Baseball at Amerige Park*
A SPOON Classic from March '04
REMEMBER THE CRACK OF A BAT, THE SMELL
OF THE CUT GRASS AND THE SOUND OF
A PASSING TRAIN AT AMERIGE? (3-27-04)
What does Amerige Park look like today? To refresh your memory, this is the baseball park at the southwest corner of Commonwealth & Highland, diagonally across from the police station, with a big packinghouse to the immediate east, both on the railroad tracks, about 50 feet south of the stadium.
The park site is where the original Fullerton Union High School was located until 1921. Between 1930s and the end of the 1950s, many minor league teams held spring training at Amerige including such Pacific Coast League (Triple A, one level below the major leagues) teams as the Hollywood Stars ('34-'36), Portland Rainiers ('47-'50), Los Angeles Angels ('46-'55), and Sacramento Solons ('41-'42, '44). Those were the days when no city west of St. Louis and Chicago had a major league team, and Angels were the central and east side LA team, the Stars the Hollywood and west side favorite.
Returning to Amerige Park, built in 1934 when it served as the spring training site for the Hollywood Stars, barnstorming all-star teams of major leaguers frequently played at Amerige in the winter months, usually against teams made up of local high school, FJC and local semi-pro players, and sometimes against one of these Triple AA teams. Great stars including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams and Walter Johnson -- who had earlier attended and pitched for FUHS -- played at Amerige. Later two more future Hall of Famers played at Amerige: Gary Carter from Sunny Hills and Steve Busby from FUHS. (Could someone please find out The Kid's lifetime BA and number of extra base hits, SOs and HRs against The Buzzer?)
As to the Triple A teams, the Stars played at Gilmore Field, then located on Beverly Boulevard near the corner at Fairfax, across the street from CBS Television City and a block north of Farmer's Market. Every one of their home games would include several dozen Hollywood movie stars in attendance. The Pan Pacific Auditorium was across Beverly in those days, and Columbia, RKO, Goldwyn and Paramount Studios were less than a mile away. Wrigley Field, owned by the Chicago Cubs organization along with the LA Angeles, was a smaller version of Wrigley in Chicago and seated about 25,000 fans. The power alleys were short at about 325, and in the 50s one of their stars was first baseman Steve Bilko, who one year belted 59 homers. Many Lancers remember going with parents, uncles or friends to both Wrigley and Gilmore. Gilmore was torn down in the 60s, about the time Wrigley served the American League Los Angeles Angels with Ken McBride, Albie Pearson, Leon Wagner and Bo Belinsky. At 43rd & Avalon, Wrigley lasted a few years as a soccer facility after the Angels moved to Anaheim, then as a city park, and was finally demolished in the 1970s to make room for a housing complex.
Baseball has always been a popular sport in Fullerton, probably the most popular, and prior to the advent of Little League, Pony League and the other great youth league organizations, Fullerton maintained one of the most prominent local city teams, competing on a semi-pro basis against similar teams from Brea-Olinda, Whittier, Anaheim and other local cities, as well as sometimes teams from around Southern California, including Compton, Pasadena, Huntington Beach, Huntington Park, Long Beach, Riverside, Redlands and many others. As the proverbial only game in town in those days, along with the FUHS squads, these games sometimes drew 10,000 or more fans.
You'll see in these photos that the stone fenceposts seem to be the original ones. Do you remember the lily pond in back of the stadium, to the west and near the fence bordering the train tracks? The packinghouse building is still visible, too. Freek's Garage, owned by Dan Barron, '67, is about 3 blocks south on Highland, across from Bill's Body Shop.
How about the way trains would come past the park with whistle blowing? When that happened near the end of a tight game, maybe in the 9th with men out and men on base, the effect was thrilling. With the cars on Commonwealth in full view, and the police station with the city buildings and mountains behind them visible on clear days, spectators at the park had a feeling of being in the absolute middle of town and its activities. Nothing was more "Fullerton" than being at Amerige Park.
In 1954, the Jewett Brothers completely built a house in the park as a demonstration at the annual Lion's Club Fair, requiring slightly less than 24 hours to complete this feat. We'll add photos of this achievement soon.
Every varsity baseball player in the Fullerton high schools, as well as every Pony or Babe Ruth League player, has taken part in at least one game at Amerige. You could say it's been consecrated by the sweat, laughter and cleats of Fullerton boys for 70 years now. Remember that dead center field at Amerige was said to be the same as at Yankee Stadium, 490 or 510 or something? Is it true? Was it ever? Anyone we know hit one over that part of the fence? Gary Carter, maybe? Probably.
The American League LA Angels played an exhibition at Amerige in 1961. The seats were packed, and spectators lines the sidelines all the way to the outfield fences, and those, too. There were even a dozen or so fans sitting at the edge of the packinghouse roof across Highland.
Between about 1960 and 1980, three-time NCAA Division I-A champion Cal State Fullerton baseball teams played some home games at Amerige, hosting the likes of local rivals and perennial national powers U.S.C., Chapman, Pepperdine and UCLA, and also powerhouses such as Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford and Tulsa.
The field itself is now named for former Fullerton mayor and city councilman, Duane Winters. These days, Amerige is home to the Fullerton Little League Junior Division & Pony Colt League.