Future Major League All-star Jim Fregosi Hits the Long Ball in Gualala

By Steve Chell

It was about 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday in the summer of 1959 when our cars pulled onto U.S. 101 at Menlo Park for what our manager later called “the road trip from hell.”

We were a new semi-pro baseball team comprised mostly of just-graduated high schoolers, so the schedule maker thought we’d be the perfect team to send to a place no other team apparently wanted to visit – Gualala.  “Wherever that is…” said Manager Dennis Anderson, a local sports editor and baseball lover.  

Winding past Jenner toward Fort Ross some hours later, carsick queasiness set in for many. An hour or so later, Gualala was on the radar and we were headed up what I now know as Old Stage Road.  I remember how beautiful the area was, and that we could see the ocean as we climbed up.  

It must have been a big day in Gualala.  The red, white & blue bunting was visible around the ball field, known today as “The Dust Bowl.” Kids were running around playing carnival games, and the home team was warming up with enthusiasm.  Maybe we WERE the first team ever to venture here for a game!

Two things I remember clearly.  The first was the friendliness of the spectators, many of whom came to our dugout with free beers to thank us for making the journey.  Thinking back, it may have been a friendly gesture…or perhaps it was a terrific strategy for the home team.  About the fifth inning, our mostly under-age guys were forgetting what positions they played.

My second memory is of our shortstop, Jim Fregosi, fresh out of Serra High in San Mateo (Yes, it’s Barry Bonds’ alma mater, too).  Playing in his first game for us, Jim hit a ball so hard it still could be rolling.  My recollection is that Jim couldn’t find his bat in the bat rack and some young boy handed him his Little League-sized bat and said, “Here, mister, use mine,” which he did.  Fun story, but Manager Dennis reminded me that I’d had as many beers as Jim and my memory might have been a bit fuzzy.  He also corrected me when I said we won the game.  

Jim signed with the Boston Red Sox before the summer was out, was picked up by the California (then-Los Angeles) Angels in the expansion draft, and starred for 11 years with the Angels before finishing his 19-year major league career with the Mets, Rangers, and Pirates.  During his Angels’ years, he made six all-star teams, led American League shortstops in double plays twice, and won the 1967 Gold Glove Award.  Jim returned to manage the team, guiding it to its first-ever postseason appearance in 1979; he later managed the Philadelphia Phillies to the 1993 National League pennant after the team had finished dead-last the previous year.

But you might say his “professional” career started in Gualala.

Oh, there’s more to the story.  I could tell you about a young catcher with too many beers exiting the showers to run naked along the outside balcony of the Gualala Hotel, and….well, another day perhaps.

By the way, our young semi-pro team did get better in the coming years, becoming the runner-up California state semi-pro champion in 1962.  And that place I thought was so beautiful in 1959?  Well, my wife Carol and I moved to Gualala full-time last year…and, yes, it’s just as beautiful in my eyes!

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