I have in my possession the 1958 yearbook of the Tucson Little League. I’ve read it, re-read it and keep it on the table for impromptu browsing. It is a collector’s piece.
On page 33, wearing the flannel uniform of Bogard GMC, is Eddie Leon, who became a first-team Arizona Wildcat All-American and a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. His teammate in the Bogard GMC team photo, is Rich Alday, who coached Pima College and the New Mexico Lobos to more than 1,000 victories.
Arte Moreno, who owns the Los Angeles Angels, is pictured on page 24, wearing a Pima County Sheriff’s baseball uniform. On page 25 is Jimmy Johnson, who played for the Southern Pacific Railroad and went on to be the manager of the Tucson Toros and has been a major-league coach/scout for more than 20 years.
“We had 42 teams in Tucson,” remembers Tucson realtor Pat Darcy, who began playing Little League in 1958 and wound up pitching in the 1975 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds. “Instead of an outfield fence at old Randolph Park, they’d draw a white line with chalk. Someone’s dad would stand there and if a ball flew over the chalk, he’d wave his arms. Home run.”
Now there are more than 200 teams in Tucson’s Little League organization divided into two vast Districts and 26 leagues: Altar Valley, Copper Hills, San Xavier, Continental Ranch, Sabino Canyon, Thornydale and on and on.
“Now we have 170 players in the Challenger Little League division alone, which may be the largest in the world,” says Bill Fields, president of Territorial Sign Company, a Tucson Little League District Administrator who has taken his developmentally-disabled Challenger players to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Little League baseball celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. Tucson has flourished.
Flourished? In 1973, Tucson’s Cactus Little League All-Stars played for the world championship in Williamsport. Again, in 1986, Tucson’s International Little League All-Stars beat overwhelming odds and reached the championship game in Williamsport.
Darcy and Fields grew up together, classmates at Rincon High School in the late 1960s, sharing a lineage to Little League baseball and that 1958 yearbook.
A few days ago they sat down for lunch together and thumbed through the old yearbook photographs.
On page 26 is Ken Jacome, whose son, Jason Jacome, became a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. On page 15 is Gary Williams of the Eagles Lodge. Williams is the GM of La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson’s enduring pro rodeo.
In 1958, Tucson Little League was 8 years old. It staged a parade on Broadway before opening day. It spent $6,731 for bats, balls, rental of Randolph Park, umpires and insurance.
The sponsors were part of a long-ago Tucson: Redwood Lodge. Washwell Laundries. Pioneer Hotel. Opening day games were broadcast on KAIR radio.
I thought about this Little League story a few months ago when a new family moved into my neighborhood. Within days, three young boys appeared on the street, playing catch and hitting fungoes to one another.
I walked to my driveway and watched, almost spellbound. It was like an old black-and-white film; I could not remember seeing anyone play catch in their front yard in Tucson. That was Americana in 1955 and 1965. I almost retrieved my old Mickey Mantle baseball glove from my closet, blew off the dust, and asked to be part of their games.
One of the boys rode his bike past my house a few days later.
“Are you guys playing Little League?” I asked.
“My dad’s the coach,” he said.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
When Darcy and Fields were in Little League, baseball was summer entertainment option No. 1 for a Tucson boy.
“There was no fall ball, no winter league, no travel team like today,” says Darcy. “I had an old rubber ball and I’d pitch against the porch for hours, pretending I was facing a major-league team. When the inning was over, I’d put on a jacket to keep my arm warm, just like I’d seen on TV.
“I’d sit on the step for a few minutes and then pitch another inning. Our house was made of adobe. It didn’t take long for that rubber ball to start chipping away on the exterior of the house.”
Two years later, a headline in the Daily Star read: “Darcy fans 15 in Little League game.” Fifteen years later he was in the big leagues.
That old ’58 yearbook is proof that dreams come true.