Baseball in Orange County, California (Images of America Series)

Baseball in Orange County, California (Images of America Series)

by Chris Epting

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Organized baseball in Orange County began in the late 1880s when community teams began forming among oil well workers. Around 1900, a farm boy from Kansas named Walter Johnson arrived with his family. Soon, the flame-throwing future hall-of-fame pitcher would be dominating games throughout the county as a star for Fullerton Union High School. As the popularity of


Organized baseball in Orange County began in the late 1880s when community teams began forming among oil well workers. Around 1900, a farm boy from Kansas named Walter Johnson arrived with his family. Soon, the flame-throwing future hall-of-fame pitcher would be dominating games throughout the county as a star for Fullerton Union High School. As the popularity of baseball grew, more teams and leagues formed in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, and other cities. Connie Mack brought the Philadelphia Athletics to spring train in Orange County in the 1940s. Joe DiMaggio played for his Santa Ana Air Base team after joining the Army. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and many other legends visited Orange County over the years. Dozens of well-known players grew up here, and many are laid to rest here. In 1966, the California Angels played their first game in Orange County, where they remain today as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The baseball history in Orange County is rich--and surprising.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"We park beside a Ron & Wayne's Automotive Repair shop, walk across North Madrona Avenue to a cinderblock wall and stand on the balls of our feet to look back in baseball history.

Sunken behind the wall are the fenced-in back yards of single- family tract homes with swimming pools, a rusted swingset and patios scattered with toys, garden hoses, barbecue grills and plastic furniture. Nobody is playing.

But 88 years ago, this parcel patch near the intersection of Brea Boulevard and Lambert Road was a crude baseball diamond known locally as ""Brea Bowl"".

""A lot of people don't know that Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson played right here on Halloween in 1924,"" said Chris Epting, the author of the just-released Baseball in Orange County ($21.99, Arcadia Publishing) and our guide for this tour of the county's lesser-known baseball history.

Before the Angels arrived in Anaheim in 1966, two members of baseball's first Hall of Fame class played an afternoon exhibition game on Oct. 31, 1924, in this former oil town in north Orange County.

Ruth led a team of his Babe Ruth All-Stars here as part of a postseason storming tour organized by the Anaheim Elks. The players made their clubhouse and changed uniforms at the site of that nearby auto repair shop.

Ruth pitched a complete-game victory. The showman also swatted two home runs off Johnson, a 36-year-old Washington Senators right- hander who headlined the Anaheim Elks team and gave up eight runs in five innings.

One Ruth blast is believed to have traveled more than 550 feet before landing in the surrounding oil fields, never to be recovered. A ball autographed by Ruth, Johnson and players in the game is on exhibit at the Brea Museum and Heritage Center.

""Home plate would have been right about where that lightpost is,"" said Epting, pointing just past a driveway on St. Crispen Avenue where a white pickup with patriotic-colored flames is parked.

""A lot of people will go to Cooperstown to see these legends who once played right here,"" Epting said. ""There are so many unmarked places around the county where legends have been outside of Angel Stadium.""

Epting, said Johnson was 12 when his family left Kansas so his father could work in the Orange County oil fields in Olinda. While watching oil teams play baseball, Johnson learned the game.

The 1924 Brea exhibition was the last California appearance for Johnson, a 23-game winner and the AL MVP who pitched the Senators to a World Series title that season.

Before joining the majors, Johnson played at the original Fullerton Union High. Its ballfield is now a parking lot adjacent to Amerige Park in Fullerton, another stop on our tour.

Amerige was home to the Pacific Coast League Angels in 1930s and the site of big-league spring training exhibitions. This was once where Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams played and Honus Wagner coached, Epting said.

""All that's left from the original Amerige Park are these surrounding pilasters made during a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project,"" said Epting, running his fingers along the flagstone and mortar in a column near the intersection of Commonwealth and Highland avenues.

Today the field is home to Fullerton Little League Junior Division and Pony Colt League baseball games.

""People drive by here all the time not knowing what happened here,"" said Epting, a former New Yorker who moved to Southern California in 1987 and now resides in Huntington Beach.

Epting, who has upcoming book signings on Aug. 4 from noon-4 p.m. at the Dr. Howe-Waffle House in Santa Ana and on Aug. 12 from 4- 5:30 p.m. at Moonlight Graham in Orange, speaks passionately about the local roots of the game.

""When you tell people the history about a place, they never look at it the same way. It changes people's lives and shows that the county's history with the game is not entirely Angels-centric.""

A few miles from Angel Stadium at La Palma Park, we stop to visit Dee Fee Field, the site of the Orange County All-Star baseball game and Glover Stadium for football.

The ballpark, including the stands behind home plate, were constructed with WPA funds and 63 WPA workers. The Philadelphia Athletics, managed by Connie Mack, held spring training here in 1940. DiMaggio played here in 1943 while stationed at the Santa Ana Army Air Base.

Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson played himself in his 1950 biopic ""The Jackie Robinson Story,"" which was filmed here.

""In the movie, you can see Jackie Robinson walk through that portal,"" said Epting, pointing to the entrance between the stands and beneath the press box.

""That's the same mound when Connie Mack, in a suit and tie, coached kids in a baseball clinic.""

On this day, the field is empty. Anaheim Parks groundskeeper Adolfo Gamboa approaches us to say he will begin raking, watering and lining the field for that afternoon's American Legion game.

""Really Jackie Robinson was here?"" Gamboa says in amazement. ""I knew there was history but, wow, Jackie Robinson.""

A few miles away at Melrose Abbey Memorial Park in Anaheim is the resting place of Jack Norworth, who wrote the lyrics to ""Take Me Out to the Ballgame"" in 1908.

On July 12, 2010, while major league baseball held its All-Star Game at Angel Stadium, a marble tombstone was placed about 100 feet from Norworth's burial plot to honor the Laguna Beach songwriter, who died in 1959.

Before an Interstate 5 exit ramp was constructed nearby, you used to be able to see Angel Stadium from here.

So much baseball history is buried in Orange County, if you know where to look.

Copyright © 2012 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved."

Orange County Register, MA Smith

Product Details

Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date:
Images of America Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.06(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author

Chris Epting is the author of 19 books, including Roadside Baseball, Images of Baseball: The Early Polo Grounds, and Images of America: Los Angeles's Historic Ballparks. Many of the images come from the author's private collection, augmented with images from the Orange County Historical Society and the Anaheim Public Library.

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