March 2010

Where the Future Began, Part 2

Ed Thomas, publisher Stephen Smith, and Jerry Fox. Thomas and Fox played on the 1961 Statesville Owls. Photo courtesy Steve Hill.


The resurrection of Statesville baseball history continues.

Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox were two independent players for the Statesville Owls in 1961. They were teammates of the Angels minor leaguers sent to Statesville from California, Florida and even from Canada. Thomas was signed by the Angels at season’s end and spent two years in Triple-A as a teammate of such future Angels as Jim Fregosi, Bo Belinsky, Dean Chance, Tom Satriano, Bobby Knoop and more.

Ed and Jerry took me to the home of Steve Hill, a local baseball collector. Steve has a wealth of Statesville and other baseball history in his home. In the above photo, behind us is a display he created of Statesville baseball history going back to 1939, when Statesville High School Stadium was built. Click here to view photos of Statesville Stadium circa 1961.

Steve has many photos in his collection I haven’t seen before, among them 8x10s of Jack Hiatt and Dick Simpson in Angels uniforms. Hiatt and Simpson, along with Dick Wantz, were the three 1961 Owls who went on to play in the majors.

My wife and I walked around downtown Statesville this morning shooting photos which I will post in a couple days. These are more for the alumni we reunited last year, so they can see what the town looks like today.

Ed and Jerry took me this afternoon to the Statesville High School ballpark, which is the site of the 1961 stadium. Not much remains from 49 years ago, and improvements are being added to prepare for a new college league that will play here this summer. We met up with Bill Moose, a history professor at Statesville’s Mitchell College who is also a baseball historian. I recorded a video interview with the three, which I’ll post in a couple days when I return home. We were standing on the infield just in front of the pitcher’s mound, the site of a legendary brawl on May 31 against rival Lexington. Click here to read more about the Lexington brawl.

Jerry’s wife loaned me footage of a home movie her family shot in 1961 of a Statesville game. It’s only about a minute, but so far as I know this is the only known film of the 1961 Owls — and it’s in color. I’ll post online later this week as well.

One thing’s for sure — a lot of people in this town are thirsting for the return of professional baseball. The wood-bat college league this summer isn’t quite there, but it’s a big step in the right direction. The proposed 50th anniversary reunion next year in Statesville should be another big step.

The Angels were here for only one year, but it was the Angels’ first year and remembered fondly by both players and fans who were here.

Where the Future Began

A team photo of the 1961 Statesville Owls.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been researching the early history of the Angels’ minor leagues.

The Angels had only two minor league teams in their 1961 inaugural season, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Western Carolina League’s Statesville Owls.

I’ve tracked down quite a bit of Statesville history, and last September we staged a reunion of eight surviving Statesville players at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona.

My wife and I moved to Florida last summer, which put me in driving range of Statesville. We made the drive this weekend, and arrived this afternoon.

It’s raining right now, so I won’t get over to the field until Monday or Tuesday. The field still exists. It’s the home field for Statesville High School. The wooden stands, though, are long gone.

Two Statesville alumni, Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox, were independent players who lived locally. The Angels signed Thomas after the 1961 season, while Fox retired from baseball and went back to real life. I hope to take Ed and Jerry over to the field and videotape an interview that I’ll post on in the next few days.

I’ll be shooting photos of course, not just the field but also the town. The alumni have asked a lot of questions about how the town looks today. Much of it looks old enough to have been around in 1961, but other buildings are fairly new.

Wrigley Field was torn down in the 1960s, the Dallas ballpark has also passed into history, but the Statesville field remains as the only surviving remnant of 1961. Dick Wantz, Dick Simpson and Jack Hiatt all began their professional careers on this field, and eventually played in the majors for the Angels. I’m not much for sentimentality, but when I walk on that field this week I’ll be very aware that I’m where the Angels’ future began.

Click here to read all Blog articles on the Statesville Owls.

This ‘N That

Spring training is in the air, but unfortunately I’m not.

Being unemployed, it has me grounded. I just can’t afford to travel to minor league spring training.

As noted on March 15, the camcorder I use to record clips for the Video Gallery died last week. A replacement arrived yesterday, but that cost $2,000, which is $2,000 I don’t have.

Before the camcorder’s untimely demise, I’d planned to make a trip in May that would take me first to Cedar Rapids, then on to Rancho Cucamonga, over to Tempe for extended spring training and then back home to Florida. That trip would have cost me about $2,000, something I could have paid off in about six months but with the unanticipated $2,000 bill for the camcorder that’s just too much debt for my employment status, or lack thereof.

So I’m going to call off the Rancho Cucamonga and Tempe parts of the trip.

I haven’t been to Cedar Rapids since 2007, the year before the flood, and this year’s team should have a monster roster with all the young prospects, so I should make every attempt to be there.

If you enjoy the videos, photos and reports directly from the road on, a reminder that no one pays me to do this. Some folks are under the impression that the Angels subsidize this. They don’t. It’s all out of my pocket. Being unemployed, that pocket isn’t as deep as it used to be.

I’ve had many players’ parents tell me over the years that if I need help, I should ask for it, so I’m asking.

You can help by making a one-time donation or signing up for a $5/month voluntary subscription. Click here to learn more.

