GLENDALE — Ralph Tapia had plenty on his to-do list once he entered venerable Stengel Field prior to Glendale High and St. Francis meeting in a Connie Mack Summer League contest Thursday night.
Tapia walked around part of the field to check on its condition, met with some spectators in the stands and then threw out the ceremonial first pitch. It left Tapia with a lump in his throat. For him, the size of a baseball.
“I’ve been coming here a lot over the last 50-plus years,” said Tapia, a Glendale resident and president of the La Crescenta Valley Babe Ruth League. “Every time I come here, I’m walking on hallowed ground.
“It’s a definite privilege to come here decade after decade and see players and coaches enjoy the game of baseball so much. I played here at one time and my son has played here. It’s hard for me to talk about this place without having any kind of emotion.”
The 65-year-old venue, named after legendary Major League Baseball Hall of Fame player and manager and former Glendale resident Casey Stengel, could have hosted its last game as currently constructed Thursday.
Players and coaches were aware that the venue’s seating structure, clubhouse, restrooms and snack stand might be demolished sometime soon. While the playing field will remain in tact, many wondered about the field’s future.
Among them was Glendale High baseball Coach Alan Eberhart.
“I played my first game here at 13 for Glendale Babe Ruth,” said Eberhart, who attended Glendale High and Glendale Community College. “The West team was made up of Hoover kids and the East team consisted of Glendale players.
“The one thing you can never lose sight of is it’s a highlight to be a part of a game here. It’s the closest thing the community has to a big league field. You want this to be a place for everybody to be proud of. Let's make it a mecca and have it be like a minor league field with good seating and a press box. It’s an incredible place and it will always have significance to those in the community.”
Gerry Sill, who owned Gerry’s Orange-O restaurant for 41 years, attended Thursday’s game. Sill, whose establishment was just a short commute from Stengel Field, said he has many memories of the field.
One of them included seeing Stengel in attendance once.
“He came in here and started to talk to somebody for a period of time,” said Sill, a Glendale resident for about 50 years. “I never played a game here, but I once coached a Little League game.
“The Little League ceremonies they had here were amazing. You had thousands of people lined up outside waiting to come in. It was a huge gathering. I’m a big sports fan and love baseball. I hope they are able to rebuild it because it means a lot to the area.”
Chris Casey has had the luxury of playing and coaching baseball at Stengel for more than 40 years. He was a player and coach at Crescenta Valley High and is now an assistant at Glendale college.
Casey, who served as an assistant under Eberhart, said Stengel Field offered plenty of scenery.
“This was such a great place to play,” Casey said. “The chain-linked outfield fence was covered with ivy and the dugouts were built into the ground.
“There was a tunnel that went from the clubhouse to the [third-base] dugout. There’s just so many memories of this place, but it would be nice to have some new ones. It would be great to have new clubhouses. You dream about winning the lottery and being happy to donate some money to have it rebuilt.”
Glendale infielder Thaddeus Wilson said he’s played about 50 games at Stengel and appreciates the stadium’s history.
“You’ve had a lot of great players come through here over the years,” Wilson said. “The place will always be big in the community.
“It’s an honor to play baseball here because you always feel the history. Hopefully, when they update the field, you’ll have even more people showing up.”