No one among my early seventies local history educators ever mentioned town-wide sports in Navarro.
In my generation the Navarro Clams slow pitch softball team evolved from Valley-wide informal sports activities circulating around Boonville. Formal sports activity, for men anyway, has been part of the American high school education system going way back in time. Once men left high school and entered the work force, reading and arithmetic skills might have faded away, but competitive sociability on a ball field for the entertainment of whole families, players and spectators, was a rich way to fill afterwork summer evenings and weekends.
My mother grew up in a farm community on the Eastern End of Long Island. Back there the towns all lay about 2-3 miles from one another, and each village had a team comprising maybe a half generation of local high school heroes. I have photos of her brothers in baseball uniforms back around 1920, posing with their Southold friends in the standard three rows, menacingly wielding bats or gloves, ready to hit the field against Greenport.
Here in Anderson Valley when I arrived, 1971, a town team existed, no uniforms, no formal schedule. In 1972, I was flattered to be invited, along with Tom English and Wayne Ahrens, to travel with the Boonville team to play Cloverdale in the elegant irrigated "City" stadium, even equipped with center field stands and night lights.
I don't remember the complete roster, definitely Charlie Hiatt, Leroy Perry, Gale, Eugene (Yew-gene) and Gary, the Waggoners, an in depth famous high school athletic heroes family, and Boonville's remarkable slow pitch hurler, the Rev. Ron Penrose, pastor of the Church of God. Ron was a slight, lean, pigeon-toed athlete whose skills included complete control of the softball's arc as it rose up to twelve feet and descended in whatever quarter of the plate he chose. Kept those Cloverdale jocks off balance all evening with his craft.
I also don't remember who won the game, except that toward dusk it went into extra innings. I didn't start, was untested bench strength, but did get in to play the last two innings, enough for me. And the end of the evening was a trip to the famous Cloverdale bar, The Lockhorn, I'd heard about even before moving to The Valley. And I also got to ride both ways with Gale, Yew-Gene and Gary (not afraid to ride with the Hippie).
During the next year or two I became aware of formal slow pitch games in Boonville involving various local clusters of friends and relatives, the Hiatts, Summit-Waggoners, Rossi's, etc. If I remember right, they had no formal schedule, just picked up games as the occasion arose, all at the High School ball field, irrigated in spring, gone to adobe after school closed for the summer.
Being a grape grower, around that time I began associating with Deron Edmeades, owner of the winery. He and I worked out in Boonville with the Hiatt team, then began talking about putting together an Edmeades team. It took us a year or more to rustle up enough players to fill a ten man roster.
An episode at one of these practice games back then confirmed my luck for having turned left in Cloverdale and found Anderson Valley as my home. In the early seventies single women were moving into The Valley, teaching in the local school system, perhaps working at the Wards of the Court supported Clearwater Ranch up Indian Creek or at its counterpart, Bachmann Hill.
We ballplayers had heard women were starting to put together a team or two similar to our informal competitive system. One of those neighbors had approached Deron and me about their sports mission and asked whether some of them could join our spring training workouts at the High School.
Deron and I approached Charlie and them about an invitation at our next two-team spring practice. There was a little of the pushback I had expected from some of our gang, not everyone and not aggressively negative. But Deron and I succeeded and an invitation was offered. At the next practice two women, Kyle Clark and Patty Da Faveri, showed up in levis and tee shirts and sporting well-used, very professional looking fielder's gloves.
Practice protocol was to divide whomever showed up into two randomly selected teams, and after an extended batting practice, also of value to fielding skills, we began a game. Kyle and Patty ended up on different teams, and were of course placed in the more harmless positions on the field and toward the end of the batting order, all with patronizing under the breath commentary about these decisions among some of us males.
Somewhere in the middle of the game, there was an epiphanic moment. Patty came to bat, smacked a solid liner to left over the third sacker's head and between the Rover and the left-fielder. Looked carefully placed to me. The left fielder dogged it in a patronizing kind of way retrieving the ball as Patty rounded first at half throttle, took one look at the fielder's casualness and took off like a rocket for second, arrived standing up and dusted herself off (speed created dust clouds on the unirrigated infield).
