The Riverside Angels

With a couple hours to kill before yesterday’s Rancho Cucamonga press conference, I went by my alma mater, the University of California Riverside, to look in the main library at old microfilms of the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’ve spent much of the winter researching the history of the Angels minor leagues, the seminal 1961 season in particular. From an interview with Jack Hiatt, we learned that while the big leaguers trained in Palm Springs the minor leaguers were somewhere in Riverside.

The microfilms revealed a wealth of Angels history.

The Angels’ Triple-A affiliate was the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers of the American Association. They shared the affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies. So technically, it was D-FW who was training in Riverside, not exactly the Angels’ minor league club, although many of the players came from Palm Springs.

Their base was historic Evans Athletic Park. One P-E article stated that manager Walker Cooper had played at Evans Park 24 years before (1937, if you do the math) when he played for the old PCL’s Sacramento Solons. Evans Park is next to Riverside Community Hospital, just southwest of downtown. In future years, it would be the home of the California League’s Riverside Red Wave from 1988 to 1990.  According to one article, "Jackie Robinson spent his summers in Riverside and practiced at Evans Park on Brockton Avenue."  Today it’s known as the Samuel C. Evans Sports Complex, and is operated by nearby Riverside Community College.

The team hotel was the historic Mission Inn. By 1961, the Mission Inn was long past its glory years, and 20 years later would be shuttered until a new buyer came along in the mid-1990s and restored it to a five-star hotel. (My wife and I spent our wedding night there in 2004.)

I found several articles with photos. The players wore Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers jerseys and caps. Mind you, affiliations back then were not like today. Many minor league teams could still sign their own players. I’m currently corresponding with Dave Baldwin, who pitched for D-FW in 1962 as a Phillies property. He said that some of the players didn’t belong to D-FW, and in fact they might not even have known which parent club did hold their rights.

The Rangers’ first game was on the road at night in Ontario against the Hawaii Islanders. The game was played at what is known today as Jay Littleton Ballpark, an historic facility in its own right. It’s been used in many movies, including A League of Their Own. The headline in the next day’s sports section: "Rangers Belt Islanders, 6-2."

The Angels sent over a "B" team (what would today be called a "split-squad") to play the Rangers on March 25 at Evans Park. The paper reported that 900 fans attended, buying tickets for $1 apiece. Page D-1 of The Press (if memory serves, The Press was the morning paper and The Enterprise was the evening paper) had a big photo of Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi sliding into home as Rangers catcher Jack Hiatt blocked the plate.

Needless to say, I’m going to try to get a copy of that one!

That’s about as far as I got before I had to leave for Rancho Cucamonga.

The articles reported that D-FW would play a 20-game spring schedule before heading for Texas to start the season. Among their games would be a couple contests in Indio against the PCL’s San Diego Padres, who were affiliated that year with the Chicago White Sox. I knew the Angels had played a couple games in Indio that spring, but not where.

Angels GM (and former farm director) Tony Reagins is from Indio.  I asked him if he had any idea where; he suggested a couple locations but didn’t really know. Well, one article said they played at "South Jackson Ball Field" in Indio. I asked Tony after yesterday’s press conference if he’d heard of it. He knew exactly where it was, but was surprised because the field is small today. I looked it up on Mapquest and the site is only a couple blocks south of the I-10, so when I drive out this spring to Tempe for minor league camp I’ll stop by and take a few photos.

The Angels, Padres, Islanders and Rangers weren’t the only Inland Empire inhabitants. The PCL Vancouver Mounties, a Milwaukee Braves affiliate, trained in San Bernardino at "Perris Hill Park." It’s better known today as historic Fiscalini Field, which among other teams was home to the California League’s San Bernardino Spirit from 1987 through 1992 — when they moved to Rancho Cucamonga and became the Quakes.

Bringing this article full circle …

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