My memories of summer as a child must, of necessity, include baseball. As I look back to days spent from daylight to dark I can see, feel, and remember the warmth of the sun and the longer days. The smell of fresh mowed lawns and the Earth beginning to stir from its long winters sleep. Farmers tilling the soil and planting, after days of preparation and repair of their equipment. It was a very busy time of renewal. Many of the men of our area had just returned from fighting in two Wars, WW2 and the Korean conflict. It was a time of unbelievable growth in America in every possible way. The structure of our country was changed forever from small family farms to bedroom communities, used only to sleep and eat and then commute to work. Out of practicality, during the war many folks moved into the city to be close to work and the small family farms many times were absorbed by larger farms.
Enough of that- now Baseball. I will always remember the smell of new gloves and new baseballs. Of hours spent oiling and slapping balls in new gloves to form that perfect pocket which made a very thin place in which to catch hot line drives. Embers of memory, that sometimes fanned by the mind, stir ashes of youth past and flame briefly, causing me to cherish those days which grow in importance as I enter the dusk of my life.
Well that was deep and wandering so lets get to the point. There are few things in a persons life that he or she can say, with confidence, that they have put a footprint in time. Children are some of the marks we can leave in the sands of time but we must wait to see how those marks will be acknowledged by history. We move through this vapor of life, and for the most part, leave few marks that would let those, who sift through them, identify the person or persons who past this way. Today we’ll recall one such mark placed in the little community I grew up in called Bolsa Knolls. Oh, Bolsa Knolls is on the map for some reason. Maybe someone who grew up there works for Rand MacNally. If you look on most road maps you will see “Bolsa Knolls” just outside of Salinas California. Looking back all those years Bolsa Knolls was our ‘Shire’. You see that is where the Boys of Bolsa Knolls left their mark. Unknowingly and without any other reason than their quest to play baseball.
Sports in the 1950′s were, in many ways, at their pinnacle of popularity in American culture and were part of the main stream fabric. In some ways, much more than it is today. We pretty well knew all there was to know about our local Minor League Teams. Our Minor league team was called the ‘Salinas Packers’ and like the Greenbay Packers were sponsored by some of the local vegetable packing sheds and farm conglomerates. Everyone who was interested in sports were besides themselves thinking and talking about the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers moving out west. You see we had no Major League teams on the West Coast so World Series West was not even a pipe dream of the most ardent baseball fans. We could not have fathomed a Battle of the Bay. What? The San Francisco Giants vs. The Oakland Athletics? Most would of thought you had been in the sun too long. Most folk that I knew were dust bowl people that had left all behind and moved to California in the ’30s and ’40s. Good people. Hard working people and most raised good kids. Our baseball was a reflection of fair play and honest effort taught to us by those who had values that are becoming rare these days.
Now to the mark. Bolsa Knolls is about 7 miles from the closest Little League Park in the town of Salinas. Many of my friends were on teams and rode their bikes into town for practice and for games. Ours was a rural farm type community that had become one of the first bedroom communities that grew up all around Salinas. There were no sidewalks, no parks or school ground close enough to consider ours. We would play all our sports in the street with all its perils and “broken window” run homes. I remember one afternoon some of the older boys and us kids were playing in and down around Gabilan creek. After crossing it, someone, I can’t remember who, said that maybe we could build our own ball field by using just the corner of the Ferraci’s bean field. This was trespassing in the first degree. California Farmers were not known for their benevolence to ‘The Arkies and Oakies’ that were forced to leave home and migrate West. See The Grapes of Wrath
I remember that the field was freshly plowed, loose, loamy soil and if I recall planted with white navy beans. The older boys names that I can recall were Joe Dotson and Mike Pierce. The ‘kids’ were me, Jerry and Steve Parrott, Danny Macauly (cousin to Bobby Bare) Jimmy Tyner, James Cox, Steven Poe, Gary Harris, and others that I’m sure will be left out because their names fail me. The bigger kids stepped off and measured the shape of the field and we began stomping the freshly plowed field into a hard packed Baseball Diamond. The farmer, Mr. Ferracsi, wasn’t too happy about what we were doing to ‘his’ field by all rights would come down in his pickup to the top of a low ridge West of us and shout at us to ‘get off his land’ and if we didn’t he would call the sheriff and have us arrested. We would retreat back across the creek and at a reasonable distance, wait until he left. Once he was out of sight we then would resume the compacting of our diamond. If I remember the sheriff did show up a few times and we would skedaddle until they left. I can imagine the Monterey Sheriffs department would tire of getting calls from an irate farmer about the “Boys of Bolas Knolls” trespassing on his land. The section of land was never posted or fenced off and for the most part we were left alone to build our field. I hesitate to use the phrase “field of dreams” here since things have a way of changing very quickly.
