Feb 16, 2011

Italian / American Inventor of the Pitching Machine: Lorenzo Ponza:

Lorenzo Ponza was born on February 15, 1918 the son of Italian immigrants Lorenzo and Mary Ponza, in Glenwood California. He grew up on his parents Saw Mill & worked in the engineering field after high school. He moved to Pearl Harbor in 1941 working for the Navy & was there during the 1941 Japanese bombing attacks. He remained in Hawaii becoming a civil supervisor helping build up the US Pacific Fleet.

He came back to Santa Cruz in 1950 & opened up a small machine shop working as an inventor. By 1952 he gets credit with inventing the modern day baseball pitching machine. He fine tuned some of the older original models that never quite resembled real life pitching.(Another Italian inventor Paul Giovagnoli also developed a similar machine that year & his company claims they invented the first.)

But the Ponza machines, known as “ponzas’ among the base ball players were the most widely used & most authentic. Through the years Lorenzo followed up with many improvements to his pitching machines & owns seven different baseball product patents.

There was the 1974 Hummer, which could simulate fastballs, pop-ups and grounders, the 1983 Casey, the 1987 Ponza Swing King and the 1988 Rookie. He eventually sold his company to the Athletic Training Equipment Company in the early 1990s.

Mr. Ponza was a big San Francisco Giants fan, & had a room dedicated to mementos & letters from various baseball players. Being such a bust worker, he attended few games because he didn’t have the time.Lorenzo Ponza passed away from cancer in in 2004 at age 86 in California.

Feb 4, 2011

The First Met's Owner & Woman Pioneeress: Joan Whitney Payson (1962-1975)

Joan Whitney Payson was born on February 5, 1903 in New York City. She was an heiress to the prominent Whitney Family and received much of the fortune when her father passed on. She would marry Charles Shipman Payson, a lawyer and successful businessman himself. The two lived in a 50 room mansion in Manhasset, NY with their own private art gallery.

She collected art and has many notable works donated in her name at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the Joan Payson Galleries. She along with her brother also ran Green Tree Stable & Breeding Farms in Saratoga NY & Lexington Kentucky. Their horses won four Belmont Stakes, two Kentucky Derby’s & a Preakness. The family interests also backed finances for Broadway plays & movies, including A Streetcar Named Desire & Gone With the Wind.

Mrs. Payson was a huge baseball fan and became a minority holder in the New York Giants baseball club. Her favorite player was Willie Mays. She voted against the Giants move to California, and sold her shares when they left. She began to work hard to find a replacement team.

In 1962 she became the first woman in America to buy a majority share of a sports team. She was the Mets majority stock holder, team President and was involved in baseball operations from 1962-1975. Unfortunately she trusted M. Donald Grant with many decisions in the later years. Her husband Charles Shipman had no interest in baseball. She loved her team, and was good to her players. They also had a deep respect and admiration for her.

She was always seen in the front row of Shea Stadium rooting on her team, not in an owner’s box. In 1972 she got Willie Mays back to New York to finish his career as a New York Met.

After her passing in 1975, her daughter inherited the team; Lorinda De Roulet.

She knew nothing about baseball either, and along with M. Donald Grant they destroyed the organization for the next few years.

They sold their shares in 1981 when the Wilpon/ Doubleday ownership took over.

Feb 3, 2011

Bob Murphy's Brother Jack Murphy & the San Diego Stadium Named After Him

Jack Murphy was born on February 5,1923 in Oklahoma.
He is the older brother of legendary New York Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy.

Beginning in 1951, Jack was a sports writer & editor for the San Diego Union news paper for the next thirty years.

In the early sixties he began a push to get a professional multipurpose sports facility to the San Diego area. Murphy then helped lure the AFL football Chargers from the Los Angeles area, south to San Diego.

In 1967 the Chargers played the first ever game in the new 54,000 seat stadium which would eventually be home to both the Padres & Chargers.

In 1969, Murphy was instrumental in bringing the San Diego Padres from the Pacific Coast League to the major leagues in the expansion of the National League.

The stadium located in Mission Valley, was originally named San Diego Stadium & after his passing in 1980 it was renamed San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium in his honor. It soon became simply known as “the Murph”. The stadium originally was a horse shoe shape, like the Polo Grounds, but with three tiers and a large scoreboard in the center of the open air space.

By 1997 the entire stadium was enclosed all around, the first of the square-circle "octorad" style, stadiums which was an improvement over the cookie cutter style.

The stadium has hosted the 1978 & 1992 All Star Game, three Super Bowls (XX11, XXXII & XXVII) as well as the 1984 & 1998 World Series. It also is home to the San Diego State University Aztecs college football team & hosts the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in December.

In 1997 the Stadium was renamed Qualcomm Stadium in a time where corporate sponsorship began to take over ball parks.

Mets announcer Bob Murphy, always referred to the place as Jack Murphy Stadium during Mets broadcasts until his retirement in 2004. Many San Diegoians still call it that, the area around Qualcomm is called Jack Murphy Field.

I was at Qualcomm Stadium in 2003, the Padres last season there before moving to the beautiful Petco Park in 2004. First off San Diego is probably the most beautiful city in the United States, with its miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean beaches, Mission Bay & the modern metropolitan down town area. The main area downtown is the historic Gam Lamp Quarter which is filled with restaurants, bars & an amazing outdoor open air mall. The 16 block area was revitalized with the building of Petco Park, which saw hotels, condo’s & new business build up all around the area. On our second trip to San Diego in 2006, we stayed on Coronado Island which is a resort paradise of its own. The island is one of the most expensive places in the country to live & is home to a US Navy base which trains the Navy Seals.