Memories of the Game

Play Ball: Baseball Stadiums of the Mission Area

Play Ball: baseball stadiums of the Mission area

September 13, 2010, 03:30 AM

It’s a well-known fact — the Mission has the best weather in San Francisco. Juan Bautista de Anza knew it when he placed the site of the Mission there in 1775. The padres knew it; the settlers that followed and built adobes there knew it. The Mission has and will continue to have the best microclimate in the city.

It’s little wonder that the first profession baseball stadium would be built in the Mission area. In 1869, recreation grounds was set up at Folsom and 25th streets for baseball and it flourished for years. Just to the north (of Army Street) on the former Lake Dolores (Lake McCoppin) there sprang up two race tracks about the same time — Union and Pioneer tracks. Little is known about all three "pleasure centers” as they were forgotten when the streets were platted and paved over.

The second baseball area was at Recreation Park at Eighth and Harrison streets. That lasted from 1901 to 1906 when the great fires destroyed it. Another park was built at 15th and Valencia streets which was also called Rec Park. It was used for the Seals baseball team from 1906 until 1914 when Euwing Field was built and used for one season west of the Masonic Cemetery in the Richmond District. The cemetery as well as the stadium are no longer there. The fog did the team in there. What was to be a permanent home turned out to be a disaster and the team returned to Rec Park at 15th and Valencia until a brand-new stadium was built at 16th and Bryant streets in 1930. This proved to be the most popular stadium and the one with the most memories of recent residents.

Seals Stadium at 16th and Bryant was a minor league stadium for the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals baseball team as well as the Mission Reds baseball team. The stadium had three dressing rooms, one for the Seals, one for the visiting team and one for the Mission Reds. When the Mission Reds left, only two were used thereafter. In 1931, the seating capacity of the stadium was 16,000. It was enlarged in 1946 to seat 18,500 and again in 1958, when the New York Giants moved there, enlarged to seat 22,900. The weather was great in this brew distilling area (Hamms beer at the northwest corner area, Budweiser and Lucky Lager had breweries) so the stadium was not covered. There was perfect shirt-sleeve weather for the afternoon games and light coats for the evening. The Seals’ main traditional opponent was the Oakland Oaks until they left for Vancouver in 1955. In 1958, the New York Giants moved to San Francisco and took over the Seals Stadium for the 1958 and 1959 season until Candlestick could be used. The Seals moved to Phoenix, Ariz. and played as a minor league team of the San Francisco Giants. Later they moved to Tacoma, Wash., then returned to Arizona and became renamed as the Tucson Sidewinders. More moves followed after this.

The Seals were a well-liked, patronized and very successful minor league team with players like Vince DiMaggio, Seals outfielder, and brother Joe DiMaggio who came aboard in 1931 after his brother Vince convinced the owners to give his brother Joe a chance to play. Joe later went on to become a highly respected player for the New York Yankees. His 56-game winning streak at the Yankees Stadium in 1941 cinched his career as a baseball great. His well-publicized whirlwind marriage to Marilyn Monroe became a legend. Many a beer was consumed at the "Double Play” bar across the street from the stadium and the Old Timers Baseball Association still talks of the baseball exploits of the players. Dennis Pieraldi of Dennis’ Barber Shop in San Bruno, who lived on Potrero Hill close to Seals Stadium, still gets excited talking about his afternoons spent at the stadium. He got free bleacher seat tickets by sending coupons he cut from the Christopher Dairy milk carton. When he didn’t have a ticket, he and his buddies climbed over the fence when nobody was looking and snuck in to see the game.

Paul Fagen became the owner in 1945 and hired San Francisco’s own major league player, Lefty O’Doul as manger. He won the pennant in 1946 and became a legend in his hometown. He later started his own restaurant.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.

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