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SERVING UP HISTORY

Residents pitch ideas for baseball mural

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SERVING UP HISTORY

Manteca Historical Society Executive Director Evelyn Prouty shows a picture of an early Manteca baseball field during a brainstorming session Tuesday afternoon at the Manteca Historical Museum.

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED June 22, 2011 2:02 a.m.

To gauge how popular softball is in Manteca all one has to do is take a drive past Big League Dreams and examine the full parking lot.

But as more than a dozen people on Tuesday afternoon at the Manteca Historical Society spelled out, the community’s love for the game has been around a lot longer than the shiny new sports complex. Manteca’s love affair with softball dates back to the Depression and served as one of the major draws for families during the lead-up to World War II.

And just like many other major parts of Manteca’s history, it’ll soon be immortalized in a mural.

“I’m glad that we had a chance to do this because this brought back so many memories for me today,” said Billy Corder – whose father joined William R. “Bill” Perry in making the idea of a softball field come true. “I was just a child then, and on Friday nights your only options were to go to the game or go to the theater. Other than that you stayed home.

“I think that putting this piece of history into a mural is long overdue.”

Artist Dave Gordon – who painted Manteca’s first mural at the corner of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue on the side of the Century Furniture building – has again been commissioned by the Manteca Mural Society to capture a period of Manteca’s history.

The 100-foot-long mural will stand in Library Park and face Yosemite Avenue – paying tribute to the park that stood on that very site from 1935 through the early ‘60s when it was demolished to make way for the Manteca Public Library.

Black-and-white photographs and stories were rehashed Tuesday for Gordon – who took notes and snapped several photographs of his own for reference purposes – with a group that meets regularly to reminisce of days long gone by.

Rocky Wilson humorously joked about having started slow-pitch softball after getting summoned to stand in the circle – actually watching the players from the other team double up in the on-deck circle as they salivated for their next turn at the plate.

The bleachers at the park, some said, would hold upwards of a thousand people, and Friday night games would often fill the bleachers with people who wanted to take in the entertainment in the days before television.

And while the men’s teams were a draw, Corder caught Gordon off guard when she told him that the women’s teams drew plenty of fans on their own, with players like Georgia Poulos, Pat Turk and Pat Beattie playing at a level that could have rivaled many of the men – decades before Title IX would level the collegiate playing field for women and set a tone of sports for females for the future.

In the end, however, it was a chance to appreciate and celebrate sport right in one’s backyard that drew most of the fans of softball.

“During the Depression it was cheap entertainment,” said William “Bill” Perry Jr. “People liked to come out and watch the games at night.”

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