Norman J. Roppelt Sr., a champion duckpin bowler and softball player whose mastery of the Baltimore chop earned him membership in the Maryland Oldtimers Fastpitch Softball Association's Hall of Fame, died Jan. 16 of pneumonia at Hilton Head Hospital in Hilton Head, S.C.
The former longtime Rosedale resident was 97.
The son of a city firefighter and a homemaker, Norman Jay Roppelt was born in Baltimore. He lived with his family in the 1700 block of Gough St. until they moved to a home in the 3000 block of Foster Ave. when he was 13.
Mr. Roppelt's athletic career began with baseball at Hampstead Hill Junior High School.
At Polytechnic Institute, he continued playing baseball as well as softball and soccer, and became interested in duckpin bowling.
"His dream at the time was to become a professional baseball player," wrote Kristen Mathe, a granddaughter, in a biographical profile of Mr. Roppelt.
After graduating from Poly in 1934, Mr. Roppelt worked in a jewelry store, a bowling alley and at Bethlehem Steel Corp., and became so proficient at duckpins that The Baltimore Sun described him in an article at the time as "The Wonder."
"Norman Roppelt, a 19-year-old Highland roller, is putting a thorn in the side of many of Baltimore's most accomplished duckpin veterans," reported The Sun in a 1935 article. "He scored the first major triumph of his career when he shot 2,520 for 20 games and won the Chesapeake Sweepstakes."
In 1937, Mr. Roppelt's prowess playing baseball earned him a contract to play for the Pocomoke City Red Sox, a minor league team in the Eastern Shore League, for $80 a month.
"Norman gave up the baseball contract to continue work at Bethlehem Steel. He made 60 cents an hour or $96 per month, more money than the baseball contract," his granddaughter wrote.
Mr. Roppelt, who had been working at Sparrows Point with scrap steel, eventually moved into accounting, where he did cost accounting, inventory and billing of finished product. He retired in 1976.
After marrying the former Dorothy Hartman in 1940, Mr. Roppelt continued playing baseball for several company teams as well as the Interclub League and Biemiller Dairy, while at the same time becoming a locally and nationally ranked duckpin bowler.
While competing in The Evening Sun Tournament, he was ranked 10th in the state in 1938-1939 and sixth in 1941-1942. Nationally, he was ranked 45th in 1943-1944, 16th in 1949-1950 and 29th in 1950-1951.
The day he was scheduled to bowl in a 1950 tournament at the Southway Bowling Centre at South Charles and Hamburg streets, his wife gave birth to their daughter, Dale.
"Norman went to the tournament and won $175," wrote his granddaughter.
He later switched to tenpins and while bowling for the Bethlehem Steel's payroll department, who were league champions in 1982 and 1983, he was its high-average bowler between 1973 and 1985.
Mr. Roppelt hadn't bowled since the 1990s, family members said.
Mr. Roppelt was inducted into the Oldtimers Fastpitch Softball Association's Hall of Fame in 1967. During his softball career, played for Cummins Construction Co., Bethlehem Steel's accounting department team, Elmo Waters and the Trenton Democratic Club.
He played in three champion World Tournament games as well as 20 state and four regional champion tournaments.
"A tall third baseman with a good arm, Roppelt is credited with perfecting the Baltimore Chop in softball — a tactic from the late 19th/early 20th century baseball in which the batter would intentionally hit the ball into the hard ground in front of home plate, resulting in a high bounce which allowed the batter to reach base safely before the opposing team could field it," according to his Hall of Fame profile.
When his playing days ended, Mr. Roppelt remained active as the manager of Fred Gross and Son's team and as an umpire.
Mr. Roppelt was also an accomplished golfer; at the age of 76, he could boast of a handicap of 16 at the Sparrows Point Country Club, where he was a member and golfed several times a week.
During the winter months when he was unable to play golf, he played six-handed pinochle with several friends at Sparrows Point Country Club.
Before moving to Hilton Head last year, Mr. Roppelt lived for three years at Oak Crest Village in Parkville.
Mr. Roppelt and his wife, who died in 1995, enjoyed traveling. He was also an inveterate reader of short stories and magazines.
At his request, there was no funeral.
Mr. Roppelt is survived by his son, Norman J. Roppelt Jr. of Hilton Head; a daughter, Dale A. Mathe of Hilton Head; a sister, Thelma Dennis of Hilton Head; two other grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun