Thomas Calabrese …. The crack of the bat as it made contact, the pop of the baseball as it hit the cowhide glove, the roar of the crowd and then the collective hush of suspense as the batter stepped up to the plate in the ninth inning of a tie game. Freshly cut grass on a sunny summer day, grilled hot dogs, popcorn and peanuts. These were just a few of the sounds and scents of Bonsall Barons Double A minor league baseball.
Double A baseball is only a stopover, for some it is just one of the stepping stone to greatness, but to others, it is the slippery slope on the way to oblivion. Major leaguers facing the harsh reality of their diminishing ability arrived in the small community of Bonsall, California, trying their best to hide their disappointment and telling anyone who would listen, that they were going back to the “Big Show” in a matter of days.
Wide eyed boys with more potential than skills, some barely out of high school were happy to be anywhere where that they could play the game they loved. They were too naïve to accept the reality that only a select few would ever make it the big leagues and too stubborn to give up their dream. Some wasted years taking long bus rides to other small towns to play in front of half- interested local residents who often came to games because there was no other entertainment in their communities.
Daniel ‘Dad’ Farnsworth was a young player with enormous potential; some even said he was better than his high school teammate, Ted Williams when they attended Herbert Hoover High in San Diego. They both played for the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League until Ted signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1937 and Dan went to the St. Louis Cardinal in 1938. Both men interrupted their baseball career to serve in the Marine Corps during World War II.
Ted was a pilot with the Marine Corps air wing and Dan served in the infantry during the South Pacific campaign. Dan was wounded twice and escaped capture from Japanese forces on Tarawa. After the war Dan returned to professional baseball, but he was not the same elite player. He recovered physically from the toll of combat, but the graphic memories of war haunted him for the rest of his life and just like Audie Murphy, he always slept with a loaded forty five under his pillow. Dan found temporary solace in the bottle and soon became a functioning alcoholic who could still play while being partially drunk and if he wasn’t so talented in the beginning of his career, he would have never been able stick around so long being an average one. He played fifteen seasons for five different teams, all with losing records and when he retired, he bounced around the league for several more as a first and third base coach. Dan got the nickname ‘Dad’ because he was a good listener and always seemed to have the right advice when someone was in trouble, much like a father speaking to his confused son.
When the Brooklyn Dodgers were approved by the league to re-locate to California in 1957, Dan was working as a third base coach for the team in Flatbush, New York. He was summoned by Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers to the team offices at Ebbets Field.
“I would like to offer you the Double A minor league team in Bonsall, California when we make our move.”
“Thank you, sir,” Dan said, “Why me?”
“A couple of reasons; you’re from the San Diego area and I like the way you work with the younger players. Not just with their fielding and hitting, but about the pitfalls and problems that can happen off the field.”
“No big deal, most of them are good kids, so I just listen and give them my opinions, the rest is up to them,” Dan replied.
“I’m not really doing you a big favor, so don’t thank me just yet. The Bonsall Barons facilities aren’t much and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to make it a profitable and successful team again. This is just an opportunity, what you do with it depends on you.”
“What do you expect from me in return?” Dan questioned.
“I’d like first crack at any good talent that you come across,” Walter O’Malley said, “Moving across the country is going to be tough enough so I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
Dan pondered his decision for a few seconds, “I’ll do my best… maybe it is time I go home.”
Dan Farnsworth had been a man in turmoil with self -destructive tendencies for many years and he wasn’t sure if it was gone forever or just a temporary reprieve when his emotional burden suddenly vanished once he set foot back on California soil. Maybe it was the pastoral setting of the Bonsall area with its horse pastures, avocado groves and tranquil pace, he would just have to wait and see.
When Dan saw the dilapidated ballfield, he knew what Walter O’Malley meant when he said ‘not much.’ He also knew that he was severely under-qualified running a team, he had always been a player or a coach, but never worked in the day to day operations of the front office. Rather than disappoint Walter O’Malley, he approached Gus Prosky a former high school classmate who was now a successful businessman in Southern California and living in La Jolla for his assistance.
