The First Angels’ Minor League Spring Training

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been working on researching the history of the Angels’ minor leagues, in particular the inaugural 1961 season.

You probably know the Angels held their first major league spring training in Palm Springs. Few know that the first minor league spring training was at Evans Park in Riverside. It’s a subject I’ve written about here as I’ve learned more and more.

I went by the UC Riverside library today to save to disc copies of articles on microfilm from the Riverside Press-Enterprise about that embryonic period. Some of the articles had photos, which are below.

To recap, the Angels had only two minor league teams that year, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Statesville (NC) Owls. It was a different era; minor league teams could sign their own players, and they could affiliate with more than one parent club.

Technically speaking, Riverside wasn’t the Angels’ minor league camp. It was DFW’s camp. Some of the players were Angels property. Some were Phillies property. Some belonged to the Rangers. The manager, former Cardinals star catcher Walker Cooper, was hired by DFW, not the Angels or the Phillies.

The Angels were the lone major league organization training in California. There were other organizations in Arizona, but they weren’t keen on travelling all the way to Palm Springs, when modes of travel were far more primitive than today. I found one article reporting the Cubs flew from Phoenix to Palm Springs, but were diverted to the Blythe airport en route because a federal marshal needed to transport a prisoner!

Several Triple-A teams trained in the Inland Empire. In addition to the Rangers in Riverside, there were teams in Ontario, San Bernardino and Indio. So the Angels’ spring training schedule included several games against the Triple-A teams; in fact, the Triple-A San Diego Padres in Indio were managed by future legendary Angels coach Jimmy Reese.

The DFW Rangers’ schedule included games against the Angels and the other Triple-A teams. When the Angels came to Evans Park, it was usually a “B” squad comprised of prospects or fringe players.

I went by Evans Park today to take photos and ran into Dennis Rogers, the baseball coach at Riverside Community College which uses Evans Park as its home field. He said the current facility is not the same one as 1961; that location is now a parking lot to the northwest. The current Evans Park was a practice field.

That helped explain some discrepancies I’ve seen in other photos loaned me by collectors.

Here are some of the photos from the Press-Enterprise articles. Obviously, the photo quality ranges from mediocre to poor, given the medium. I called the P-E months ago to find out if the originals still exist, but they were long ago destroyed. So these are all that still exist, and this is after I cleaned them up in Photoshop.

Jim Fregosi and Jack Hiatt
Jim Fregosi on the Angels squad slides into Rangers catcher Jack Hiatt. Notice the crowd standing behind the bats and chain link.

 

Manager Walker Cooper and Rangers players
The caption didn’t say who they are, but I believe that’s manager Walker Cooper on the left … UPDATE 11/15/2008, Jack Hiatt says he’s the player second from the right holding the bat.  He confirms that Walker Cooper is the man to the far left.

 

Hugh Pepper
Hugh Pepper was a grizzled veteran pitcher signed by the Rangers. Note the net in front of the mound; they didn’t have screens back then to protect pitchers during batting practice.

 

Bob Rodgers and Ken Toothman
Bob Rodgers slides into second. DFW infielder Ken Toothman covers the bag. Note the cars in the parking lot behind right field; there’s a car parked up on a hill, which should be a reference point in identifying the location of the old ballpark.

 

Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess
Rangers players Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess cope with a rain delay during drills. I believe Rous was under an Angels contract while the other two belonged to DFW.

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