Opening Day: Santa Barbara’s Baseball Legacy

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.

cheriSanta 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.
laguna park001

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!
baseball team001

Historic Photos provided by Michael Redmon
Director of Research, Santa Barbara Historical Museum

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10 Responses to Opening Day: Santa Barbara’s Baseball Legacy

  1. Anonymous March 31, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    Thank you! There was some chatter about a stadium down by the waterfront / anyone know what happened with that? I always though the field where the rainbow arch is should be a semi professional baseball field/ how cool would that be!

  2. SBGirl March 31, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    OMG!!! That photo is SOOOOO cool. I love it.

  3. Bob March 31, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    Great story!

  4. Local March 31, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    How do I get me one of those jerseys? Vintage!

  5. local (small "l") March 31, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    There is a ballfield down by the Waterfront, but it’s owned by city college. There’s no room there for a stadium; the waterfront is already cluttered with non-water related sports, such as volleyball, skateboarding…. Why not in the Earl Warren area?

    As for sports, there’s an interesting article in today’s Slate about how this country is so much better at sports, at developing athletes, than it is writers. http://www.slate.com/id/2289380/ (That said, I love baseball and thanks for the SB connection.)

  6. Bill Carson March 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Thanks Cheri Rae.

    “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” ~Rogers Hornsby

    This is the best time of the year.

  7. kerry April 4, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    great article.. but where exactly WAS Laguna stadium? And what is there today?

  8. Local April 4, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Gary Woods played a number of years with the Cubs. Jesse Orosco was another SB player who had a nice major league career.

  9. 1965 April 4, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Laguna Ball Park was in the vicinity of Laguna and Ortega Streets. City corporation yards and offices are on most of the site. Cabrillo Ball Park at Milpas St. and Cabrillo Blvd., as well as Pershing Park, are City parks, not owned by City College. La Playa Stadium is also owned by the City.

  10. Anonymous April 4, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    A beautiful game. Love the Santa Barbara connection. Baseball connects us all…