“This is a great opportunity, the Dodgers will be in Los Angeles and we can build this minor league club from the ground up,” Dan said with great enthusiasm, “You handle the business part and I’ll manage the club and I’ll give you twenty five per cent.”
“I can definitely see the upside, but I’ll need a higher percentage if I’m going to invest my money in this venture and take the risks.”
“How much higher?” Dan asked.
“Fifty per cent.”
Dan didn’t like the sound of the Gus’s offer, “That’s a lot.”
“Are you in this for the money or because you love the game of baseball?” Gus asked.
Gus Prosky used cheap labor and materials from Mexico to rebuild the stadium and re-sod the field and began marketing the Barons like his other projects, by cutting corners at every opportunity and over hyping the product. It only took until the beginning of second season for Dan to realize the error of his ways by entering into this partnership with Prosky. They had totally different philosophies on baseball and life in general.
He stayed awake most of night, wondering what he was going to do so he looked up to the heaven with an impromptu prayer, “God, I really messed up this time…I deserve whatever punishment you decide to give me, but there’s a lot of good kids who should get a fair break.”
Next morning at the ballfield in Bonsall, Gus was sitting in the bleachers when Dan angrily approached him, “You’re selling players before they’re ready. I start working with a guy and the next thing I know he’s gone. You’re ruining their careers by pushing them too fast.”
“To you this is a sport, but to me it’s a business. If somebody offers me a good price for one of our players, I’m going to take it,” Gus retorted.
“I gave my word to Walter O’Malley that the Dodgers would get first shot at the good ones.”
“You shouldn’t have made a promise that you couldn’t keep,” Gus said sarcastically.
Two evenings later, Gus answered the front door at his beachside home to find an elderly gentleman standing there, “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking to buy a minor league team and I’m interested in the Bonsall Barons,” Floyd Taylor replied without hesitation.
“What makes you think they are for sale?”
“I have my sources. Let’s get down to the point because I’m not getting any younger. I know how much you have invested and I’ll give you five times that amount.”
“Why would you pay that much?” Gus was extremely suspicious.
“Because I like baseball,” Floyd responded, “I won’t explain myself beyond that.
“When do I have to give you my answer? Gus said.
“Soon,” Floyd handed his business card to Gus, “Feel free to check my credentials… I’ll be in touch”
As soon as the sun came up, Gus made several calls to inquire about Floyd Taylor, but all anybody could tell him was that he was a multi- millionaire with far reaching interests and a unique way of doing business.
The Barons were having practice when Gus arrived at the field. Dan was standing behind the batting cage and giving instructions to a player, “Keep your weight back on your rear leg and don’t lunge, stride through.”
The player listened and on the very next pitch, he hit a scorching line drive to center field then turned around and smiled at Dan.
“Can I talk to you?” Gus called out.
Dan walked over, “What’s up?”
“I want to buy you out.”
“Not selling,” Dan quickly answered and turned away.
“You haven’t heard my offer…twenty five thousand dollars.”
“I know that you don’t care about the team or the players so you must have found a way to make a significant profit if you’re willing to offer me that kind of money,” Dan guessed.
“This team is going nowhere, take the money and move on,” Gus advised.
“You sound desperate so it must be a hell of a deal,” Dan smiled.
“I can ruin this team! I’ll get rid of every player that worth a damn…the only thing you’ll have left is a bunch of scrubs who couldn’t make a little league team!” Gus threatened.
“I always say that the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing,” Dan said, “the answer is still no, so do what you want and we’ll both go down in flames.”
The two men stared at each other with contempt for several seconds before Dan spoke, “I don’t need this kind of aggravation. I was a much happier man before I met you and that’s not saying much.”
“Happiness is over-rated,” Gus snapped back.
