When people think of Rock Falls sports, basketball seems to be the one sport that comes to mind. However, Rock Falls has raised several pro baseball players over the years, four of which have made the majors – and maybe one more soon (???).
The four MLB players who have lived in Rock Falls at one time are: Calvin Howe, Gary Kolb, Dan Kolb and Jake Junis.
I’ve been on a small, low-key mission to collect one of every Gary Kolb card ever made. If you’re an avid reader of this website, you’ll know that I landed Kolb’s 1964 Topps Venezuelan rookie card, which is a very rare one.
My friend Matt takes personal player collecting to a level way more than my Kolb search: He is a self-described “Jake Junis Super Collector.” Matt also is a RFHS grad, and a few years ahead of Junis, and he’s made a fun experience of collecting Jake Junis baseball cards from his first minor league days to waiting anxiously for the 2023 Topps set to come out with his first Giants card when the new year rolls around – and if Junis stays healthy.
I don’t collect a whole lot of current-era cards, and a Jake Junis rookie card was one of the few cards from the 2010s that I had an interest in having. Matt found out and offered me one of Junis’ 2017 Topps Update rookie cards. So I have a Junis rookie card in my collection.
In what I THINK may be the first Junis-Kolb trade of baseball cards, I sent Matt one of my 1964 Topps Gary Kolb rookie cards, so he can have another RFHS grad to add to his collection (I’m keeping the Venezuelan). So I’d like to thank Matt for the opportunity, and continued success to him on amassing a unique personal collection of someone very well-known in the community we live in. I, too, am awaiting the first Giants card of Junis; and I know at least three members of a Giants fans family in Rock Falls that are likely awaiting it as well.
Rock Falls is a community of less than 9,000 residents with four MLB players to their name, which is very unique among rural towns of its size. The two other Rock Falls natives who have pro baseball cards are Eduardo Acosta and Seth Blair. (Robbie Minor also played minor league ball but I do not believe he has a baseball card).
Acosta played in the Brewers system in the early 1990s, and I’m seeking one of his minor league cards. Blair’s minor league career has two chapters, and his cards are from the late 2000s and early 2010s. Blair currently is pitching in AAA with the Tampa Bay Rays organization, so our local sports history buffs are hoping he can improve and finally make the majors after nearly 15 years out of high school.
Calvin Howe does not have any baseball cards. He played in a couple of games for the 1952 Cubs. Howe’s family is best known in town for having a baseball diamond south of town called Howe’s Field, which was near the family home. The diamond sat where the intersection of state Route 40 and Interstate 88 is, having been dismantled in the early 1970s.
Dan Kolb actually transferred from RFHS to Walnut High School in the early 1990s, but played Legion Ball in Rock Falls. So far, he is Rock Falls’ only All-Star selection (2004). I am seeking both his 1999 Fleer Update rookie card, as well as his 2000 Skybox Dominion card which he shares with Morris High School graduate Kelly Dransfeldt.
An honorable mention goes to a player from the 1942 Washington Senators named “Lou Bevil.” At least that’s what his name went by while a member of the team. His real name was Lou Bevilacqua, and his family is known in the Sterling-Rock Falls community in the food industry. Bevilacqua was born in Nelson, just across the Whiteside-Lee county line east of Rock Falls, and is a 1939 graduate of Dixon High School – where he did NOT play baseball. Today, Nelson is part of the RFHS district, but this wasn’t the case when Bevilacqua was in school.
When he debuted, he was the second youngest player in the American League at 19. This was during a time when many baseball players were serving in World War II and replacement players were needed. I believe – simply speculating at this point – that the name change was due to the war with Italy. Below is Bevilacqua’s senior photo from the 1939 yearbook, and so far he is Dixon High’s only MLB player:
I have no idea what “Nut Leagues” were.
As far as Sterling High School goes, I have counted two natives who have played in MLB and one other who played in the Minors. The two natives, Mike Foltynewicz and Steve Eddy, moved from town when they were young. The other is Danny Matznick, an SHS grad who still lives in town and played for the White Sox system. Foltynewicz played at Minooka High School and Eddy at United Township High School in East Moline. Foltynewicz currently is a free agent, and I just added his 2022 Topps card to my collection. Eddy played a cup of coffee for the 1979 Angels (Nolan Ryan was on the pitching staff), and he has two minor league cards that I’m searching for. I am also searching for any Matznick cards.
Another honorable mention for SHS graduates is Nick Pepper, who has two baseball cards floating around somewhere, according to the Beckett.com database, from his days playing with the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League.
BTW – The aforementioned Minor and Pepper once were head baseball coaches at SHS.
I hope you enjoyed this local baseball history lesson.