Community Sports

Saturday, Dec 01 2012 10:21 PM

Remembering the park on Chester

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    The awning is seen behind home plate at Sam Lynn Ball Park in 1949.

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By The Bakersfield Californian

Two years hence (if everything is on schedule), professional baseball will have a new home in Bakersfield -- a project long past due. But the old and outgoing venue, Sam Lynn Ballpark, will still host games on a community level.

However, it harbors history and memories too ingrained into this town to be forgotten in the excitement and enthusiasm of a shiny new successor.

Sam Lynn was antiquated and well past its prime two generations ago. It was the baseball "habit" in town -- not that it was universally adored.

It was laid out wrong in the first place, with the sun shining over center field and into the batter's eyes -- and the wonder was that nobody got killed. Game times in mid-summer had to be pushed back, for merciful and humanitarian reasons.

Its outfield fences were too short, its dugouts too far away from home plate. Its architectural highlight was the wooden cover over the home plate grandstand.

If any ballpark can be called "intimate," Sam Lynn would be the prototype. The stands being so close to the plate made for good viewing, although no doubt raising the stress level for the umpire working the plate.

Sam Lynn had its pluses right from the start -- good viewing from every seat in the house, ideal location in the middle of town, and plenty of parking.

It also, in its halcyon days, had fan support at or among the top of California League teams. It offered a pretty good brand of ball, with many future major leaguers honing their craft here.

When I came to town in 1953, the public address announcer was Art Mason, whose stentorian tones each evening welcomed fans to "Sam Lynn Ball Park, where the stars of tomorrow play today."

And names such as Don Drysdale, Larry Bowa, Mike Piazza, and Pedro Martinez, proved his point.

The connection to the Los Angeles Dodgers was extremely helpful, both in fan interest and the players assigned here. The Dodgers, however, left at least three times — but usually had the good sense to come back.

Another PA announcer, Larry Trout, once remarked of the aging edifice: “If the termites ever stopped holding hands, this place would come down in a second.”

Trout was not only an announcer, he was a fervent fan. Once, he got on the home plate ump so rabidly, the latter ejected him from the park — whereupon Trout bought a box seat ticket, a tall beer and continued to harangue the arbiter from the stands!

Local products were especially appreciated by fans, such as Bill Garbe who once, in uniform, stood in the line at the box office to buy a ticket. Asked why, he said, “When Garbe plays, everybody ought to pay!”

Younger generations may take the name “Sam Lynn” for granted, but his name does not appear among baseball records. He was a local soft drink distributor who was a generous supporter of community baseball.

Bakersfield has persevered as a member of the California League, although it has had its financial ups and downs. For many years, it was the southernmost point in the league; now it is in the northern division.

The old field had a long run and a good run. Sure, it’s outdated now, but one hopes it is still regarded with affection for some years to come.

Larry Press is a former longtime sports editor and columnist for The Bakersfield Californian.

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