“If that’s the way you feel, you are one sorry S.O.B,” Dan shook his head in disgust, “How about this; are you a gambling man?”
“I’ve been known to place a small bet at the track or in Vegas, why?”
“Don’t be modest, you’re a high roller. How about a bet? We’re twenty games into the season, that leaves one hundred twenty to go and the Barons are already ten games behind.”
“I know how to do math…what’s your point and what’s the bet?”
“If we win the championship, you walk away and if we don’t, then I’ll walk away. All or nothing, put up or shut up, you got the guts?”
“I’m offering you a sure twenty-five thousand, but you’d rather bet on a thousand to one longshot,” Gus was in disbelief, “No wonder that you ended up a broken down old ballplayer.”
“Watch your step Gus, you keep flapping your lips and you’ll end up slobbering your insults over the front of your finely tailored shirt when I bust your jaw in several places.”
Gus swallowed hard because he knew that Dan was not bluffing, “I’ll draw the papers up,” and left.
When Gus Prosky got back to his office, Floyd Taylor was waiting for him, “Did we have an appointment?”
“Having any trouble with Dad Farnsworth?” Floyd asked.
“I don’t know what you mean?” Gus feigned ignorance.
“It would be a serious error on your part to underestimate me. I make it a point to learn everything about my potential purchases,”
“I can handle him,” Gus promised.
“My offer won’t change so you might as well tell me what your plan is,” Floyd encouraged.
“Farnsworth thinks he can win the championship and when he doesn’t, he’ll have to turn everything over to me.”
“Interesting, what happens if he does win, where does that leave you?” Floyd Taylor asked.
“That won’t happen, don’t worry about that,” Gus said with great confidence.
“I get it; it means that if he wins then you’re out, right?”
“I won’t let that happen,” Gus reiterated.
“Play it straight,” Floyd warned.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Gus was puzzled.
“If you think that you’re going to steal this team, then sell it to me at a profit then you’re crazy,” Floyd got up from his chair and pointed to his eyes “I’ll be watching you,” then made a slashing gesture across his throat,” Remember what I said, “Play it straight.”
Gus felt an icy run shiver down his spine and knew he did not want to get on the wrong side of this man.
Dan and his batting coach and close friend Barney Weaver were sitting in the dugout and watching the team practice when Barney commented, “This team has trouble winning a game, let alone a championship.”
“I know, but I couldn’t just rollover and play dead. Prosky is a snake and anything I can do to make things more difficult for him, I’m going to do.”
“And since we’ll both be out of work by the end of the season, we might as well enjoy what time we have left,” Barney suggested with a toothy smile.”
Both men burst out in laughter.
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I’m wondering if I could try for the Barons?” A young boy about eighteen years old with sandy blonde hair and blue eyes was standing at the entrance to the dugout.
“Sure why not? Dan said, “Let’s see what you have.”
The young man got into the right batter’s box and carefully lined up his cleats, equal distance from home plate and took a couple practice swings. The pitcher let go with a medium speed fastball and the ball exploded off the bat and was over the right field fence in less than a second. Next pitch, the ball sailed over the center field fence, then the left field fence, three more swings and three more homeruns. If that wasn’t amazing enough, the young man switched to the other side of the plate and repeated the awesome display of hitting as a left handed batter. After twenty swings, Dan called the young man over, “Where did you learn to hit like that?”
“My father taught me,” The young man replied.
“Good teacher, what position do you play?”
“When I’m not pitching, I’m usually like to be in centerfield…but I can play anywhere that you want me to”
“You pitch too?” Barney was amazed.
“Let’s go with the top of the order,” Dan gestured.
The first batter strolled to the plate as the young man stood on the mound, “Do you need any warm-up pitches?” Dan asked.
“No thank you, sir, I’m fine.”
