West Acres

How It All Began

Roger Maris: A Humble Athlete from the Start


North Dakota Roots

Roger was born September 10, 1934, in Hibbing, Minnesota, moving with his family to Fargo when he was 10. After his sophomore year at Fargo High School, Roger began attending Shanley High School in Fargo. It was there that he began an incredible string of sports successes. Beginning in 1950, he competed in football, basketball, and track.

Former Shanley coach Sid Cichy once said that Maris was "obviously a gifted athlete. He could do everything, and he did do some pretty unusual things." One of those was scoring four touchdowns on returns (kick, punt, interception) in one game, a high school football record that still stands. Roger's skills as a high school running back even earned him a scholarship to the famed Oklahoma University football program, an opportunity he initially accepted but eventually passed up to remain in Fargo.

The Beginning of a Career

While football was Roger's real passion, he played baseball for the American Legion team in Fargo. "Baseball was just something to do in the summer," Roger once said. Playing outfield and pitcher from 1949 through 1951, he was voted Most Valuable Player in 1950 when he hit .367. Coach Leo Osman remembers Roger as something special: "He had a perfect eye and perfect timing. Roger was so sincere at wanting to get a hit instead of a walk that he'd swing away on the first pitch. He felt it was a disgrace to take a walk."

Roger began his minor league career in the Class C Northern League. In 1953, just a year out of high school, he was recruited by the Cleveland organization and attended spring training in Daytona Beach, Florida. Despite being told by the organization's farm club director that, "We never let a boy play in his hometown," Roger persisted and eventually was wearing a Fargo-Moorhead Chicks uniform. Roger's first season, where he batted .325 with nine home runs and 13 triples, earned him the league's Rookie of the Year Award.

His value as a player established, Roger quickly moved on to the Class B Three-Eye League in Keokuk, Iowa, for the 1954 season. Class AA Tulsa (Oklahoma) of the Texas League quickly followed, and he also played in Tulsa and Reading, Pennsylvania. His stay at Indianapolis, Indiana, however, solidified his potential as a major leaguer. In that 1956 season, Roger batted .293, hit 17 homers, drove in 75 runs, and helped carry the club to the Little World Series championship.

Roger’s experience in the minor leagues led him to make a personal change. Although his family’s name was “Maras,” he changed his name to “Maris” in 1955 to avoid unflattering chants from fans who were bent on rhyming his last name.

Off to the Big Leagues

The Cleveland organization had signed Maris in 1953 for $15,000 plus a $10,000 bonus if he made it to the majors. His performance made that look like a steal, and he began the 1957 season with the Cleveland Indians in the big leagues. Roger was traded to the Kansas City in the off-season, and enjoyed a stellar season in 1958 before being traded to New York.

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