I forget who the next batter was. But he slashed a sharp liner to about the same hole Patty had attacked, but a little deeper into the outfield. Patty was off from second in a flash, eyes studying the placement of the third baseman in prep for rounding the corner. Her swing wide was perfect so she could touch the base, then without losing momentum, look back to see how the fielder was playing the hit.
From the sidelines you could tell by her legwork how she read the play, two pistons jammed into overdrive, strides timed perfectly for her feet first slide across the middle of the plate just before the ball arrived from left field. Exquisite an execution as Dom Dimaggio. Dead silence along the sidelines.
But for the rest of the game the atmosphere was wildly supportive of Patty and Kyle and their contribution to the practice. They had become one of the boys, and I went home feeling really good about living in a community that understood and supported women ballplayers' value to us all.
Finally, around the 1974 season the Clams recruited enough personnel to field a team and joined what was the Anderson Valley Summer Softball League. The League included the Charlie Hiatt Team, the Rossi team, Summit/Waggoner, Pardinis, and the Bruce/Ken Anderson team. Later on the Elk and the Indian Creek teams joined the League.
As I mentioned games were played at the High School baseball field. We provided the base bags, the taxpayers home plate, no pitcher's rubber, and we limed batter's boxes and left- and right field foul lines ourselves. I don't remember the exact schedule arrangement, but there were time for two seven inning games on Wednesday evenings, two each on Saturdays and Sundays.
I also can't say I remember the complete rosters of any of the teams, including mine, but a long list of characters on each of them are firmly embedded in my recollections warehouse.
Charlie's team featured himself, a large, slightly round, thus thoughtful, reliable ballplayer, tactical and strategic on both offense and defense, could hit to all fields and played aggressively wide first base enabling the rest of the infield to overshift to the third base side. Another mature anchor for the Hiatt team was the stocky, more round, patrician local mill owner's son, Charlie Perkins. Always polite and soft-spoken to friend and foe alike on the field. Not a dramatic hitter and fielder, but always in the right position to play quietly and efficiently on offense and defense.
Local Sheriff Deputy Keith Squires "hurled" and was great on slow pitch placement, generally keeping the batter off balance. Keith was also one of the two best volunteer umpires in the League, a thankless job requiring good judgment and patience with easily offended aging males. Jim Doggett was the other good Ump.
The Pardinis featured Ernie and Tony at short and second, and among others the second oldest player in the League, Angelo Pronsolino, age 59, another timely hitter and fielder using his brain to compensate for his body's venerability. Unhappily I can see the end of Angelo's season early one year when he slid gracefully feet first into second base but a little too close to the bag. Broke his ankle.
The oldest player in the League, was Harold Perry, 65. I can't remember whom he played for, maybe Rossi, but I do remember his particular grace on the mound, studying reflectively each batter, then lofting these beautiful arcs so tempting that we always swung, much to our regret, at them even when they were obvious balls. Harold's batting average was memorable too. Even swinging from his toes, he could place the ball carefully to any available hole in either infield or outfield
The Indian Creek team, sponsored and "managed" by Bob Brendlen, now that was a real Hippie outfit, not one short hair on the roster. I do remember some Brendlen kids, Mike and Pat, Paul and Mark Stover, Clearwater Graduates, and local Valley old-timer and longhair, Ron Sanders, for instance but no one else. They lasted two seasons, good spirit, fun to be with on the sidelines, but not much talent. Such was the sporting culture though among the rest of us, we would go as easy as we could in these games, and put in the bench for the second half of the game, though I don't remember Indian Creek ever winning.
The Andersons team was mostly Andersons of all shapes, sizes and ages, big ones like Ken and Bruce, little ones like Zach and Rob, and I believe a number of Wards of the Court Bruce was raising under contract. Bruce, of course, designated himself Manager.
Elk was another story. Same problem as Indian Creek, small community, and even though they recruited rigorously, their performance was usually radically uneven. Lots of Matsons on the roster, three I think, and Walt was a killer. Graceful fielder, but more important devastation with a bat. Walt could hit deep and in between to all three fields. He was only one of the two people who hit a ball over the left field fence at the Fairgrounds stadium. The only time I ever hurt myself in right field was chasing a high fly to right center I thought I could snag in front of the rodeo chutes. Instead I badly misgauged, leapt for the ball, and hit the wooden fence there going up, as the ball sailed ten feet over me and into the alleyway behind the chutes.
