Mike Davis has great memories of playing high school baseball at Stengel Field in the mid-1960s.
As a student at Hoover High, he signed up for the baseball team and soon discovered that, in those days, all of the school’s home games were played at Stengel Field in Verdugo Park.
The players had to find their own way from Hoover. Davis frequently rode with one of his teachers, Don Herman.
“I had him for geometry in sophomore year, and he coached baseball, so I had him as coach and teacher,’’ Davis said during an interview at his northwest Glendale home.
The carload of young baseball players would listen as their coach talked about his father, Floyd “Babe” Herman, who had played pro ball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and held several batting records.
Davis said that, like his father, Don Herman had been a very good player and had hoped to make the pros, “but he broke his wrist and that ended his hopes.”
Davis was a sophomore when the first Babe Herman Tournament was held. Hoover was invited to participate, and Davis played for three years, until his 1966 graduation.
But it wasn’t until years later, when he himself was running the tournament, that he learned the whole story behind the long-running event.
In 1963, Fred Zerman, a member of West Glendale Gateway Kiwanis Club and an outstanding baseball player, came up with the idea, Davis recalled.
“Zerman contacted staff at the city’s parks and rec and at Glendale High and said ‘let’s do a tournament,’” he said. “Then Zerman went to Babe’s home and asked if the tournament could be named for him.”
Kiwanis Club members provided the field, the baseballs and other equipment, printed the programs, ordered the trophies and manned the gates. They charged an entrance fee to cover costs and to provide funding for other youth-related projects.
The tournament was scheduled during Easter week, when the schools had the week off.
“It was before the start of baseball season and gave coaches the opportunity to test their players before the season began. It was a double-elimination event,” Davis said, “meaning that each participating school played at least twice. That made it attractive to teams coming from a distance.”
The 16-team tournament attracted teams from across the country. “It was considered a highly competitive tournament,” Davis added.
Davis joined Gateway Kiwanis in the late ’80s and ran the tournament for 10 years.
“The Wednesday before the tournament began, we invited all the coaches and a couple of players from each team to a kick-off luncheon with a speaker, a local sports figure,’’ he said.
Nowadays, with spring breaks all over the calendar, instead of holding it during Easter week, the tournament has been somewhat reduced, Davis said.
“Our club is still involved, but the mechanisms are handled by Crescenta Valley coach Phil Torres, who wanted to keep the tournament running,’’ he said.
“The schools are willing to work with the change. I think it speaks highly of the quality of the tournament,’’ he added.
Thank you to all who sent emails regarding the June 2, 2018, Verdugo Views about the Poston Relocation Camp, which was the birthplace of my husband, Glenn.
From Bob Matsumoto: “Reading about your family’s pre-war background, and their incarceration experiences brought back memories of my family. It’s good you’re keeping the stories of what happened to us Japanese Americans in front of the general public. As a Burbank resident, I was proud of what you accomplished with your meaningful article.”
Matsumoto visited the internment exhibit with his friend, Paul Kitagaki Jr., one of the artists whose work is included in the exhibit.
Victor Picou read the article in the Burbank Leader. “Thank you for sharing your husband’s family history during such a ‘black eye in America, 9066’ [Executive Order 9066]. Have you seen the movie, ‘The Manzanar Fishing Club’?”