diary of a mad
househusband

9 september 2000

 

 baseball: a link to the past

"Ballparks Never Die, When Mexico Puts Them Back Together," read a headline in last Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. The subhead continued, "El Mecano Was in Houston And Called Colt Stadium; Today, It Lives in Tampico." Even before I read the article, there were tears in my eyes.

Back in 1954, I stuck a penny in a machine, turned the handle, and out came a green plastic medallion bearing the likeness of Pee Wee Reese. As near as I can tell, that's how a kid in Walla Walla, Washington became a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Anyway, I was one by the time the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

Somehow, the Dodgers retained my loyalty when they moved to Los Angeles in 1958. The move displaced the Dodgers' AAA Pacific Coast League farm team, the Angels, who landed in Spokane, as the Spokane Indians. I had built a radio that would let me listen to the games on KGA, with an earphone under my pillow, when I was supposed to be going to sleep. I seldom missed hearing a game.

Now remember, this was back in the era of Real Baseball--before players' salaries rivalled the GNP of some sovereign nations; before expansion diluted the talent pool; before the rightful pennant winner's place in the World Series could be usurped by a (gag!) "wild card team" in a "league championship series" (even typing the words is painful!); before the Abomination of Desolation, the "designated hitter, ruined the National Pastime forever. (Don't even think about mentioning "interleague play" in my hearing...)

In those days of two eight-team Major Leagues, AAA ball was almost indistinguishable from play in the big leagues. The 1958-1960 Indians were one of the most talent-laden teams in all of baseball. Wouldn't you have enjoyed being Bobby Bragan, managing players like Maury Wills, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis, Jim Gentile, Frank Howard, Ron Fairly, Norm and Larry Sherry, and Carl Warwick?

It was just my luck that, when we moved from southeastern Washington to Houston in 1962, the first Houston Colt .45s (later Astros) game I saw in Colt Stadium, the "temporary" wood and steel stadium which preceded the Astrodome, was against the Dodgers. I got to see Maury Wills steal second, one of his 104 stolen bases that year (wiping out Ty Cobb's record of 96, which had stood since 1915). And I got to see Frank Howard hit a home run, 20 feet over my head in the left field bleachers, for the game's only run.

Colt Stadium stood empty for several years after the opening of the Astrodome. "What a waste!" I'd think, every time I passed it. Then, it disappeared, and for nearly 30 years I knew not where. The Journal article brought me up to date:

A businessman from Mexico bought the by then disassembled pieces in 1971 and had them reassembled, over a four year period, to become the home of the Torreon Cotton Pickers. There, too, it acquired the name El Mecano-- The Erector Set. After six seasons in Torreon, the stadium moved again, to become the home of the Tampico Stevedores in 1981.

After the Stevedores left town, says the Journal, the old stadium was packed up for another move, this time to become home to the Mexico City Tigers.

But years of exposure to Tampico's rain and humidity had weakened the structure. The Tigers ultimately donated a few rows of seats to a factory workers' league, which assembled one last vestige of El Mecano outside the nearby town of Pasteje.

The rest remains in a public playground in Tampico, where Arimando Gonzalez and his league of retired oil workers play out the last games of their youth.

Shortly after we moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area last summer, we went to a Texas Rangers game. From our seats in right field, I couldn't see the ball. I was struck by how much Major League Baseball has become about (separating people from their) money, and how little it has to do with baseball.

I'm deeply indebted to the Journal for scratching the itch ("Whatever did happen to Colt Stadium?")-- and for making me aware that, if I wanted to, I could still sit in a part of that old stadium and see the Game being played, not with any thought to money, but just because it's one of the best ways there is to spend part of a nice day.

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