Despite their hitting power Elk suffered from a miserable pitching staff. Terry Scott was a short-haired, bell-bottomed not very graceful Hippie who couldn't manage an pitch arc of more than three feet above horizontal, generally right over the middle of the plate, easy for most of us to murder. Jimmy Sansi, Navarro Ridge rancher, was a better sheep farmer than a ballplayer. Elk did win a few games though during the seasons. Just enough to compensate for the long drive from the coast to Boonville.
Wealthy Elk rancher and innkeeper Bobby Beacon was the team's sponsor and mascot. It was always an entertaining moment in the day when he drove his yellow Lamborghini sportscar, probably the only one north of San Francisco onto the ballfield and strode across the grass to the stands in his Nashville cowboy funk and flash.
Summit/Waggoner I remember as being virtually a complete roster of accomplished high school jocks, all graceful, smart, not necessarily overwhelmingly powerful in the box or on the field, but all lovely to watch individually or as a team executing a double play, six to five to three. And they were the only team in the League to have formal uniforms, caps and matching shoes.
Yew-gene, shortstop and disciplined power hitter, no swinging for the fences like Walt Matson or Leroy Perry, but always finding the holes between the fielders with line drives that would roll for miles while he shot around the bases was the sun whose athletic gravity influenced the orbit of the rest of the team. Again beautiful to watch.
The Edmeades (now Deadmeades) team was a broad spectrum of talent splice-together. Benton Kelly (Doo-Dah), caught steady as a rock protecting the plate, hit for average to all fields. Tom English was his back-up. Nick Alexander, son of Ben, local realtor, played a smart left-handed first. Al Green, Greenwood Ridge grape grower, was a reliable, no flash left fielder. His range wasn't great, but he knew how to defense in the right place most opposing hitters. Deron, I think, played a steady, intelligent key position as the Rover, or tenth man in short left. He too knew good positioning for each batter.
Down the other end of the roster was "Tiny" Tim Alexander, local school teacher at second. Deron figured this was the safest place to put Tim of weak arm, limited range, and unpredictable fielding skill. The physically more robust but not naturally athletic on a ball field Steve Wood was Edmeades only pitcher. Steve's use of his nominal baseball skills and experience was in fact heroic.
He had the touch slow pitch success requires for getting both loft and position around the plate on virtually every pitch. And the skill to protect his head defensively from the occasional decapitating line drive coming off the hitters' bat. Once I remember him throwing up his glove to protect himself from one of these. As the open glove passed his ear, so did he ball, which embedded itself where it belonged, not Steve's plan. I can still see the look of delight on Steve's face, as he looked also surprised at it, remembered something important, and tossed the ball softly to Nick at first base to double off the runner.
The Iteville Clams roster was the work principally of Buzz Barrett, a new arrival in Navarro we will hear more about later and of your reporter (TE). In order to field a full team we had to recruit from outside the limits of Greater Navarro and in fact ended up with a squad representing the whole valley from Boonville to Rancho Navarro subdivision.
Behind the plate we alternated Benton ("Doo-dah") Kelly or Tom "Red Dog" English, both stolid Gibraltars defending home from sliding baserunners. Our only pitcher was Buzz's best friend from many years of roaming California before settling in Navarro, Tom Harkleroad, one of the most amoral individuals I have ever met (another chapter indeed). Tom was tall, gangly, bony-faced, long-armed with enormous control over his pitch loftings.
First base was a piece of bodywork, Franco McEwan of the Indian Creek McEwans. Another gangly stork-shaped Longhair, his bouffant stringy blond, shoulder-length but in a pony tail secured with a rubber band. Franco's pigeon toes often collided with one another as he moved, but his brain was brilliantly anticipatory about his position against batters, or in pursuit of a foul ball in front or behind him, no matter how much dope he smoked.
