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The story of Gene Elston: Fort Dodge’s MLB Hall of Famer

AP File Photo: Fort Dodge native Gene Elston is presented with the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 at Cooperstown, N.Y.

We’re coming up on the 80th anniversary of the iconic Chicago Cubs-Chicago White Sox exhibition game, which first brought baseball to Dodger Stadium in Fort Dodge on April 9, 1942.

Seated in the press area that day was a young Fort Dodge broadcaster named Gene Elston, who started working for KVFD Radio as an industry greenhorn in 1940. The 20-year-old Elston was months away from serving in the Navy during World War II. On that Thursday afternoon, though, Elston found his true calling.

Elston returned to KVFD in 1944 after his tour of duty. Two years later, he began broadcasting baseball games for a minor league team in Waterloo. His Major League Baseball break came as a Chicago Cubs broadcaster for WIND in 1954, which ultimately led to a national radio position alongside fellow Iowan and Hall of Fame legend Bob Feller in the booth from 1958-61.

When Houston was granted an expansion MLB franchise in 1962, Elston landed the lead play-by-play position on the radio. Over the course of the next quarter-century with the team — first the Colt .45s, then later the Astros — Elston was on the call for a number of monumental moments: a handful of no-hitters, Nolan Ryan breaking the all-time career strikeout record, three Houston postseason appearances and the opening of the Astrodome in 1965.

Elston’s professionalism and loyalty to Houston made him a staple in the Lone Star State’s radio lore. He was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2002.

The “Voice of the Astros” was honored as a Ford C. Frick National Baseball Hall of Fame recipient in 2006. Elston made the trip to Cooperstown for the ceremony at the age of 84.

“Gene worked in the era that radio brought the game into our cars and into our homes,” said Ryan — a Hall of Famer himself who listened Elston as a youngster in his hometown of Alvin, Tex — in 2015. “As a kid growing up in Texas, my connection to Major League Baseball was through Gene and his radio partners. It was a big part of my life.

“It was a great experience for me to be around Gene when I came to Houston as a player. He had a real passion and commitment to baseball.”

Elston died in 2015 at the age of 93. He would have been 100 years old this past Saturday.

Many Fort Dodgers have experienced elite levels of success in the professional ranks, but only one was honored by the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Gene Elston may not necessarily be a household name in our community today, but to an entire generation of Houston Astro fans, Elston’s voice will forever represent the nostalgic soundtrack of summers past. It all started on the local AM airwaves of KVFD, and on that fateful spring day 80 years ago, Elston was introduced to the sport that would someday make him a legend.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt

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