History was made in June 1950 when Santa Maria baseball fans were introduced to Little League baseball, one of the first little league organizations in California.

Founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1939, Little League Baseball currently reports baseball participation at approximately 2.3 million annually.

In the early spring of 1950, Bill Ellis, Harry Goodchild, Butch Simas, Larry Lavagnino (Senior), Carl Barbettini and other local men who had a strong interest in creating sports programs for young people, started the ball rolling to bring Little League baseball to Santa Maria.

In addition to securing sponsors to meet definite financial requirements for the teams, and encouraging the sponsors to find experienced players who’d agree to manage their teams, the men put out a call through The Times and schools, hoping to give every boy in the valley (who met the age requirements) a chance to try out for the teams.

After a spring training period on April 14, 84 boys were chosen to play, with 14 players scheduled to play on each of the league’s six teams. Candidates who failed were to be given another chance to qualify at a training workout at Elks Field the following week.

Santa Maria Valley’s six Little League teams included Associated Drug’s Dodgers, managed by Harry Goodchild; Casey’s Orcutt Tigers, managed by Joe Halter; the Coca Cola Little Cokes, managed by Gordon Emerson; Union Sugar, managed by Bill Hanson; Melby’s Jewelers, managed by Les Webber, and Peterson Auto Parts, with Brad Riggs filling in as manager for the ailing Carl Barbettini.

After two months of concentrated training, the boys were ready to play ball. The first game was scheduled June 10 between Casey’s Tigers and the Associated Drug’s Dodgers. A parade, sponsored by the 20-30 Club, under the direction of President Don Melby, started the day off with all of the excitement of the major leagues on opening day. The youngsters, along with their sponsors and managers, were transported through the city behind the El Camino Elementary School’s Marching Band, led by Les Hayes.

Beginning at Chapel and Broadway, the marching unit headed south to Cook and east past City Hall, the police station and then south to the McClelland playground where more than 400 enthusiastic fans were waiting to witness Santa Maria Valley Little League’s first game.

With Morris Stephan as master of ceremonies, Mayor Fred Gracia, City Recreation Commission Chairman A. E. Atkinson, and Bill Ellis, chief of league activities and one of the founders of the city’s Little League, with each giving a short address welcoming Little League to Santa Maria.

After the Santa Maria Sea Scouts raised the colors to the top of the new flagpole, donated by Union Oil Company, the mayor tossed out the first ball to start the game. The new flag, which flew over the newly named Little League Park (now Barbettini Field at Simas Park), had been presented by Santa Maria’s semi-pro team, the Santa Maria Indians.

Fans were kept on the edge of their seats as they witnessed a pitcher’s duel between Casey’s fastball artist, Ralph McBride and the Dodgers’ southpaw curve ball ace, Fred Warrecker. The nearly flawless game ended with a 1-0 triumph by the Tigers. Lane Lummus scored the historic first run on a hit by Ken Abeloe.

Fans continued to flock to Little League Park almost every night to watch these games being played on a baseball diamond that had been carefully laid out to accepted scale.

Although Santa Maria Valley Little League continues to flourish, the below-listed players, all serious baseball players, constituted our first league teams.

Ken Abeloe; Dick, Rodney Atnip; Fred Warrecker; Manuel Baldiviez; Timothy Bargas; Dickie Beal; Rodger Bell; Robert Bingham; Gary Bookless; Harold Brass; Robert Brison; Ronald Connelly; Ernie Corral; Tony Cossa; Ken Crossman; Reggie Dahl; Teddy Davidson; John Dewey; John Domingues; Don Drennon; Clayton and Donnie Dunnam; Fred Eddy; Darryl and Ronnie Eisner; Chris Elias; Warran Ethridge; Dolin Edwards; Roy Estrada; Terry and Tony Evans; Richard Ferguson; Kim Fraser; Don Gatewood; John Grigg; Gary Griffith; Larry Gunap; Truman Hawkins; Gil Higuera; David Hobbs; Jerry Holmdahl; Robert Ike; Gary Johnson; D. Koenig; Arthur Leal; Pete Lucero; Lane Lummus; Dixie Macias; Tom Matz; Ralph McBride; Jim Meager; Larry Mitchell; M. Neiggerman; Richard Newby; Luis Poole; Richard Powell; Joe Raffeto; James and Richard Ramos; Tom Randolph; Bobby Razo; Vard Roemer; Bobby Shoen; David Smith; Lewis Stornetta; Don Thompson; Tadeo Uno; Johnny Ventura; William Ward; Clarence Wickham; Bobby, Buddy and Gerald Williams and Larry Yamaguchi all made Santa Maria history by playing on the Santa Maria Valley’s first Little League baseball teams.

Through the years, some of the Santa Maria Little League stars have progressed to the Majors. Mike Bishop played for the California Angels and the New York Mets; Ted Davidson (a hurler with the Union Sugar Babes in 1950) played for the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves; James Steels played for the San Diego Padres, the Rangers and the Giants.

In later years, former Santa Maria Little League stars also made their ways to the Majors. Robin Ventura (whose father, Johnny Ventura, had played for the Associated Drugs’ Dodgers), played for the White Sox, the Mets the Yankees and the Dodgers; Pat Kelly played for the Toronto Blue Jays; Bill Simas played for the Chicago White Sox, and Doug Bernier played for the Colorado Rockies and the Minnesota Twins.

Bryn Smith, who pitched in the major leagues from 1981 to 1993 was the first winning pitcher in the Colorado Rockies history, pitching the first game in its new Mile High Stadium. Smith played for the Expos, the Cardinals and the Rockies. Also, Les Weber, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians.

Little League, whose goal is to give the children of the world a game that provides fundamental principles/sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork that they can use later in life to become good citizens, was granted a federal charter on July 16, 1964, by the unanimous vote of the Senate and House of Representatives.

At the Nov. 17 council meeting, the city of Santa Maria’s mayor will be presenting a proclamation honoring 70 years of Little League in the Santa Maria Valley. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic there will be no public attendance at the council meeting for the reading.

Many thanks to Eddie Navarro. Without his help I could have written nothing.

Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 623-8193 or at shirleycontreras2@yahoo.com. Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.


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