Second base was Buzz himself, steady, reliable in all phases of the game. Shortstop was an interesting and very athletic Ron the Cop, Black, literally a young retired San Fran policeman, son of a San Fran policeman, husband of a policewoman, Sue, living in Rancho Navarro and growing a little dope to supplement his pension. Ron was the second best pure athlete on the team.
Third base was the always steady fielder and hitter, Dave Shoemaker. Watching Dave taunt batters by playing very wide of third base, luring them to drive one down the line he could leap to his right to snare was a thrill, especially as his tactic teamed well with smart and mobile left fielder Mark Triplett. Mark also possessed a good anticipatory brain about batter behavior and positioned himself in the field accordingly to lure aggressive hitting activity, which fit well with Shoemaker's game.
The most athletic member of the Clams was the tenth man, Rover, Ricky Lee. Ricky Lee Johnson was the only team member of Cajun ancestry, medium build, skinny, graceful as a ballet dancer chasing a pop-up on the field or running for an extra base. He was the star around which the rest of us orbited in our very accomplished style of competitive teamwork. And his stellar performance inning after inning was also completely reliable, no matter what support drug he was using.
On the other end of the performance spectrum was center fielder Whacky Wayne, Donna Ronne's houseboy. Wayne had almost the offensive and defensive grace of Ricky Lee, but acted it out in very entertaining ways. For example, I can see someone, possibly Yew-Gene, hammering a string line drive into short center, see Wayne striding gracefully toward the ball coming straight at him, lining it up on his glove side, making the stab on the short hop, switching the ball to his bare hand, and making what he hoped to be a two hop throw to the catcher.
Only problem was he hadn't actually fielded the ball. It was skipping, then rolling toward the center field fence, where the prudent Mark Triplett, having drifted over to back up Wayne in anticipation of calamity, gloved the ball, whirled and rifled it to Ricky Lee, who sent it home to hold Yew-Gene to a triple.
The rest of the roster, a bench reflecting the broad spectrum of skills the Clams supported included Dennis Touhy, the aforementioned Stover Boys and Paul F. Crosby, jr., a mild-mannered glasses-wearing Bachmann Hill employee one imagined as more comfortable in a classroom than on the ballfield.
Where did the name Clams come from? Navarro's location is pretty far from the Pacific. Anderson Valley democracy at work. Tom English remembers that at a pre-practice gathering in front of Floodgate Store, we met formally, beers in hand, to discuss the matter. Wayne had prepared himself for the meeting with the challenging name "Weasels," for which he had sketched in black a snarling varmint icon on the back of a white tee-shirt. Apparently the majority were afraid of the name, for the debate began. In frustration Wayne threw out the contextless name "Clams," and everyone loved it. I still have on my shelf here at home my red and white Clams hat and tee shirt, along with my glove, just in case we start a Valley geriatric's league one of these days.
At that meeting I was elected team player-manager, which I kind of looked forward to as an exercise in complex motivational psychoanalysis of friends and neighbors, kind of like playing poker in Navarro. I don't remember any real friction or conflict over my decisions about roster batting order, starting fielder assignments, etc. over my managerial regime. Except once, late in a tight game against Hiatt.
I was coaching first base, noticed Harkleroad was having trouble managing one of Hiatt's better hitters, didn't want Tom to walk him. I called time-out, started to walk to the mound to do some counsel. Harkleroad got an angry gleam in his eyes, started striding aggressively toward me as if we were going to duke it out on the infield grass. I grabbed his gloved arm, the other around his waist, walked him back to the mound while calmly proposing tactics to avoid a second walk that inning. Thankfully Tom coaxed the batter into a pop-up behind second base to end the inning.
The game I just described symbolized the competitive culture of the AV Softball League. To most of us winning was important, but not absolutely necessary. Most important was an enjoyable afternoon playing, then watching friends from other teams play, while gossiping amongst ourselves sitting on the grass or in the fairgrounds stands.
The one exception to this doctrine, however, each of the other teams HAD to beat Hiatt Logging. You'll have to get the local sociologists to explain that one. What I remember is that the League was fairly well balanced in the Won and Lost columns, though Hiatt usually had the best season record. But when each of us drew Hiatt, we all, the Clams in particular, prepared for all-out Hippies versus Loggers war, no partying the night before, long pre-game practices, reviewing the opponent's batting order player by player with the pitcher, etc.