For some reason the fact that we were building a ball field was never mentioned to busy parents and no concern was ever shown about what was taking place. You see Mr. Ferracsi was a full time farmer and had lots of other chores to do while we were full time kids and were about the business of being kids and of purloining a Baseball field. He would have to leave to attend to other matters, but we would return to our mission. Stomp, stomp, stomp. We stomped and we stomped. First the home plate area then the base paths. Finally, the pitchers mound was raised but slightly, since we found it hard to move a lot of dirt. The scale of the field wasn’t a little league field. Many of the older boys were playing in the Babe Ruth League on full sized diamonds, but allowances were made so that Little Leaguers could play and not be penalized by pitching the full 60 feet 6 inches to home plate. You still had to run the full distance to the bases. If you could hit the ball out of the infield of a regular ball diamond that was a home run in little league but just a long out on this field. We learned to hit to the gaps in the infield and on the line to first or third.( more on this later)
Our persistence was admirable. We had the “stick to” of laborers who, although put in long hours of sweat and toil, could see their goal being accomplished and were inspired by the doing of it. So, we pressed on. We had laid out and prepped the soil and pulled up some offending bean shoots, (uh they weren’t compatible with playing ball). After many hours of stomping the outfield, we held our first game.
The rules we used to play our first games were very much like those used when baseball was first played. (See Baseball Reader) We would play with as many as showed up to play. At times we could have 12 to 15 players on the field and at bat. The rules were simple each player was to take a position, according to the number of players, that would mean beginning at right field (the least desired of the positions due to so many Right handed players) to buck short, centerfield, short centerfield, leftfield, shortstop, third base, second base, first base, pitcher, and the catcher was one of the batters unless all the batters were on base. In that case we would rotate up and the pitcher would be the catcher and the first baseman would pitch and everyone would move up. You could be up to bat until you either struck out, flied out, or were called out on the bases. Whoever caught a fly ball for an out would be up to bat. This rule was bent by the older boys and when they were tired of hitting they would try to fly out to one of their friends. It just made us younger kids try harder to get to the ball.
Days and in fact several years of real baseball went by and the field was allowed by Mr. Ferrasci. In fact he didn’t plant that section of ground after our field was in and packed down. I remember, and can almost see, him setting in his pickup on the ridge-line watching us boys play while he took his lunch. We kept an eye on him but he stayed a distance from us and no longer tried to keep us away.
One day we showed up to play and a construction crew had showed up with heavy equipment and were building a bridge across Gabilan Creek extending Cornwall Street into a staked and flagged subdivision. Our field was being used as a parking lot for the bulldozers, backhoes and earth-movers. We had lost our field. That summer was one of going to town to try out for Little League and the older boys were into Babe Ruth ball. We were a desired commodity by the coaches and were scouted by some of them because of our reputation of being good fielders and hitters. Others Bolsa Knolls Boys would tell their coaches that we were good players, and that’s how we were picked. It was a busy time and a good time of playing ball and growing.
One day while we were playing some catch down around where they were parking the construction equipment, Mr. Ferracsi’s son Bill pulled up in his truck and looked at us for awhile. He motioned to us to come over and talk. We went over to his truck and we heard him say something that I still get emotional about. Bill said, “I just wanted to stop by and tell you boys that my dad has set aside a section of land that will become a Little League Park so you boys can continue to have a place to play ball.”It was great news and we felt good about what he said but I don’t think we really understood what a wonderful and generous man his dad was to set aside a parcel of land for the “Bolsa Knolls Boys”. I look back and realize we failed to thank him for his gift. Mr. Ferracsi its late, and you are gone, but, “thank you” from The Bolsa Knolls Boy who grew up playing ball on your field and for the Field that is still in use today. I can see you in your pick truck watching us play and know now in some way you were thinking of us, and maybe, could see us playing on the field you had in mind for us. We can take a lesson from you.