The young man went into his wind-up and let go with a hundred mile an hour fastball and before the batter could even react, the ball was passed him. Everybody was dumbstruck and when the young man threw his second pitch, it was even faster and the ball was in the catcher’s glove before the batter could swing. On the third pitch the batter swung without even seeing the ball, just before he wanted to make some effort, no matter how feeble it was. He struck out the next batter with three wicked curveballs and the third slugger with fluttering knuckleballs.
“That’s enough!” Dan called out.
“Do I make the team, sir?” The young man politely asked.
“I’ll be honest with you, son, you’re way passed Double A ball. You could make any major league team right now”
“I just don’t feel that I am emotionally mature enough just yet,” The young man admitted, “I’d liked to learn from you, sir.”
“What else can I say except, welcome to the Barons,” Dan said then added, “What’s your name?”
“Hobbs, Wyatt Hobbs,”
Dan thought to himself about something that happened years earlier then dismissed the possibility as being too implausible. Wyatt Hobbs joined the Barons and was in the lineup the very next day and from that point forward, he pitched every other day and had an ERA (earned run average) of 0.87. On the days he wasn’t pitching, he played centerfield and his defensive capabilities were equally amazing. Wyatt Hobbs covered ground like Seabiscuit galloping down the backstretch and unless the ball was hit far out of the park, nothing hit to centerfield escaped his grasp. He led the league in pitching, runs batted in, batting average and home runs.
Losing is infectious and winning is contagious and whatever Wyatt Hobbs brought to the Barons’ baseball team elevated the play of everyone on the team. He played with the rare combination of boyish enthusiasm and journeyman’s intensity and was such an amiable young man that it was impossible to be jealous of his success. The locker room was filled with lighthearted joviality and the players could not wait to get to the ballpark and compete. They were loose and confident and before anyone knew it, the Barons were on a twenty three game winning streak. They made up the ten games that were behind and for the rest of the season; they fought the Del Mar Diamonds, the elite team of the league for first place.
Every game was sold out and people drove for hundreds of miles to see Wyatt Hobbs and the battling Barons. After an eleven to one victory against the Imperial Beach Mariners, Dan called Wyatt into his office, “I still don’t understand why you don’t want to go to the ‘Big Show’. Any team would take you right now.”
“We’re competing for the championship, why you would want me to leave?” Wyatt asked.
“Don’t get me wrong, Wyatt, I love having you around. I’ve never been on a winning streak like this since I’ve been in baseball, but being a minor league manager is doing what’s best for my players, not what’s best for me. I’m supposed to be more concerned about your career than my own.”
Wyatt flashed a big boyish smile, “I know that, but if it’s all the same, I’d like to finish the season with the Barons.”
“If you are absolutely sure?”
“I am, sir.”
Then let’s go win this thing!” Dan smiled.
As fate would have it, the Bonsall Barons and the Del Mar Diamonds were tied at the end of the season so it was determined that there would be a one game playoff. The publicity surrounding the game was off the charts. It was the main topic of conversation throughout San Diego County and thousands of people were clamoring for tickets so it was decided to move the game to the Del Mar racetrack which had many more seats than either the Barons or Diamonds regular stadiums.
Construction crews worked around the clock turning the inside of the track into a ballfield. Gus Prosky was not one to miss an opportunity so he had a big neon sign with the lettering, Prosky’s Used Cars posted fifty feet high and directly behind the centerfield fence.
Because of Wyatt Hobbs batting prowess, the owners of the Del Mar Diamonds demanded that the outfield fences be moved back fifty feet. The dimensions of the field were 390 feet down the right and left field lines and four hundred eighty five feet to straight away center.
When Gus and Barney saw the dimensions of the field, they were amazed at the cavernous depths. “I ain’t never seen a ballfield this big!” Barney said.
“Wyatt has got his work cut out for him today,” Gus commented.
The racetrack was filled to capacity and the atmosphere was crackling with energy. As the players left the jockey’s locker room for the field, Gus was waiting for Wyatt, “Hey Hobbs, over here.”
Wyatt walked over, “Yes sir.”
