It’s opening day for Major League Baseball… to celebrate, and for all the new readers, here is an article from the Vintage Vault. Originally published in 2011 by Cheri Rae.
Santa Barbara has a long and colorful past as a baseball town, dating back more than one hundred years. Some of the greatest of all baseball legends appeared here—including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Satchel Paige and Willie Mays. Ted Williams regularly visited his Hispanic relatives who lived here; and Santa Barbara was the hometown of the great Hall of Famer, Eddie Mathews, whose name graces the Santa Barbara High School Dons’ baseball field.
Even baseball writers have made Santa Barbara home—from Ernest Lawrence Thayer, the poet who wrote “Casey at the Bat,” to Ron Shelton, who penned the baseball-themed “Bull Durham” and “Cobb.” (Even Kevin Costner, who starred in “Bull Durham,” maintains a home in Santa Barbara.) The witty voice of the Foresters, Jim Buckley, is a prolific author of baseball books for children through his own Shoreline Publishing Group.
Longtime Santa Barbarans hold golden memories of their very own field of dreams, Laguna Park (pictured above). By all accounts, the big-league size ballpark, designed by legendary architect Winsor Soule, and built by the WPA in 1939, was a one-of-a-kind stadium. Over the years, it hosted an array of teams—from youth PeeWee and PONY League to big-league farm teams run by the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. The Santa Barbara team set the California League attendance record of 93,000 in 1947. Sadly, the magnificent ballpark was leveled by bureaucrats in 1970 to make way for a place to park the city’s buses. Its loss is truly part of Santa Barbara’s Hall of Shame—and it has yet to be replaced, although many promises were made to the citizens of Santa Barbara.
Enthusiasts of all ages congregate at East Beach Batting Cages; and kids are back to practicing on Cabrillo Ball Field, and playing Santa Barbara
Youth Baseball at good ol’ MacKenzie Park. Goleta Valley South and Dos Pueblos Little Leagues are going strong, and there’s even a Challenger League for children with disabilities at Girsh Park. A number of local all-star and club teams represent Santa Barbara at tournaments throughout California and far beyond, and the city’s high school rivalries are as strong as ever. Play Ball!
Historic Photos provided by Michael Redmon
Director of Research, Santa Barbara Historical Museum