The Boys of Summer


The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day; the score stood stalled at four-to-two with but an inning to play…

          As I write, the Series score stands stalled at one-to-one, Angels-to-Giants, with five more games to play [I should include here that this was written in 2002 – KB].  Anything other than a trip to a ballpark by the Homefinders this fine October morning would be unthinkable.  On Saturdays past it could be Threlkel’s or the one at West First and Chestnut (Arlington), or Reneva Park at East Sixth and Valley Road.  But this morning, Moana Ballpark it will be.  It might be worth mentioning for the newer readers that the name “Moana” was the choice of pioneer Reno landowner William Short, who visited Moana Beach in Honolulu in 1904, and it’s probably a damn good thing for some local merchants that Short didn’t vacation at Ho’noali’iani Beach on Maui or they’d have been forever hung with that moniker for their businesses.  The Ho’noali’iani Lane Nursery?

          The history of our ballpark is rich, nearly a hundred years old since 1906 when Louis Berrum laid a streetcar line from downtown Reno to Moana Springs, which then included mineral baths, a dance hall, a movie theater, ice skating, and of course, a ballpark, albeit not in its present location.  And occasionally, a circus or a prizefight, a trap shoot or a rodeo.  I relied on Jack and Ed Pine for some reminiscences about the ballpark; turns out that their grandfather, Harry Plath, by coincidence was a conductor on that Moana car line.  Spanning a century makes for a tough column so this morning we’ll stick within the years following World War II through the early 1950s when the park stood in its present location west of the original Moana Springs.

          The old ballpark was aligned with home plate at the southeast corner of the park, the batter facing northwest to the pitcher. (If you haven’t been out to the park lately, home’s now southwest looking northeast, more about that later.)  In right center field backing up to Moana Lane – then a two-lane dirt road – was a flagpole and the scoreboard, and even as I write this Link Piazzo is digging out the year that Chet & Link’s Sportsman donated that board.  It was a classic ballpark scoreboard, like old Mackay Stadium’s, with guys working feverishly on platforms behind the board changing numbers by hand for balls, strikes, outs, the inning and the score.  A hectic job, but fans today wait in line for the honor of doing the same job for free at Pac Bell Park’s “other games today” board in San Francisco.  Along old Moana’s right field foul line fence was “Sunset League, Class D”, painted in large block letters. 

          There was a snack bar under the wooden grandstands, and for a time our classmate Rob Johnson’s mother Dell ran that show.  On the corner of the right field fence and the foul line was Monty Montgomery’s popular post-war restaurant – the “Steakhouse” – with a patio on its south side where patrons could dine and watch the action. 

• • •

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air, and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.  Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped – “That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said…

          Well, any good ballpark needs some noise.  Let’s fill the wooden planks in the grandstand with fans and fannies, their cars parked alongside Moana Lane with a few unwary souls off the left field fence about to get smacked with a foul ball.  We need a P.A. announcer, so we’ll put Reno’s sportswriter and columnist extraordinaire Ty Cobb Sr. behind the stadium’s raspy microphone.  We were hashing this yarn out at an early-morning coffee klatch years ago –  the aforementioned Pine brothers plus stockbroker Johnny Heward plus Craig Morrison, who played outfield for the University of Arizona in the College World Series in his heyday – and we agreed that Ty missed very few, if any games, for a long span of time in the 1950s.  Alongside Ty in the pressbox was the venerable Bob Stoddard, the Voice (cap c.q.) of the Silver Sox, calling the game for KOH or KATO radio.  (That’s right, KOLO-TV weatherman Dick Stoddard’s father.)  Let’s put a kid on the roof to shag high pop-foul balls for a dime a ball, and direct the less-lucky guy working the alfalfa field to the south to the fouls that landed out there.  The ballplayers?  Park their buses at the Moana plunge, the old one next door; they can use those lockers and showers. 

          Even the Little Leaguers got to play in Moana Ballpark; ‘twas in 1952, we think, during Little League’s second year in Reno.  They shortened the baselines from 90 to 52 feet, ran a temporary fence behind the full-size field’s infield and played just like the big guys.

• • •

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone; he stilled the rising tumult, and bade the game go on.  He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew; but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.” 

          The City of Reno bought the Moana Baths from the Berrum family in 1956 (and I also thank Washoe County Treasurer Bill Berrum for his input into this column.)  The City bought the ballpark in the following year.  The plunge, by then probably 50 years old, was razed and replaced.  The old ballpark burned in a spectacular fire on Hallowe’en of 1958 and the replacement diamond was realigned southwest-to-northeast when the park was rebuilt.  And I’ve leftover notes; one day soon we’ll go back and wrap all this up, with Bill’s help.

Epilogue: On June 3, 1888 “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic”, penned by 20-year-old sportswriter Ernest L. Thayer on his lunch hour, appeared in the San Francisco Daily Examiner.  A statue of Mighty Casey now stands at the entrance of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Not bad for a 20-year old kid’s effort!

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; Oh, somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; but there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

[And so did the Giants, lost to the Angels in the seventh game…]

© Reno Gazette-Journal Oct. 2002