Monday, June 25, 2012

Sports and Captains made our summers

     Your blogs bring back great memories of times (Times) past in Shreveport sports (Sports). I remembered some names, but then looked up more. Ken Guettler, Les Peden, Ev Joyner, Rac Slider, Ray Knoblach, Dave Newkirk, Baby Lou Klimchock, Bud Black, Al Grunwald, Ken Hunt, Jim McManus, Leo Posada, Jay Hankins, Jim Small, Dick Howser, Jay Ward, Mel McGaha, Dave Wickersham, Dan Pfister, & older names of legends such as Salty Parker, Homer Peel, Hub Northen. Underlined were my favorites.
-- Glenn Theis    

   This is going to be about professional baseball in Shreveport, so if you want to stop here, OK. For men of a certain age -- good name for a TV show -- this will mean something.
    For those of us who loved baseball and loved Shreveport, these were our boys of summer (young men, actually). These were our guys; these Sports and Captains (and for a couple of years, Swamp Dragons) were our teams.
     How many games did we see at Texas League Park/Braves Field/SPAR Stadium? That ballpark  was home to Shreveport's teams from 1938 to 1985 (except for two gaps -- 1943-45, 1962-67).
     Then, after more than a decade in a decaying ballpark and a tough neighborhood, it was on to a beautiful new stadium, Fair Grounds Field -- next to I-20 and just down the street from State Fair Stadium/Independence Stadium.
   And now, that stadium is in disrepair.
   Shreveport lost its Texas League franchise to Frisco after the 2002 season and since that time, the city hasn't been a part of Organized Baseball. Yes, some independent league teams played at the stadium, but it's not the same. Sorry.
Fair Grounds Field, as it looked in 2004

    Jason Pugh's article in The (Shreveport) Times a week ago (see link at the bottom) detailed how unlikely it is that Shreveport (and Bossier, by extension) will return to Organized Baseball. It's not a surprise, nor do I find it particularly sad. It is reality.
       Running a minor-league team requires more capital expenditure than Shreveport is willing to spend. Same for maintaining a minor-league ballpark or, heaven forbid, build a new one.
       A look at the latest Texas League attendance figures shows that the lowest daily average is 4,344 in San Antonio. Most of the eight teams are averaging nearly 5,000 fans a night and the runaway leader is Frisco (7,793).
        It is noteworthy that Frisco -- Double A farm team of the Texas Rangers -- has been one of the minor leagues' best success stories since longtime Captains president Taylor Moore and his partners sold the team to the Mandalay Entertainment Group. It's in a large, ever-growing area with a beautiful new ballpark, easily accessible.
       Shreveport has no such thing. I can't imagine regular crowds of 5,000 for professional baseball ever again there -- not at Fair Grounds Field, unless someone or some group wants to make a large investment in ballpark renovation and franchise purchase.
        It was, for those of us who remember, so difficult to get the City of Shreveport to put up the money to build Fair Grounds Field. It took so long, years after SPAR Stadium was really useful, years after the upper grandstand was declared structurally unsafe and the roof was rotten (and then finally ripped off), and many, many other problems.
       Shreveport was seldom a great baseball town, not in financial terms. Only in two periods was the average attendance among the Texas League's best: (1) In the years immediately following World War II (1946-49) -- before television and air conditioning and when people had money to spend -- and (2) in the decade following the opening of Fair Grounds Field.
        Nor was Shreveport a great success in the standings. In fact, in the years I lived there (1956-1988), there were this many championship teams: zero.
        I think I was a jinx. In the four years before I arrived, the Sports won two TL playoff championships (1952, 1955) and one regular-season championship (1954). Two years after I left for good, the Captains won the first of back-to-back championships (1990-91), and then they won again in '95.
        But finances and championships aside, here is the point of this blog: In some ways, Shreveport was a great baseball town. At least from a point of pride.
       So many people (and I speak for my age group, I think) took a lot of pride in Shreveport's teams, in the players (and managers) who came through town, took pride in seeing Shreveport in the Texas League standings (yes, it was in bold in the newspapers). It looked especially good at the top of those standings.
      And it was great to see the players (and managers) move on to the major leagues. Once they had been here, they could always be identified as former Shreveport players.
     In particular, we became very fond of the guys who made Shreveport their home for good -- Al Mazur, Bobby Wilkins, Ev Joyner, Mel McGaha, Francis "Salty" Parker, J.W. Jones, Homer Peel, Tom "T-Bone" Stedman, Romy Cucjen, Scott Garrelts (and there are others, I'm sure). Some have left us, but we haven't forgotten.
        Most of the names listed by Glenn Theis in the intro to this piece are from the Sports' era in the mid-1950s to the Kansas City Athletics' farm teams in 1959, '60 and '61. Except for Dick Howser, they are long forgotten by most baseball fans, but they were the heroes of our boyhood.
         Look even now and there are some major leaguers who were Shreveport players in the franchise's last three years in the Texas League (2000-02): pitcher Joe Nathan and catcher Yorvit  Torrealba of the Texas Rangers, pitchers Ryan Vogelsong (San Francisco Giants) and
Jerome Williams (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), infielder Cody Ransom (Milwaukee Brewers).
         I could write volumes on pro baseball in Shreveport; in fact, I did in my newspaper life. Going back through some of the clippings this weekend brought some memories. Soon I intend to write about Ken Guettler, Lou Klimchock, Les Peden and Mel McGaha ... and others.
         Because, unfortunately, the past is all we have for Shreveport baseball. There doesn't appear to be a future.

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