Baseball: A Marin Tradition
by Dewey Livingston
Last week’s article by Robert L. Harrison -and the current World Series contest-inspires more “baseball talk” and expansion of the local theme. Mr. Harrison noted that, over the years beginning in the 1860s, there were active teams in San Rafael, Nicasio, Tomales (the “Daisy Cutters” as of 1874), and most other Marin towns. Let’s look a bit closer at the Point Reyes Station and Nicasio teams, and finish up with a curious coincidence in San Rafael.
The field in Point Reyes Station that saw Lefty Gomez as a regular and a surprise appearance by Babe Ruth, was located in a sloping field behind the railroad tracks on the south side of town, just a stone’s throw from where the North Shore Railroad locomotive famously fell over during the 1906 earthquake. Left field was up a hill, but players adjusted and games drew fans from all over the Bay Area. “A large crowd gathered at Point Reyes Station last Sunday afternoon to watch the Point Reyes Buttermakers baseball club play the Nicasio team,” reported the Tocsin in 1919. “The Point Reyes team won by a score of 26 to 8.”
During the 1920s Vernon “Lefty” Gomez came to Point Reyes Station and played often, staying with the Dante Muscio family in the attic of their big house (still standing) on B Street. “Gomez’s short-lived career with PG&E gave way to working weekdays on the Nicasio dairy ranch of Mary and Frank Farley with fellow player, catcher Bud Farley,” wrote Loretta Farley (no relation to Bud). “Dances at the Forester’s Hall, where multi-talented Lefty played saxophone with the band, entertained the community after a day on the field.” Gomez went on to become a Hall of Fame pitcher with the New York Yankees, collecting five World Series rings.
Point Reyes teams included railroad workers, milk handlers from the creamery (hence the Buttermakers name), and cowboys. Some were hoping to make the semi-professional Pacific Coast League teams, but few if any did. Later, in the 1940s and 1950s, a new generation of area players, led by trucker Toby Giacomini, built a level field at White House Pool. This regulation baseball field was unique at the time for the rural area: it had lights for night games. Local ranchers and cowboys, truck drivers and mechanics, and merchants and clerks played teams from around the Bay Area.
When the White House Pool field was abandoned, locals — male and female alike -played softball at the West Marin School field. The legendary player and coach of that era was Fred Rodoni Sr., who played all his life and into his 80s. (Fred was Supervisor Dennis Rodoni’s father.) More recently, Jim and Kathy Love built a full size field in their flat land on the Levee Road. Adult and Little League teams played there for a couple of decades, but a dearth of players these days has stalled the games there. West Marin Little League continues to use the school field during the season.
The little village of Nicasio has a long tradition of baseball, played on the town square. Originally, locals pitched and batted on an imperfect field — occasionally used for rodeos — by the Farley Ranch behind the old Nicasio hotel. The local players wanted to use the town square, which was owned by the hotel, but couldn’t get permission. Don McIsaac recalled the breakthrough:
In later years, a guy by the name of Bill Ripkin came in there and we asked him about playing ball out in front, you know? “No, you guys can’t go out there.” Next guy that came in was a guy name of Frank Siler, and says, “Sure, you guys can go out there. I’ll buy us some equipment.” He got bags, and bats, and pitcher’s plate and home plate. That’s when we moved out there, had to be about 1936, somewhere along in there. And Benny Righetti had a tractor, he plowed the field up. My dad and I went down with a team of horses and a harrow. Then they made a drag out of planks, and drug it. We played a lot of baseball in that field. Had some good ball teams in town.
“One of the big attractions in Nicasio, of course, was the baseball team during the spring and the summertime,” recalled Ed Lafranchi, “and of course we always came and watched all that and kinda played around.”
Dairy rancher Calvin Dolcini remembered playing baseball at Nicasio in the 1940s, when the players changed upstairs at Druid’s Hall. The field was “no grass or nothing, just all dirt.” Calvin learned how to pitch by throwing a ball at a bale of hay. His teammates included Willie Lafranchi, the Irving boys, Leroy Martinelli, and the Rolaris. “We all used to play. We played a team from the Presidio, they were a good team. There were probably some professional guys there. I remember pitching against them, and the best I could do was I struck out seven of them. One of the guys said they hadn’t had anybody who would throw that hard for a long time.”
Baseball teams from around Marin and Sonoma Counties came to play in Nicasio, and to this day Little League teams compete at the picturesque ball field that was officially dedicated to a longtime player, dairy rancher, and Nicasio native, the late Will Lafranchi.
Now, to San Rafael. The “city” folks may have at times scoffed at the country people, but were sometimes overpowered by the sturdy men who spent their day milking cows and bucking hay. In 1881 there was a rivalry between the San Rafael team and what the Marin County Journal rudely called the “Cow Whackers.” After losing a game at “Moretti’s milk ranch” in Nicasio that May, the city men got their revenge back in town, beating the country team 31 to 21. The Journal noted that “the playing was very good for amateurs, the San Rafaels excelling in the field, but the Nicasios at the bat.” Following the game, the San Rafael people hosted a dinner for the visiting ranchers, whose “onslaught on the good things of the table showed that their defeat on the diamond field had not taken away all their appetite….”
It may be that 1881 was the year ball games started at a precursor to Albert Field. “The San Rafael Bass Ball Club have secured from Mr. DuBois the privilege of the field south of the depot,” wrote the Journal, “which they desire to fit up in good shape. They also hope to secure a club room with a reading department, and otherwise make it an attractive resort for members to pass their leisure hours, and are also anxious to procure a suitable uniform for their members.”
Seven years earlier, in 1874, the Marin County Journal reported some new rules, perhaps due to incidents of bad behavior:
Two ball clubs are being organized in town, one called the Alerts, H. Nye, Captain, and the other the Marins, A. Torres, Captain. They adopt two excellent rules: No member is allowed to drink liquor while playing, and swearing is punishable by fine. If they would play on week days, it would be still better.
These days, a professional team called the San Rafael Pacifics plays ball at Albert Park field. Who would have thought that a team of the same name played here 144 years ago! “The Athletes and Pacifics played a game of bass ball at the Laurel Grove picnic grounds last Sabbath, for a laurel bat, silver mounted, which was won by the Pacifics by one run,” reported the Marin County Journal of April 23, 1874. “These two clubs are the best players in San Francisco.” Not only is the team name a coincidence, but also the Laurel Grove picnic grounds were located only a few blocks from today’s Albert Park.
Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.