The Early Years
Growing up in North Dakota.
Roger was born Sept. 10, 1934, in Hibbing, MN. His family moved to Grand Forks, N.D., when his father, Rudy, Sr., accepted a mechanical supervisor position with Great Northern Railroad. The family moved to Fargo when Roger was 10.
A three-sport Fargo Shanley standout.
After his sophomore year at Fargo High School, Maris attended Fargo Shanley High School, a Catholic school where he started what would become an incredible string of sports successes. Beginning in 1950, he competed in football, basketball and track.
A gifted, but humble athlete.
Former high school coach Sid Cichy 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. Maris' skills as a high school
running back even earned him a scholarship to famed Oklahoma University
football program, an opportunity he initially accepted but eventually
passed up to remain in Fargo.
Remembered for being humble.
Even with all his success, Maris’ early days are remembered more for his devotion to his faith and family than football or baseball. Several of the Catholic sisters who were Roger’s teachers at Shanley agreed. “He was very loyal to everybody back here, including the Sisters" Sister Jane Walker said. Sister Bernice Ewals points out that even on return trips to Fargo, Roger visited the convent.
Baseball just a summer thing.
Football was Roger’s real passion, but he played baseball for the American Legion team in Fargo. “Baseball was just something to do in the summer,” Maris is quoted as saying. 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.”
Fargo-Moorhead baseball team.
Roger began his minor league career in the Class C Northern League. Just a year out of high school, in 1953, Roger was recruited by the Cleveland organization and attended spring training in Daytona Beach, Fl., 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, batting .325 with 9 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 of the Texas League quickly followed, and he also played in Tulsa, OK, and Reading, PA. His stay at Indianapolis, 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.
A change in name.
Roger’s exposure in the minor leagues would have a personal consequence as well. Although the Maris family name was Maras, he changed his name to “Maris” in 1955 to avoid enduring the unflattering chants from fans bent on rhyming his Maras name.
Graduation to the bigs.
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.