Only 12 players born in North Dakota have ever played major league baseball, which is what made the opening at bat of the Angels-Rangers game in Arlington on Sunday night such a historic occasion, at least for the hearty citizens of the Peace Garden State. Anaheim leadoff hitter Darin Erstad, born in Jamestown, N.Dak., faced Texas pitcher Rick Helling, born in Devils Lake, N.Dak., marking the first time one North Dakotan had ever thrown a big league pitch to another.
The friendly rivalry between the two dates to a legendary American Legion game in Fargo in '89. That day an 18-year-old Helling struck out 18 batters, including everybody in the opposing lineup except the puny 15-year-old number-nine hitter, Erstad, who went 0 for 4 without a K.
On Sunday, in front of 36,647 fans and one reporter from a Fargo newspaper, Helling once again got the better of his fellow Dakotan, inducing him to pop to the catcher, strike out twice and fly to right.
"He won this battle, but I've got a feeling I'll see him a lot in the next few years," says Erstad, who had dinner with Helling after the series opener last Friday night. "I happily await that challenge."
Says Helling, "There's no doubt about it, tonight was a big deal for us and our state. I'm proud to be from North Dakota. In California, I'd be one in a million. In North Dakota, I'm one of two."