I realize these are difficult financial times, but more than ever I have to be responsible with every penny I have. My wife and I lose our health insurance on March 31, as we can’t afford it any more. We have some money saved up, but one trip to the emergency room, one life-threatening disease and we’ll be in big trouble.

Given those real-world priorities, drops down the priority list. I’ve always run as a service, not a business, absorbing about $2,000 a year in losses. That can’t happen now. So if you’ve enjoyed and want it to continue, I need your help. Thanks for your consideration.

The Camcorder Memorial

Camcorder, we hardly knew ye.

My Sony camcorder expired this afternoon at about 3:00 PM EDT. It’s been having problems in recent months, death rattles in retrospect, and while reproducing video highlights for one of the Angels affiliates today it simply expired.

I don’t often beg for money, but if you’ve enjoyed the Video Gallery over the years I need your help if I’m going to film more video highlights in 2010.

The bottom line is I need to raise $1,920 to buy this new camcorder:

Your donation can help buy this new camcorder to film Angels minor league video highlights in 2010.


The new camcorder is a Sony HDR-FX7 HDv 1080i Camcorder.

The old camcorder bought six years ago cost about $2,500. The new one has more features — technological advancement, of course — so we’ll be able to zoom in closer and get much sharper footage than over the last six years.

As many of you know, I am unemployed and in this economy there’s little hope for a job in the near future. I really can’t afford to spend $2,000 on a new camcorder.

I’d planned to travel to Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga in May, trips that would probably cost me $1,500 – $2,000, money I really don’t have either but I was willing to take the hit on my credit card and slowly pay it back. Another $2,000 on top of that is just too much.

So if you want to see video highlights this spring from Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga, and the 2010 draft picks this summer in Orem and Tempe, you need to step up to the plate.

The best way you can help is by either making a one-time donation, or by signing up for a voluntary $5/month subscription. Click here to help.

Times are tough for everyone, I realize, but the reality is that without financial assistance I’ll have to cancel some of those travel plans, and video memories will be lost to history.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

The Real Deal, Azarias Corbeil

Former Angels minor leaguer Azarias Corbeil now coaches third base for the Florida Southern College Moccasins. The “Mocs” are ranked #1 nationally in NCAA Division II baseball.


“Now batting for the Quakes, Number 19, the Real Deal, Azarias Corbeil!”

That was my fantasy introduction for Azarias Corbeil, a catcher-first baseman in the Angels’ minor league system from 2001 through 2003.

Azarias — who went by “Al” although he was also called “Az” — finished second in the Pioneer League batting average race in 2001, hitting .359 with an on-base percentage of .463 and a .525 slugging percentage. He was playing for the inaugural Provo Angels, managed by Tom Kotchman, who as a scout signed Al out of Florida Southern.

Al advanced to High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2002 and hit .252. He returned to the Quakes in 2003 and hit .254.

With two catchers named Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli ahead of him on the depth chart, Corbeil was released in spring training 2004. Except for two games in the Cubs’ system in 2005, he spent the rest of his career in independent ball, retiring after the 2007 season.

What’s with the “Real Deal”?

When Al got to Rancho, and couldn’t repeat his hitting success with Provo, he seemed a bit forlorn.

Corbeil with the Quakes in 2003.


To hopefully build his spirits, I jokingly suggested that what Al needed was a marketing campaign.

A friend and I came up with the slogan, “The Real Deal!”

Whenever we saw him, we called him “Real Deal.”

I tried to talk the Quakes’ front office into having the P.A. announce him as “The Real Deal, Azarias Corbeil!” but got no takers.

But one night when the Quakes were playing in San Bernardino, Al was at-bat and I heard a fan yell, “It’s the Real Deal!”

I’d hear from Al in e-mail over the years, but as usually happens with pro ball everyone drifts off to their own lives.

As most of you know, I moved to Florida last June, where I started a second web site This last weekend, I was over in Lakeland to cover a three-game series between two nationally-ranked NCAA Division II teams, #1 Florida Southern and #15 Florida Tech.

As Florida Southern’s starting lineup was being announced, the P.A. concluded with “… and assistant coach Al Corbeil.”

The “Real Deal”?! Could it be true?!

I headed over to the Southern dugout to take photos, and sure enough the third base coach was Azarias Corbeil.

After the inning was over, I called out “Azarias Corbeil!” He looked at me, a bit puzzled at first, then recognized me. We shook hands and agreed to talk after the game.

Click here to see Al’s current bio on the Florida Southern web site. It mentions that he was drafted by the Angels.

He stays in touch with Kotch, as do many of Tom’s draft picks.

My next close encounter with an Angels minor league alumnus will be March 26, when Florida Tech hosts the University of Tampa. The Spartans’ head coach is Joe Urso, a popular infielder for Lake Elsinore in the mid-1990s who went on to coach and manage in the Angels’ system before returning to Tampa to manage his alma mater. Lake Elsinore was an Angels affiliate from 1994 through 2000, when it switched to the Padres.

Urso was so popular with the Storm, he was called “the Mayor of Lake Elsinore.” His #7 is one of only two numbers retired by the Storm. The other is Jake Peavy.

This article is copyright © 2010 Stephen C. Smith. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without prior expressed written permission. Permission is explicitly denied to, which has been copying articles in their entirety from this blog and reposting them without permission or disclosing their true author.