Sports

Mikelsen leaving a ‘Little’ legacy

Art Mikelsen, 83, has served as district administrator for South Kitsap’s Little League program since 1950. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Art Mikelsen, 83, has served as district administrator for South Kitsap’s Little League program since 1950.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

It’s a quiet ping, smooth and steady. It often is accompanied by the smile of a child when it leads to a hit.

The volume represents the quiet happiness of Little Leaguers — and is worlds away from what longtime Port Orchard resident Art Mikelsen experienced more than 60 years ago. He served with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, a ski troop based in Italy, and was wounded three times and was awarded three Purple Hearts. He also earned three Bronze Stars — one for valor — the WWII Combat Infantry Badge, a WWII Victory Medal and an Army of Occupation Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal.

When he was injured by shrapnel, Mikelsen said the medical staff “just pulled it all out, dumped sulfate in and sent you back up to the front.” Later, he suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach.

“I was pretty doggone lucky to get out of there,” he said. “I feel lucky every morning that I get up that I’m still alive. I had all the opportunities to lose my life, and I lost so many buddies right alongside me. They get blown up and their bloody bodies are splattering next to you and you survive. Why?”

It was a question Mikelsen often asked himself. He then made a promise. “There were a couple times where I told God, ‘If you get me out of this I’m going to go home and do something good,’” he said. “I live to that commitment.”

A NEW JOURNEY

After the Japanese surrendered, Mikelsen returned to the area, taking a job at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where he worked as a nuclear planner and estimator supervisor until his retirement in 1980. But he wasn’t alone — he and wife Alice will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary on Sept. 5.

It also was time to find a hobby. Anything too noisy was out of the question. “Loud noises bothered you because that’s how you learned to live.”

The explosions.

A hit. A blow. Another night in pain.

Perhaps even a death or maybe several. It all was too much for Mikelsen. Hunting, once a favored activity, was no longer in consideration, and not just because the decibel reading a rifle produces.

“I lost interest after I came back from the service,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in doing much killing.”

So Mikelsen, who graduated from South Kitsap Union High School in 1942, returned to baseball. He said he presided over a local semipro league in the late 1940s that featured teams from Olympia, Shelton, Silverdale, Port Orchard, Poulsbo, Port Townsend and Port Angeles.

Travel, particularly to the Olympic Peninsula in an era before the Hood Canal Bridge was built in 1961, was difficult. He said the league had to make arrangements with the boat owner to get over and back, sometimes around 1 a.m. Involvement in the league had its advantages, though.

“I pitched in that semipro league and played in the outfield,” he said. “I wasn’t a good ballplayer, but I was in charge, so I got to play once in awhile.”

At the same time, Mikelsen was busy as the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization and said he was approached in 1950 by Al Farmer, who gave him a booklet called, “This is Little League.”

“I looked at that thing and I said, ‘Geez, this is something we’ve never had around here,’” he said. “The only things we ever had here were intramural programs up in the school and one American Legion team.”

The first local Little League games began in 1951 and six years later, Mikelsen was elected district administrator — a position he still holds.

“I’m the only administrator this district has ever had,” he laughed. “Maybe they don’t know there’s better people out there.”

Blaine Brock, whose Washington District 2 All-Stars played in the first round of the Western Regional Big League baseball tournament Thursday at the Fairgrounds in Silverdale, has talked with Mikelsen before about his Little League tenure.

“He gives a story about when Olalla was nothing but strawberry fields,” Brock said. “That’s how long he’s been around.”

It’s a dedication Brock admires.

“He doesn’t have any kids involved anymore, so he just does it out of the joy of the game,” he said. “He’s a great guy.”

Mikelsen insists that next year, when his three-year elected term expires, will be his last.

“I don’t want to die in office, not for a selfish reason, but whoever takes over, if they need some help, I’m here,” he said. “If you die in office and you’ve done these things all of these years, it’s kind of a recovery that has to be made by the new person.”

District 2 consists of several chapters — Bainbridge Island, East Jefferson, Gig Harbor American, Gig Harbor National, North Mason, Port Townsend, Sequim, South Jefferson, South Kitsap Eastern, South Kitsap Southern, South Kitsap Western and West Central.

Even during the offseason, it’s a position Mikelsen says requires 30 to 40 hours a week. Preparing for the upcoming season involves electing officials and training in addition to myriad other tasks, he said.

SK Western president Bob Showers said he appreciates Mikelsen’s commitment to maintain a successful district.

“I think he’s really molded District 2 into one of the best districts in the state,” he said. “He follows the rules, he expects everyone to do the rules and he tells you upfront what he expects out of you. He makes us stick to the rules and I think that’s what makes District 2 so successful.”

It still is no comparison to the early years of Little League when he said the Cascade Mountains divided the state’s two districts, which left him in control of Western Washington.

“As a district administrator, I had to come home from work and hit the highway down to Chehalis or Vancouver and speak to those people,” he said. “Then I would come home and go to work the next day.”

The time commitment left him with one regret.

“The whole program all these years has been hardest on my family because you have to give up a heck of a lot,” said Mikelsen, who has three children, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. “A lot of times family would have gatherings and you couldn’t be there, so it’s been harder on my wife and the family.”

Mikelsen, who turns 83 on Aug. 15, said he still is reminded about the time commitment when he comes home.

“My wife tells me, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to retire for; you already ruined our life,’” he said, laughing.

LEAVING A LEGACY

He acknowledges wishing that he “hadn’t sacrificed my family as much and I hope they understand,” but said volunteering is important to the community.

“If people weren’t there to volunteer, we wouldn’t have anything,” he said. “Somebody has to do it.”

As an example, Mikelsen reflects on his childhood teams that played on dilapidated fields in the Key Peninsula and even before that.

“I was the only boy in the family in Banner,” he said. “I used to play out in the cow pastures. Whenever I was going to get a baseball, I would either sew the baseball or tape it up. Same thing when you had a broken bat.”

Facilities and involvement in youth sports now receive much more attention. The first of many accolades Mikelsen received came in 1978 when Port Orchard named a field in his honor.

“That was pretty nice,” said Mikelsen, who also has thrown out the first pitch for the Seattle Mariners, including the team’s home opener in 2003 to honor his military and Little League service. “I always said, ‘By golly, you’ve got a field named after you before you died.’ Usually, it’s a memorial.”

And while Mikelsen hopes there wouldn’t be any memorials in his honor any time soon, the end of his leadership approaches.

“He says he’s going to retire in another year,” Showers said. “I’m sure District 2 will miss him … baseball will miss him around here.”

When Mikelsen reflects on his life — whether it derives from a ping or a violent explosion — he said he hopes people remember him for one thing.

“I probably did what I promised to do during the war,” he said.

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