Gus pulled out an envelope with twenty five thousand dollars in hundred dollars bills and showed it to the young player, “This is all yours if you make this the worst game of your season.”
Wyatt looked with disdain at the large amount of money, “No thank you sir, I plan to hit away.” and walked off.
Standing nearby was Floyd Taylor who shook his head in disgust, “I warned you to play it straight, but you just couldn’t help yourself, now I’m going to take pleasure in ruining you.”
Wyatt Hobbs and Jim McClain were involved in a pitcher’s duel and it was scoreless going into the top of the sixth inning. The leadoff hitter of the Diamonds laid down a perfect bunt and barely beat the throw to first base. Wyatt threw a wicked fastball that the catcher couldn’t handle on the third strike and the batter reached first based on the passed ball while the runner took second. The next batter hit a lazy flyball to right field that should have been an easy out, but the fielder dropped it and the runner raced home. Wyatt struck out the next two hitters. In the bottom of the inning when he came up to bat, Wyatt sent a high fastball over the centerfield fence that crashed through the Prosky sign, showering sparks and glass over the parking lot.
Going into the ninth inning, the score was Del Mar Diamonds, one and the Bonsall Barons, one. Once again Wyatt came up to the plate, batting left-handed and hit an outside pitch down the third base line, “Foul ball!” called the umpire.”
The next pitch was inside and Wyatt sent a towering fly ball to right field that just hooked foul. The count was now 0 and 2 and Dan called out from the dugout, “Time!” and walked out to Wyatt and whispered in his ear then went back to the dugout. Wyatt pointed his bat at the centerfield bleacher, as if to call his shot and the crowd roared its approval.
Jim McClain took this as a personal insult and let his ego get the best of him and decided to go for the strikeout instead of playing it safe. The runner on third base sprinted toward home as soon as he went into his wind-up and McClain was so flustered that he let go with a half speed pitch that went right over the heart of the plate. Wyatt waited until the last split second before squaring up to bunt then put the ball two inches inside the first base foul line about ten feet from home plate. The catcher reacted instantaneously and leaped at the ball like a cat pouncing on a mouse, then dived back with a fully outstretched arm to tag the runner, but missed him by a millisecond and a fraction of an inch. It was a textbook perfect suicide squeeze play with some theatrics thrown in for good measure. Barons win! Barons win the championship!
When Dan rushed out onto the field to celebrate, he caught a glimpse of Walter O’Malley and Floyd Taylor together in the grandstands. He then saw Wyatt walk over and embrace a middle aged man and when he got close enough, Dan exclaimed, “Roy “The Natural’ Hobbs!”
“How are you, Dad? I haven’t seen you since we played together with the Knights,” Roy said, then added with a sly grin, “but I’ve been following your career.”
“Wyatt Hobbs is your son! I should have known! I didn’t think I’d ever see a better player than you,” Dan blurted out, “The apple doesn’t fall far from your family tree, that’s for sure.”
Floyd Taylor tapped Dan on the shoulder, “You served with my son in the South Pacific and saved his life on Red Beach 2 on the island of Tarawa. I was just waiting for the right opportunity to express my gratitude when I heard that you might be looking for a partner…one that won’t interfere with your management style.”
Dan ‘Dad’ Farnsworth and Floyd Taylor were a perfect combination of baseball and business. They won ten more minor league titles and made the Barons the most successful minor league team in the country. They retired and returned the team to the Los Angeles Dodgers and bought a horse ranch in the area which eventually became the San Luis Rey Downs Thoroughbred Training Center.
Babe Ruth was anointed the ‘Sultan of Swat’ and Joe DiMaggio was christened the ‘Yankee Clipper’ and Edwin Snider was just called ‘Duke.’ Wyatt Hobbs went to the major leagues the following season and broke every record during his stellar career, just like his father Roy intended to do before the bullet wound to his abdomen derailed his dreams.
Wyatt Hobbs was proud to be crowned the, ‘Baron of Boom.’