showed him this photo, and I said, 'you know, this is my father.' And Tom here got a big smile on his face and said, 'I know the catcher in that photo.' And I'm like, 'Who?' and he says, 'That's me.' And I was like, 'holy cow.'"
Tom Groebner, 92, is the catcher in the photo. He recognized himself immediately. He said the umpire is his brother Stu who passed away 14-years ago. As luck would have it, Tom still lives in the same house he grew up in Washington Street, two houses down from his long-time friend Cal Backer.
"We played together all the time, Cal and I, and he was actually two years older than me, but still we got along fine."
Tom doesn't recall posing for the photo, or who took it. But, film wasn't cheap back in the 30's, so there was usually a purpose behind pictures.
"We'd stage stuff. I remember one shot we took one of a guy batting a ball and we had the ball suspended by a string and the bat was coming around and we didn't have high speed photography," Tom said.
The more they talked, the more Dan learned about his dad and of Tom's connection to the Backers, including the years Tom worked at the Backer family's drug store.
"When I got out of the Navy I started working there, and after a couple years I wasn't too interested so I talked them into starting a camera department because I wasn't interested in the drug store part that much."
Both Dan and Tom realize how lucky they were in that alley at that moment.
"A minute later one way or the other it never would've happened because if I had come back a minute later he'd been gone you know. And that would've been the end of it I think," Tom said.
Their only regret is that it didn't happen a few years sooner. Dan gets choked up thinking about it.
"I know he'd get a kick out of seeing all of this...because he liked this kind of stuff. So, I know Cal would've gotten a kick out of it."
82-years after the photo was taken, new memories are made - including an idea to recreate the old scene in the alley. Tom is still catcher, Tom's son Dan is now the ump and Cal's grandson, Cole, is the batter.
"History needs to be told and I always talked with my dad about that or with my kids of just saying you got to tell stories. You know that's what keeps this stuff alive," Dan said.
Dan and Tom posted their “now and then” photos on a New Ulm Facebook page recently. Thousands of people have seen it, and the two say they are overwhelmed with the way it’s resonated with the community.
New Ulm Town Ball July 3
FOX 9 will be broadcasting live starting at 5 p.m. and FOX 9 Sports will continue broadcasting live after the game. And, this year, we're bringing FOX 9 Town Ball Tour can koozies to keep your drinks cold.
The New Ulm Brewers will play the St. Clair Wood Ducks at Johnson Park, located at 500 N. German Street, in New Ulm.
For a full FOX 9 Town Ball Tour schedule, click here.