WERE WE READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL? MAY 27, 2013
Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, I was playing away during my softball career as Catcher for the “Orange Lionettes,” based in the City of Orange and sponsored by the Lions Club. We were World Champions several times so this was no back-lot, pick-up game. Big time in that era. We were amateurs, so no pay, but once in awhile we’d get some extra “gas” money. We weren’t in it for the $$, we were having the time of our lives.
We played at the field in the Park in Orange, and we also played at the old Sunset Softball Field on Sunset Blvd. in the middle of Hollywood. There were two women’s leagues playing there. We played in the better one, the American League. In the meanwhile, we would travel all over Southern California to play.
The Entrepreneur of the Hollywood scene was Marty Fiedler, and he was something else! He was the consummate promoter. He knew everyone who mattered, he was a handsome guy, always dressed in sartorial splendor, a very smart man, and a very, very nice man.
The Sunset Field could not handle enough softball fans, so Marty went out and built “Fiedler Field” on Beverly Blvd. in West LA. I’m guessing this state of the art venue — for the 1930’s — would hold 15,000 boisterous softball fans, while old Sunset could maybe squeeze 1,500 in on its old uncomfortable, splintery bleachers.
His mastermind, no doubt, never did shut down for a siesta, and here came the next brainstorm. He explained it to us this way, that “We have our softball, just like Big League Baseball, starting in the Spring, and playing through the summer into Fall. There’s a lot of dormant time when cash registers are not ringing. So the bottom line is that you “softballers” are going to play some football. Are you ready for that?”
I guess enough of us were ready for Marty to put 2 teams on a field — we had to have the 2, or who could we challenge? – the Rams? Marty reserved some dates at Gilmore Stadium, and we were off and running. Literally. We had to get into shape. This football we were playing — no sissy stuff like “touch” or grab the rag tag, or whatever — No siree, this was the real thing. We had real football outfits with all the pads, and the cleats, and the helmets, and a real football.
So, over to Gilmore Stadium to practice, practice, practice. I was a Halfback. The gal I caught softball for, Lois, was to play Fullback because she was big and strong as a horse, but when we started practicing, the coaches really had to get on her case. The ball would go to her, and she would sorta tippy toe on her cleats and when the opponents would get close to tackle her, she would just stop in her tracks, still standing. What a pussy-cat! After about 2 weeks of intense training, the coaches had her chugging along pretty good.
It’s a good thing I made those boy kids back in Fullerton tackle me because I was tackling them. We were about 10 years old, and I was the only girl kid to play. I was more than ready for this football a decade later.
After we played a few games at Gilmore, Marty was getting restless in the idea compartment of his bright brain, so another announcement came forth. “Still Softballers, but now Footballers, go home and pack your bags with enough clothes for a couple of weeks, and get your parents approval, because we will be grabbing a train for south of the border to play some football in Mexico City. Be sure and tell your folks that each team will have a nice chaperone.”
You already know I adore a trip on a train, and in fact, we had taken one the previous December of ’36 to MEXICO CITY for the Grand Opening of a new Hotel, the Hotel de la Reforma. There is a story there to be told. However, I’d better get back to football, or else the 2013 NFL season may come and go before I finish this.
I was 19 on this football trip, and it was the only trip on a train that I ever took when we were not ensconced in upgraded accommodations — the compartments, the roomettes, etc. — your own space. So I was with the “masses” with the seat during the day, then a bunk and curtain at night. And, you know, I made it quite nicely. I did notice that Marty and the 2 Chaperones each had their own private quarters.
Since I’d been there the year before, I knew what was waiting at the various stops the train made during the day. I would jump off where the vendor, with his pushcart, would have fresh oysters in the shell, and he would open one, hand me the half shell with the oyster and some Mexican lime, and I would inhale the oyster, and more as the time allowed at the stop. All the time, the footballers are watching, and wondering, and gagging. And here I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
When we arrived in Guadalajara, we “de-trained” — no train from here to Mexico City — mountainous, no tracks. And this is where the wheels in Marty’s brain are really working — we took a chartered bus to Mexico City at night, so you can see how it saved on a whole bunch of hotel rooms. It was a very dark night, also cold as a by-gone, also kinda scary because mountain roads in Mexico do not elicit a lot of faith about safety and comfort — especially back in 1937.
We were absolutely freezing — who had thought to bring their fur coat? We were coming into the town of Morelia, a pit stop was in order, but it was midnight. What to do, what to do? (No “Depends” in those days.) The bus driver was crawling along looking for something – anything to be open, and we all saw some faint lights up ahead, so everyone was yelling so the driver wouldn’t miss it. Just lights you would miss – so weak. It was an all night “Madre y Padre” operation, and they had a restroom, and best of all they had the most wonderful Chocoláte Caliente which did, indeed, save us all from freezing to death. I can start a replay of the video in my memory and see the very dim interior of the place, a few candles for light, the dirt floor, the worn wooden tables and chairs, the couple in there hunched over, sitting at a table with shawls pulled tight to keep out the bitter cold. They were so gracious, sprang into action, made gallons of the chocoláte and soon had us on our way with warm tummies, and warm thoughts.
On to Mexico City where we played our football games at some soccer stadium. The crowds came for the novelty of the thing, and we gals had a glorious time sightseeing, and of course, I could hold forth and practically be the guide since I had already been there the year before.
So back to our homes, and the whole trip boiled down for me to the hour or so we spent in the only place open in Morelia. Divine intervention?
I have one thing left to say (just for now.) The following season of softball in 1938 was crowned with the biggest brainstorm Marty EVER had. Off we went (2 teams of All Stars) in September, sailing from San Pedro on an ocean liner for 3 months to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Shanghai — a Goodwill Tour of the Orient.
If I ever get around to it, that will be a ve-e-e-r-r-r-y long story.
MELITAS FORSTERRead more