MANISTEE — Nick Papes played his high school baseball at Mason County Central, later enjoyed a three-year career after walking on at Aquinas before spending six years with the Manistee Saints.
The third member of his family to wear the Saints uniform, Papes held up the tradition well, putting up impressive numbers both at the plate and in the field as a solid infielder.
In fact, his numbers were good enough to earn him near unanimous selection as the latest inductee into the Saints Hall of Fame. His named appeared on all but one ballot.
His father, Ken, was ushered into the Hall in 1998, while his older brother, Kenny “Mack” was enshrined just four years ago, following the end of the 2016 season.
What was his first reaction when he learned his name would be included on the bricks gracing the outside wall of the press box at the entrance to Rietz Park and Kliber Field?
“I was thinking, ‘They finally gave up on me coming back to play,’” Papes, currently athletic director at Lake Leelanau St. Mary, joked. “I don’t think that was going to happen. I think they lost track of me because I kind of disappeared into Leelanau County and found my little slab to live on.
“From my perspective, this honor just means I must be getting older.”
It wouldn’t be any surprise if the Saints had been trying to lure him back to the diamond, given that he finished his career with a .321 batting average with 45 extra-base hits and 133 runs batted in.
Growing up around baseball, frequently making the trip to Manistee with his dad and then later to see his brother play, the youngest member of the Papes clan just naturally gravitated to the game.
He originally went to Hope to play baseball, but things didn’t work out there and he transferred to Aquinas. After sitting out a year, Papes took a stab at making the team as a walk-on, and succeeded.
“I played five or six positions at Aquinas, and ended up in left field by the end of it all because I had some arm issues,” Papes recalled. “So I always joke with my athletes now that I spent five days a week in the trainer’s room to make my arm healthy enough to make one throw.
“And that’s just a testament to how much baseball I played until I was 22 years old. Coming out of high school, I played shortstop with (the Saints) and some centerfield. Apparently, I was the young, fast kid on the team at the time.”
He said he even did some catching, spending half the game behind the dish and the other half at shortstop. He remembers being the receiver for Hall of Fame pitchers Lee Rodney and James Ledford.
Former Saints manager, and now president and general manager Phil Kliber said Papes was special.
“He was real good middle infielder,” Kliber said. “He was a good athlete. We ran into situations where we needed help at first base, and he said, ‘I’ll go over there.’ Well, he was a wonderful first baseman.
“He was just a real good infielder, and a good ball player. He was a very good offensive ball player. I think in his six seasons, he had only one year when he slipped under .300, and he had some big .300 years.”
Papes said he would not trade the experience he had with the Saints for anything.
“(Playing for) the Saints was just an excellent opportunity to just see how far I could push myself in baseball. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and I’m glad that I could give everything I had.
“I played with a lot of joy, and a lot of exuberance. It was fun. I met a lot of people, and I met a lot of people. That was what it was all about.”
Because of COVID-19, Kliber said it’s unlikely the Saints will have a public ceremony this year to honor Papes and others who have been instrumental in the success of the team behind the scenes. Kliber said he hopes they can double up on next year’s announcement.