Former New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris was not actually born in the state of North Dakota, though he is closely associated with it. Born in Hibbing, Minnesota, Maris moved to North Dakota while still young and just learning the game of baseball.
He has a museum devoted to him in Fargo, ND where he grew up and developed his skills; admission is free. Eventually he became a legend with the Bronx Bombers by breaking Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a single season and winning two AL MVP awards.
There are players, current and former, who were both born and raised on the flat, open plains of North Dakota. They were subject to a truncated outdoor season due to the inclement weather most of the year and overcame that adversity, against all odds, as the pictured plaque says, to play professional baseball and football.
I can personally attest to this difficulty. During a vacation to the Flickertail State in late June years ago, I tried to throw batting practice to my nephew, Tyus.
All was well until a 40 mph wind suddenly started singing in my ears and hail eventually forced us inside. I believe it was the only time I have ever drank hot chocolate in June.
Becoming a professional athlete is an accomplishment no matter where a person was born. It is, however, more difficult when that place is North Dakota.
Here are some of the stories of individuals that have overcome that hurdle.
Coste toiled in the minor leagues for 11 years before making his professional debut when he was 33 years old. His autobiography, The-33 Year-Old-Rookie, details the trials and tribulations of that time. There is speculation of making a motion picture based on the story of his life.
Coste was a solid, not stellar, major leaguer who spent most of his career backing up catcher Carlos Ruiz for the Phillies.
Phil Hansen, born in Ellendale, ND, played for 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills as a defensive end. Appearing in 156 games, he never played in fewer than 10 games in a season and recorded 61.5 sacks during this time there.
He was never selected to the Pro Bowl, though he was elected to the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame in 2011.
Hansen is the only born-and-raised North Dakotan to ever appear in the Super Bowl; in fact, he played in Super Bowls XXVI through XXVIII. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Bills were never able to eclipse the title of AFC champions and become Super Bowl champions.
The picture shows Hansen trying to track down Dallas Cowboys quarterback and game MVP Troy Aikman at the Rose Bowl during Super Bowl XXVII.
The community of Jamestown, ND is undoubtedly proud of former MLB star Darin Erstad. On interstate highway I-94, going east and west in and out of town, there is a large billboard advertising this fact.
Erstad is only the city's second-most famous son: Jamestown is home to the world's largest buffalo, recently named "Dakota Thunder."
The career of Darin Erstad was very successful. In 14 seasons he collected almost 1,700 hits and won a World Series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2002. He was selected to two All-Star teams, won a Silver Slugger Award and captured two Gold Gloves.
He finished his career in MLB with a highly respectable .282 batting average in more than 6,000 plate appearances upon his retirement after the 2009 season.
Erstad has stayed active in baseball and is currently a coach at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska.
Jim Kleinsasser is a warrior. He has managed to play in almost every Minnesota Vikings game since 1999, save for the 2004 season when he missed most of the year due to injury.
As a tight end and part-time running back, Kelinsasser has served as a solid second-stringer to many an NFL player who is not in the league anymore.
Kleinsasser is primarily a run-blocker. Evidently he is fairly good at this, as he is slated to play for the Minnesoata Vikings through the 2012 season for $3 million per year.
Pitcher Rick Helling is officially credited with one World Series victory with the 2003 Florida Marlins, though his teammates awarded him an honorary ring for his contributions to the 1997 Florida Marlins championship team after being traded to the Texas Rangers.
Helling's career was not particularly memorable, save for one inning. In 2006, he recorded what is known as an immaculate inning: He struck out three batters on only nine pitches. Only 43 players have ever achieved this feat.
Helling was also ahead of his time. He was a vociferous critic of steroids long before Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro ever testified before the United States Congress.
Travis Hafner has played for the Cleveland Indians since 2003. The team has not enjoyed much success, but Hafner has two accomplishments worth noting.
In 2006, he tied Don Mattingly's record of six grand slams in one season. He has also hit for the cycle.
Hailing, like Daren Erstad, from Jamestown, ND, he graduated in a high school class of 12 people. He was valedictorian.