Marvin’s Gardens dynasty, the swan and all, is back |

Marvin’s Gardens dynasty, the swan and all, is back

Tim Mutrie
Think your softball squad could beat this murderers' row? Not many could top Marvin's Gardens and legendary hurler Joe "Swany" Schwanebeck, left, wearing the swan. This photo was taken in 1975 in Wagner Park.

Break out the swan lawn ornament and wear it as a hat – the infamous and dynastic Marvin’s Gardens softball team of 1970s Aspen lore is getting back together.As usual, it promises to be hilarious.To mark the squad’s 30th anniversary this summer, players from Marvin’s Gardens, a former gardening and flower center at the Aspen Business Center, are staging a reunion game on Saturday in Basalt. The contest will reunite the original 1974 team with many of their longtime local adversaries.The first pitch, most likely delivered by Joe “Swany” Schwanebeck, a swan-hat-wearing prankster/pitcher and the former co-owner of Marvin’s Gardens, is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Basalt Middle School field. A barbecue at the home of Hap Bruce, Swany’s Marvin’s Gardens partner, will follow the game. Any and all former Marvin’s Gardens players and/or opponents are heartily invited.The team traces its origins back to the beginning of slow-pitch softball in Aspen – before batting gloves, carbon-fiber bats and three or four leagues and 30-plus teams. Back when “times were different,” said Bruce of Basalt.In the 1970s and ’80s, Marvin’s Gardens won “probably eight to 10 city championships,” according to Bruce, including eight straight titles.Forgive him if he can’t be certain.

“We used to start the game with a tray with shots of tequila on the pitcher’s mound, and it was all downhill from there,” said Bruce, 59, who works at Aspen Ski Tours.”It was very hang loose and certainly drinking was not frowned upon. We even had the chief of police, Marty Hershey, as an umpire. And he was great.”The Marvin’s Gardens roster, and that of their opponents, reads like a who’s who of Aspen today.The team included Swany and Hap and other longtime locals such as Tom Melberg, Willard Clapper, Donny McAllister, Tim Cantrell, Bob Olenick and Tim Terrall. Their storied, and losing, opponents included Bob Ritchie, Brian Hazen, Art Daily, Jon Seigle, Don Bird and Brooke Peterson.Most of them are on board for Saturday’s showdown.”We’re doing this game to give all the guys in town that never beat us a chance to try one more time,” said Bruce, chuckling. “And that notice has really gotten ’em fired up.”Swany, who owns the 19th Street Diner in Glenwood Springs, was the ring leader of the Marvin’s Gardens legend, said Bruce.And as Marvin’s Gardens’ domination extended over the seasons, managers of other clubs forced the league to bar Swany from:

1. Wearing the swan lawn ornament hat while he pitched. (“It just drove everybody crazy,” Bruce laughed.)2. Throwing his notorious continual wind-up pitch to confuse batters in the middle of his wild arm movements. (“Same thing,” said Bruce.)3. Throwing his famous rainbow pitch, with a rule prohibiting pitchers from exceeding a 12-foot arc on pitches.”Every year they’d come up with another rule against our team,” said Bruce. “But it didn’t matter.”So what made Marvin’s Gardens so good? (Notwithstanding the ad Swany and Bruce used to run in The Aspen Times, featuring the pair undressed with well-placed plants in an Austin Powers-style nudescape. It read: “Your life is naked without plants from Marvin’s Gardens.”)”I think we were the craziest team,” said Bruce. “We didn’t approach it too seriously. We were pretty much messing around the whole time, except when we had to make a play – then we had some really good athletes on the team.”Swany, of course, was the main attraction – with the swan lawn ornament on his head. Even after they banned the swan hat, he’d wear it on the bench when we were hitting …”

With Marvin’s Gardens’ successes, the burgeoning Aspen league expanded to include A and B leagues. “It was a big social event and we had lots of dress-up games. I remember the ACME All-Stars dressed up as Samurais once.”Marvin’s Gardens’ best-known player is U.S. Rep. Mark Udall.”Just for one year,” said Bruce, “but he’s probably our most famous player. I don’t think he likes to talk too much about the old days, though, to his constituents at least.”Marvin’s Gardens played together for 12 years until 1986. Swany and Bruce sold the business in 1994; it changed names under the new owners and later went out of business.”I’m sure we’re missing a few people from the rosters over the years,” said Bruce, “and we’re just trying to round everybody up for this game. We’d love to have everybody there.”As for Swany’s original swan hat, well, it seems that has been lost to posterity.Not to worry, though.”He went into some old lady’s yard the other day, found the swan he was looking for and bought it off her. So we’re set,” said Bruce.

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