Memories of the Game
The grand old game in Petaluma since 1884
Article published- August 30, 2006
Baseball in Petaluma has a rich, long heritage and a color, storied past extending back more than 120 years. It included town teams loaded with local talent and semi-pro teams that bolstered their rosters with major league caliber players and several Hall-of-Famers.
Participating in Petaluma first organized team sports, these early squads sometimes played wearing ragtag uniforms on baseball diamonds mostly situated on the east side of town. Kenilworth Park has been the site of two previous "baseball grounds" as they were called, and exactly 100 years ago Recreation Park stood on the corner of East D and Vallejo streets.
Those late 19th and early 20th century "local nines" sported the names businesses and fraternal lodges that sponsored them. Among those of earliest memory were the 1884 Petaluma Maroons and the 1886 Petaluma Athletic and Social Club. At the turn of the century were the Alerts, and the Philadelphias, named after a Petaluma cigar store. At the same time were the Petaluma Tourists and The Eagles, not affiliated with the lodge.
The earliest grounds appeared to be on the corner of the East Washington and Payran Streets, where the 1903 Alerts, which later became the Merchants, played. The first Sonoma County League- consisting of Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Geyserville and Cloverdale- also played there.
The diamonds was then moved to the fairgrounds, and then to Recreation Park. It was reported that Petaluma once had Class D team but it didn't last because the city's diamonds, Recreation Park was leased to the Eagles at the time.
In 1911 John A. McNear sold a portion of Recreation Park ( Then called Baseball Park) to future Petaluma Mayer Jasper Woodson to build a home. Two years later a new diamond was constructed at Kenilworth games forced an end to that in 1918. In 1926 George P. McNear deeded to the city six acres on Petaluma west side that became McNear Park.
A bounty of local talents stocked the town teams, variously called YMI, Knights of Pythias, Eagles, Merchants, Leghorns, We also field the Petaluma Aerie No. 333 Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Spartans Club. Among the renowned players who graced our diamonds between 1925 and 1940 were legendary Petaluma all-stars Moch and Angelo Lucchesi, red Hagedohm, Louis Palucci, Bob Soberanes, Carl Hadermann Jr. and Fred and Jake Arfsten.
Professionals were often added to local semi-pro all- stars teams on a paid basis. Petaluma-born Micky Shader, A Pacific Coast League standout, brought several PCL all-stars teams to town and furniture stores owner Danny Healy, an avid baseball fan, was responsible for bringing in many PCL players and major leaguers. Healy often brought San Francisco-born Hall of Famer Harry Heilman to town, Heilman was a 14-year bug leaguer, mostly with the Detroit tigers, who led the Americans League in batting three times, including a .403 mark in 1923.
Fred Arfsten began managing the Eagles Lodge team in 1929-1930 after Healy discontinued his sponsorship. Arfsten learned of a 16-year-old-hot- shot player in San Francisco who was willing to come and play ball in Petaluma. He met the young player at the Sausalito ferry terminal and brought him to play for $5 a game. The two formed a bond and in later years the young player, Joe DiMaggio, kept in touch with Arfsten.
Tragedy invaded the baseball scene at Kenilworth Park in September 1927, hen Leghorns star third baseman and manager Carl Hadermann Jr. was struck in the case by an infielder of the visiting San Francisco Jeffersons, who was attempting to throw to first base to complete a double play, but hit the 26-year-old Hadermann squarely in the eyes, fracturing his skull. He died the following day.