I remember one Saturday Clam- Hiatt game where we did it, beat The Loggers in a closely fought seven innings. Charlie was so disappointed at having lost to the Navarro Hippies that he went to the Lodge, drank a bunch of beers, totaled his brand new white three quarter ton pick up on the first big switchback up Mountain View Road. That news arriving in our camp on Sunday doubled the satisfaction of beating the Boonville loggers.
The League celebrated one successful season by throwing a weekend-long invitational double elimination tournament after the regular schedule ended. Somehow I got named "Commissioner," in charge of invitations, housing the visiting teams, game-scheduling, umpire designation, and liming the batter's box and field before each game.
In order to field an even eight we invited three teams from outside the valley to field. Two teams from Santa Rosa, one elegantly named the Downtown Brown's Bombers, and one from Honeydew, Mattole River up Humboldt County. This team was led by a local long-haired logger from a first settler family, Leland Lewis and fielded an array of loggers and Hippies more exotic than the Clams. Even had a cousin, Tony Lewis, who had migrated to The City and was a humble bank teller somewhere in the Bay Area.
I got to know Leland because Randy Falk recommended I hire him to do the logging on my ranch in the Spring of 1979. Leland brought down his whole crew, to wit, him and Tony on summer vacation from banking. He did all the falling, skidroad building, log skidding and loading. Tony set chokers behind Leland's cable blade D 6 Cat. Leland's housing accommodations for the job were his pick-up truck under the old outlaw Doug fir where my house now stands and next to his campfire and sleeping bag. I did cook Leland a few meals at my temporary quarters mobile home adjacent to his room.
I can still picture Leland skidding a pair of logs gently upslope to the landing, kindly avoiding hitting any young trees along the skid road, with a six pack of Budweiser carefully balanced on the right fender of the Cat. It was a hot June that year. Leland's work yielded me 165 thousand board feet of logs delivered to Philo Lumber and enough money to build my two bedroom home the next year. Forty years later professional foresters still marvel at the placement of Leland's sked roads and landings, all dedicated to minimal post-logging erosion. And my post-logging dump run must have hauled a hundred beer cans to the dump.
The Anderson Valley Invitation Slowpitch Softball Tourney was a resounding success. Downtown Brown's Bombers won it, to some extent because Downtown had surreptitiously stocked it with some Guanella Brothers fast pitch "professionals." I do remember the Clams made it to the Sunday finals via the double elimination Loser Bracket, having been beaten by Hiatt in the second round. And the Santa Rosa team tore us apart in the Sunday afternoon final playoff.
What I have stored in my Anderson Valley memory bank and love to storytell is an encounter with Keith Squires the previous evening. In my Commissioner role I was frantically rounding up umpires for the three remaining Sunday games, first @ 8:30 AM. I couldn't land anyone good at the job for the early game. All candidates wanted to party Saturday night and also get a good night's sleep. Then I saw Keith across the Fair Grounds Field.
When I solicited him for that first game job, his reply was simply, "Who's playing?" I told him the Clams and whoever. Keith looked me in the eye and chanted, "No problem, no game, the Clams are all gonna get busted tonight." And walked away.
Interesting problem for the Clams Manager. I knew at least half the team had small patches of marijuana here and there around the Valley. One member was pirating water from Jack Clow's home to a sheltered willows grove on the River across from Hendy Woods. Is Keith bluffing me or was he providing a warning sign. The DA's office had done some Saturday night raids over the previous years.
I didn't sleep well that night, wrestling with the dilemma. If I did call to warn the grower faction, they wouldn't show up to play Sunday. On the other hand if I didn't call them and they did get busted, it would be my fault. This is the moral as well as the personnel management side of baseball team leadership responsibility.
Well, I didn't make any phone calls that night, the DA stayed home back in Ukiah, and the Clams won the 8:30 AM game despite no warm-up practice. Half the team stayed home til the last minute that morning guarding their crops.
(Next week: Buzz and Barbara, the Old Ladies and the Store, Buzzy as "Mayor.")