Editor’s note: Please welcome Mike Denton to BPP. Mike donated $50 for 826 Valencia through the BPP All-Time Dream Project and was entitled to have me write 1,000 words on a subject of his choice. Mike elected to write something himself about his memories from going to Pacific Coast League games for the Sacramento Solons in the 1950s. I can’t guarantee I’ll always publish unsolicited guest posts, but I liked Mike’s piece enough to share it here. It helps that we’re also both from Sacramento. I did my high school senior project a decade ago on the Solons and may share it at some point here.
I grew up in Sacramento, loving baseball as far back as my memory goes. As a kid, I was out playing every afternoon and evening with my neighborhood friends until the call came for dinner. If it was still light after that, we’d go out for more until one could see no longer. Weekends were simply nonstop baseball until we’d drop. Life was simple and good.
When I was around 10 or so, my dad took me to my first professional game at old Edmonds’ Field to see the hometown Sacramento Solons. It was a rickety old stadium with wooden benches which, if you weren’t careful in your movements, would leave splinters in your behind. It didn’t matter, though, because seeing that immense green field before me (and not having any major league fields in existence anywhere on the West Coast with which to compare it), seemed to me to be an absolute gem of a place. I was totally hooked at that point and immediately became a fan. It didn’t matter that the team was notoriously bad and immersed deep in the second division year-after-year. What mattered was that I had a team to follow, a radio station to catch the games on (KFBK) as called by announcer Tony Koester, and a cast of ever-changing players who became my heroes several years before the Giants moved to San Francisco, the Solons left town, and Willie Mays and company became the object of my affection.
I eagerly attended every game my dad would take me to and listened to all the rest. I followed their exploits in the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union and kept scrapbooks with stories, photos, and box scores. I developed particular attachments to players like Nippy Jones and Al Heist who made it to, if ever so briefly, the majors. Other favorites were Richie Myers, Tommy Glaviano, Joe Stanka, Joe Brovia, Cuno Barragan (son-in-law of one of my grammar school teachers), and Bud Watkins. The highlight of any weekend was a Sunday twinight doubleheader. What could possibly be better than two games for the price of one on a warm Sacramento evening? Then, in late summer and just before heading back to school, we’d go out to the State Fair and, if the Solons were on the road, we would see Tony Koester in a small booth doing re-creations of their games using a teletype and props to simulate the crack of the bat and crowd noise. Quite an art form, especially when interference would delay transmission and impromptu creativity became a necessity to keep the broadcast running smoothly as if nothing had happened.
The Solons and all the other remaining Pacific Coast League (PCL) teams in California left the state either at the time of or shortly after the arrival of the Giants and Dodgers. I quickly embraced the Giants and have become a lifelong fan and season ticket holder. I never forgot my “roots,” however, and hearing of the existence of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society some years back, decided to investigate. At the time, the organization was holding one of the their two yearly reunions of former players at the Oakland Museum. Since I live in San Leandro, it was an easy to trip to check it out. I showed up at my first such event wearing a Solons’ jersey (circa 1942) produced by Ebbets’ Field Flannels which my significant other had given to me on the occasion of my 47th birthday (hence #47 on the back). Although I was now well past that age at the time of this get-together, it seemed a fitting bit of apparel to wear that day. Little did I expect how appropriate it would be.
Milling about a room containing display cases full of PCL memorabilia, I suddenly heard a booming voice from across the room bellow out “Solons!” I looked up and saw a tall, white-haired, barrel-chested man moving quickly in my direction. As he neared me and I caught sight of his name-tag, I did a double-take when I realized it was the aforementioned Bud Watkins. Here, in the flesh, was a man I had watched pitch for the Solons when I was just a kid. I have to say that I was just like a kid again at that point; it might as well have been a major league Hall of Famer I was meeting. We chatted for some time and I told him about watching him pitch at old and long-gone Edmonds’ Field. Soon, because this was but a twice-a-year event for these old players, it was time for him to circulate amongst the rest of them to share fond remembrances with those who were there and to, in a kind of yearly ritual, remember those who no longer could be.
That was not to be my one and only encounter with Bud. Each year thereafter, we would chat at the reunion and, on several occasions, I would sit with him during the luncheon portion of the day. We even started exchanging Christmas cards. As my 60th birthday approached, and unbeknownst to me, my significant other called him at his home in Stockton and told him that we would be in Sacramento for the Jazz Jubilee on Memorial Day weekend. She wondered if it would be possible for him to meet us for dinner one evening to surprise me and help celebrate my milestone birthday. He did not hesitate to accept and we had a wonderful evening together. As he headed back to Stockton, he loaned us his pass to the Solons’ Club at River Cats’ Stadium where we had tickets for a game the next night. A heart as big as his frame; that’s how I’ll always remember him. We saw him at several such reunion events in later years where he was always a big hit, especially with his larger-than-life personality and good humor. Then, one year, he was suddenly no longer there. He had passed away before attending a similar and even larger reunion event held each year in Carson, CA. I’m so happy to have known him. Having his autograph is every bit as important to me as some of the ones I have from major leaguers. After all, he and his generation of players are what caused me to become the fan I am of this great game called baseball.