II. Boomtown Ball

Just as the Johnsons were making a new life for themselves in Olinda, a great baseball boom was taking place there. Drillers and other workers from the various oil companies organized teams, and the Sunday games between them became a popular attraction for the residents. The Santa Fe Oil Company, wanting to have its name well-represented in these contests, made unofficial scouts of its management and encouraged them to hire men with skill on a ballfield. Good-paying jobs were offered, followed by assignment to the company "weed gang" which controlled fire hazards in the oil fields. Hoes and shovels in hand, they disappeared out of view into the surrounding countryside, when out came the real tools of their trade -- bats, balls, and gloves. It wasn't long before aspiring ballplayers from all sections were making their way to Olinda in search of "work", and as its proficiency grew the team looked farther afield for worthy opponents.

This was the apex of the era of "town ball" in America. Every community with enough men to field a team challenged the surrounding jurisdictions, the games often taking place amid a holiday atmosphere of bands, cookouts, special trains, and wholesale gambling on the outcome. For the people of these small towns, with little else in the way of entertainment, baseball became a passion. Even before the Johnsons' arrival in 1902, the Olinda "Oil Wells", as they were known, were taking on nines from the nearby towns of Santa Ana, Rivera, Downey, Ventura, and Pomona, and a handful of fast semipro outfits from Los Angeles. The names of the L.A. teams often reflected the companies that sponsored them: Hamburgers was a department store; Hoegees, a sporting goods concern whose uniforms "have been found stout enough to slide to base on"; the Examiners had the name of a daily newspaper; the Owls represented a drugstore chain that is still in existence; Tufts-Lyon, Christopher-Levys, Leonardt's, Morans, and Meeks, were all company-sponsored teams. Professional ballplayers, some major leaguers even, hooked on with these clubs during the winter to keep their skills sharp and pick up extra cash. These players elevated the level of play and heightened fan interest in the games.

There was no real ballpark in Olinda, just a rough diamond laid out on "the flat" below a livery stable on Santa Fe Avenue. As the Oil Wells team improved, and took on better competition, fan interest grew and a more suitable place to play was needed. This problem was solved when the town of Anaheim, two hours by horse and buggy to the southwest, volunteered the use of its athletic park near the Santa Fe depot on Atchison Street. Anaheim had been founded in 1857 by German settlers who raised wine grapes for several years until a blight forced them to convert from vineyards to citrus orchards. A half-century later, the town retained much of its original German flavor. Wine, beer and stronger spirits were readily available at numerous saloons. This was the only "wide-open" (legal to serve alcohol) jurisdiction in Orange County at the time and the saloon owners drew added business from the crowds coming into town for the games. This arrangement lasted for years, the Olinda players dressing in the back of the saloons while the patrons up front placed bets on the game. One of the Oil Wells' biggest fans was Frank Johnson, and although it's not likely that he contributed any business to Anaheim's saloons, he could be found every Sunday along the foul lines of Athletic Park, cheering on his team. And sitting next to him, always, was an equally enthusiastic rooter -- his oldest son, Walter.

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