Bluebird Field in Sun Valley was created as a field of dreams, existing only in the netherworld of Hollywood make-believe. MTM Enterprises built it in 1983 as the home of the "Bay City Blues," a fictitious minor league team and a weekly NBC television series bearing the same name. The Blues didn't win very often, but the only statistics that really counted were Nielsen ratings. And they were bad enough to cause the network to drop the series after only eight episodes.
It was when the series was canceled and MTM packed up its cameras that a strange thing happened to Bluebird Field: It came to life. Mission College discovered it. So did Village Christian High and other amateur baseball teams. Suddenly, a field that was supposed to be imaginary began serving a real community--and a community that had a scarcity of athletic facilities.
"There's really nothing else in this end of the Valley," says Carlotta Tronto, athletic director at Mission College.
Indeed, the field itself is hidden within the industrial jungle that dominates much of the northeast Valley. Rising like monuments above the green plywood fence in right field are four towering smokestacks. Massive fuel-storage tanks sit behind center field and bulldozers lurk beyond the wall in left. The field and almost everything else on the horizon are part of the 153-acre Valley Generating Station, which belongs to the Department of Water and Power.
For the past six years, the DWP has let teams use the field at no charge in exchange for them keeping it maintained. The relationship has been mutually beneficial--the teams get a much-needed, first-rate field and the DWP gets its grounds weeded and manicured. But the arrangement has come to an end.
Like the monster that ate Cleveland, the bulldozers will soon devour Bluebird Field. The field, the dugouts and the backstop, along with the fake stands, will be leveled to make way for a new DWP maintenance facility. And the teams are all scrambling to find an alternative.
"I don't know where we'll go," says David Wilson, principal at Village Christian. Tronto has a better idea where Mission is going. "To hell in a hand basket," she says.
Bluebird Field is scheduled to be destroyed July 1, breaking the hearts of young men and--who knows?--nipping the careers of potential Orel Hershisers. But can it be saved? Is anybody trying?
"We wanted to stop the demolition," says Dean Brassfield, manager of the California Baseball Assn. Yankees at Bluebird. "But it's part of a master plan. There's nothing we could have done."
Is this the case of a heartless DWP cutting off the power, throwing tenants out on the street, making a bunch of kids homeless?
"We can't be upset with the DWP," Wilson says. "After all, they let us use it for all these years."
And Tronto says, "They did everything they could to find another site for their construction."
Ted McGillis, assistant chief real estate officer at the DWP, expressed relief that the giant utilities company wasn't being portrayed as a Simon Legree. "It's nice those people would say that about us," he says, explaining further: "We felt the set was deteriorating quickly and probably wasn't going to last much longer. And that land was just essential for what's being built there."
Mission College, which has no campus, much less any athletic facilities, is probably in the biggest quandary. But Village Christian has room to build a field, and the DWP is donating Bluebird's eight sets of lights to the school.
Before it joins the ranks of Ebbets Field and Forbes Field, Bluebird will be immortalized once again on celluloid ("Brewster's Millions" was shot there in 1985.). An independent production company called Bullpen Ltd. is using the field as the set for its baseball film "One Cup of Coffee." The filming, which is under way, has to be completed a day before the bulldozers go to work.
On the set, director Robin Armstrong is finishing a scene in which a fight takes place in the dugout of the "Tri-City Steamers," a team in the Class D League. A makeup artist is applying fake blood to the nose of an actor and other actors are getting their faces sprayed with water to simulate sweat. The story, which takes place in 1959 in a mythical Central California town, is a "human-relationship drama about an over-the-hill ballplayer who isn't prepared for or (doesn't see) the end coming," producer Eric Tynan Young says.
Bluebird Field was perfect as the shabby minor league stadium of a down-and-out team, Young says. "Those smokestacks? We put them up," he jokes. Young did have to make cosmetic changes. He put in a press box, added stands and painted the overhang and backdrop a rust color. He also planted grass around the outside of the diamond and erected phony billboards along the outfield wall.
"The bulldozers are out there waiting for us like vultures," says Young, who had to revise his shooting schedule when the DWP set July 1 as D-Day.
In making Bluebird a field of dreams again, Hollywood worked its usual deceptions. The dimensions of the field are painted on the outfield walls: 323 feet down the lines, 376 to center. But the actual dimensions are much smaller--about 290 feet down the lines, considered too short for junior colleges like Mission. But audiences won't know the difference: The camera will make the distances seem legitimate.
And to make the baseball action authentic, Young hired as technical advisers ex-major league pitcher Geoff Zahn along with Thousand Oaks High assistant coach Chuck Fick and Joey Banks, son of former Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks. Their responsibility, Zahn says, taking a bite of an apple in the dugout, is "to make the actors look like they know what they're doing."
Fick and Banks, both actors, were players on the "Bay City Blues," and Fick remembers the field "being built in a heartbeat--the sod was just laid on top of the ground. But it was a great field for high school teams. It's too bad the schools around here don't have a place to play." But that's reality these days, he adds.
"If a company has a piece of empty land around here," he says ruefully, "they either put condos on it or a commercial building."