Imagine if Juan Marichal, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, strolled onto the mound at West Marin School to play ball. Crowds would gather, just as they once did to watch the Point Reyes team and its “flame-thrower” pitcher, Vernon “Lefty” Gomez, in the 1920s. From his humble beginnings digging post holes for PG&E on the Point Reyes Peninsula, Lefty went on to join the New York Yankees, room with Joe DiMaggio, play alongside legends Lou Gehrig ad Babe Ruth and enter the Hall of Fame. In retirement, he returned to the Bay Area, where three local ball fields carry his name.
In the early 20th century, baseball was one of the most-watched sports next to boxing and horseracing, and crowds reportedly reaching 4,000 gathered in Point Reyes. The Pacific Coast League, with teams such as the San Francisco Seals and Missions, the Salt Lake City Bees and others, provided hours of entertainment and rivalries. Smaller teams in towns like Sonoma, Novato and Point Reyes Station all played on the weekends; many of the players hoped to make the Pacific Coast League teams and move on to major league payrolls and glories.
It was the train that brought so many fans, with as many as 15 trips a day carrying weekenders up to redwood country and bringing milk and butter back to the city. The original ball field was just north of the deli; home base was marked by a county parks sign. Eventually, a second ball field was built where White House Pool is today.
Lefty Gomez’s short-lived career with PG&E gave way to working weekdays on the Nicasio dairy ranch of Mary and Frank Farley (no relation) with fellow player, catcher Bud Farley. On weekends, he stayed with ball club manager Dante Muscio’s family in what is now the Borge Gallery. Dances at the Forester’s Hall, where multi-talented Lefty played saxophone with the band, entertained the community after a day on the field.
Lefty played two short years in the Bay Area before the Yankees took notice and he moved on to major league play. Today, it is hard to imagine the thousands of fans gathered around a ball field in Point Reyes, but you can still catch Little League at West Marin School on Saturday afternoons each spring, or head up to Tomales for the annual Jake Velloza tournament, with the next crop of hopefuls pitching and slugging (including my nephew!).
Loretta Farley spends much of her springtime following the San Francisco Giants and Point Reyes Orioles, which will be in a playoff game on June 1 in Nicasio.