Tustin had its own boys of summer

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

1900 Baseball Team from Tustin, CA

PLAY BALL: The 1900 year Tustin baseball team:
Back row: Fred Graves, George Haskins, Sidney Knoph, Walter McClug, Will Huntley.
Seated: J. J. Zielian, Tustin Grammar School Principal, C. W. Foy, Merritt and Lory Newell

 
 

Baseball didn't become popular in the United States until the 1860s, and most of the teams played on the East Coast. But somehow, without the advantage of television, radio or a nearby stadium, the game made its way to Tustin and became a favorite of the school boys of that era.

William Huntley, who grew up in Tustin and became mayor, recalled in "Tustin Scrapbook," which he compiled with his wife, Helen Gulick Huntley, that baseball was played by the boys at Tustin Grammar School in the 1890s.

Since the school provided no equipment, the boys brought their own bats and balls to play on their side of the playground, separated from the girls by a 6-foot-high fence, during recess.

Later when a new grammar school replaced the old school, a baseball diamond was added to the playground. Tustin's adult baseball teams as well as the school children used this field.

Tustin had a team as early as 1900 and eventually a Tustin District Softball League formed and played twilight games in summer. Sponsored by local merchants these teams played teams from Irvine and El Toro as well as each other. Families would fill the bleachers behind home plate and line up along the side lines to cheer on their favorites.

Many of Tustin older residents remember the young men who played including Ed Cox, owner of the Tustin Food Center, George Dearborn, Ev "Junior" Winkler, Al Kohler, Joe Cornelius, Louie Rhiel Jr. and "Alley"

Reyes. They still chuckle about Reyes hitting a homerun over the fence into the cars parked along the street and breaking the windshield on his own car.

World War II halted summer baseball, but the games resumed about 1947.

Phil Cox, owner of Cox Plaza where his dad's grocery was once located, recalls that as an 8 year old he cheered for the Tustin Food Center team sponsored by his dad.

Bob Gray still remembers being beaned by a ball when he was a toddler tagging after his dad, Bill Gray, the administrator for the American Legion team.

Gayle Cunningham, who pitched for his employer's team, Carson Golding (tire distributor), most of the other players on his team and the Tustin Food Center and American Legion teams, had played ball under coach Ernie Byrnes at Tustin High. These included Dale Cunningham (Gayle's twin), Gib Bristow, Dean and Paul Francis, John and Gene Balzer, Ralph Winkler, Larry Monroy, Hal Lilly, Walt Linker and Jack Handley.

The team sponsors, which also included Sportsman Headquarters (now the Swinging Door) and Farnsworth Jewelry, provided uniforms which advertised their businesses.

Other merchants such as Harvey's Cafe and Ojeda Brothers groceries and meats, supported the league by advertising in the game schedule. Red Squires was usually behind the plate as umpire and Louie Rhiel Sr. kept score.

Twilight baseball lost its popularity when Little League came to Tustin, but many of the players became active participants in organizing youth baseball.

The late Dale Cunningham is recognized by a plaque at the Peppertree Park field. Many who played baseball on the old Tustin Grammar School diamond now cheer for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren at Little League games.

 

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