With Petaluma just one win away from the National Little League World Series perhaps people might be interested in a bit of Little League history.
In 2007 my friend Harlan Osborne wrote a story for the Petaluma Argus Courier about the 50th anniversary of the local Little League which he has given me permission to include here. The original story was printed on February 28, 2007 following a celebration at Mario & John’s Tavern on East D Street, Petaluma.
Little League memories linger for a lifetime By Harlan Osborne
For one delightful recent rainy afternoon at a reception honoring Petaluma’s 50th anniversary of little league baseball about three dozen men, including some of Petaluma’s most admired athletes, all about 60-years old, felt like kids again. There was a buzz of excitement along with backslapping, warm hugs, and wide grins as these men who forged their bonds of friendship a half century ago refreshed their memories and replayed their favorite childhood moments from those early beginnings.
Prior to Little League Petaluma’s aspiring kid ballplayers could only join the city’s recreation program consisting of Peanut and Midget League. These leagues played at McNearPark but offered no adult coaching and used durable rubber-coated baseballs.
The original four teams in 1957 were, the Elks, coached by Mario Figone and Frenchy Mazza, the Optimists, coached by Moch Lucchesi, Police Department, coached by Don Noriel and Hank Eslick, and Two Rock Ranch Station, coached by Ken McNulty. The Two Rock squad was routinely picked up in town by bus and driven to the Army post to practice.
In an era of wooden bats, and rudimentary batting helmets, and using a rope “fence” supported by pylons that often sparked controversy, all games were played on the modified big diamond at McNearPark. There were no team uniforms, just lettered T-shirts and caps.
“We all shared many unique experiences together that we carried through life,” said Nino Pedrini, a charter member of the Elks, who attended the gathering. “Reunions like this are very special. They always are when friends can get together, especially those of us who grew up together.”
Reliving those experiences along with Pedrini were his former first-year teammates Steve Govan and Ross Leask, along with Ray Allena, who was on the Police before switching to the Elks in 1958. Frank Topolewski, Donnie Noriel, John Suit, and Vern Hansen represented the original Police team and Sam Brown, Mike Ragar, and Kenny Lyons played for the Optimists. Former players from Two Rock Ranch, were Larry Torliatt, Mike Woelbing, and Walt Smith.
“We played our games at a park now buried below reference books, novels, computers, and quiet people searching for knowledge. The boys, as men, simply delight in the surprise of recognition, the tall tales and true stories, and the warm handshakes and hugs. Neither pictures, nor words, capture the air within these walls today,” said former Elks player Ron Rosager, reflecting on the benevolent, gregarious mood of the gathering.
The Police, led by Jerry Thompson, who went 4-for-4 in the final game to lift his season’s average to a prodigious .846 (22 for 26), conquered the Elks in the 1957 season finale to gain a tie for the league title with 6-3 records. Since school was set to begin one week later no playoff game was scheduled.
Petaluma’s first Little League diamond was built on a corner of KenilworthPark in time for the 1958 season. The voice of Petaluma, Curly Acorne, announced all the games, and high school student Bill Pronzini provided write-ups for the Argus Courier.
Vonsen-Gemco, coached by Clark and Glen Hansen, replaced Two Rock Ranch for the 1958 season but once again it was the Police who captured the league championship. In the District 3 playoffs the Police defeated Sausalito, 6-0, behind Thompson’s one-hitter, and San Anselmo, 15-4, to advance to the finals.
In the championship contest the Police lost a highly disputed, 1-0, decision to San Rafael T&B on a controversial call by the plate umpire on a bunted ball that initially was called foul, then fair, prompting hurler Thompson to throw wildly to first base allowing the winning run to score in the final frame.
The playoff format was changed in 1959 and a league all-star team chosen to represent Petaluma in the District 35 playoffs.