Hi Corbett Field is more than a ballpark. The Toros are more than a nickname. And the reunion of these icons means more to Tucson than simply good news.
Bring out the fireworks, the mariachis, children singing and dancing. Send a squadron of fighter planes low across the city, shaking light poles, windows, chandeliers and apathy.
Break out a keg of cheer, folks – happy days are here again.
May the Triple-A baseball franchise we’ve just lost amuse the newly divorced of Reno. Let those fans pour out their die-hard devotion on players not around long enough for anyone to catch their names.
We’re getting a bunch of kids who’ll bust their britches all summer to get discovered, young players who won’t complain about sharing their wonders with such things as piñata-busting, pie-throwing, three-legged races and hot dog-eating contests.
And if the storks at Reid Park Zoo get diarrhea again – as was diagnosed once, due to a July Fourth fireworks exhibition in nearby Hi Corbett – well, bring the birds to the ballpark and feed them popcorn.
We’ve lost Pacific Coast League baseball but we’re getting a team in the Golden Baseball League. We’re back in the minors and darn proud of it.
Jay Zucker couldn’t sell Triple-A baseball down on Ajo Way, so he sold the Tucson Sidewinders to Nevada interests.
But Jay refused to yell “uncle,” and he’s bringing a Golden League team to town next season. He’ll call them the “Toros.”
I think Tucson will buy this brand of baseball.
Maybe Jay will patch up the old “Tuffy” costume and get someone dumb enough to wear it for four hours on a hot summer night, hugging children and posing for pictures.
Remember years ago when Tuffy and a fan who was trying to outrun the mascot down the third base line got into a fight? Fists flew and they rolled in the dirt. That video still turns up on highlight – and low-light – shows on TV.
We all have our memories of Hi Corbett Field and the Toros. Some of us are old enough to remember teams called the “Lizards” and the “Cowboys” of long-ago summer nights at the ballpark between Broadway and 22nd Street, west of Alvernon.
I remember the San Diego Chicken and Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball. I remember talking to Ricky Nelson along the third base line before a postgame concert in 1985, shortly before the singer died in a plane crash in Texas.
And “Tucson Lenny” Rubin, the greatest go-fer in minor league baseball history.
And Ray McNally, print and broadcast journalist, PR man and golf hustler. Jack Donovan, the first of a string of remarkable general managers. Mike Feder, another GM and his wife, Pattie, who was part of the front office.
Little Dave Bell, so devoted a fan that he brought a scorebook to every Toros game. Dave knew all the ballplayers, even visitors such as future big leaguers Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Mike Marshall – and they knew him, on a first-name basis.
Lee Marvin made it to a lot of Toros games. Michael Landon, James Garner, Kevin Costner, Phil Harris, Robert Duvall, Pat Paulsen and other entertainment figures showed up in the grandstand from time to time.
Pitching coach Brent Strom taught actor Kevin Kline how to pitch for some movie.
“Major League” was filmed there in 1989. Forty years before that, “The Kid From Cleveland” used Hi Corbett for a lot of background shots.
A decade ago, 91-year-old Roy Drachman threw out the first pitch – ever – at the new Tucson Electric Park. But Roy saw a lot more games at Hi Corbett over the years and was instrumental in talking the Cleveland Indians into training there, beginning in the 1940s.
But the old ballyard’s most memorable character was a cat, Garfield. He owned Reid Park, and for years haunted Hi Corbett nightly in search of squirrels, gophers and world-class cockroaches.
Then one night Garfield discovered baseball. Actually, he discovered fans in the grandstand naive enough to share their nacho-cheese-jalapeno snacks, their hot dogs and their beer. Garfield loved them all – the food and beer, not the fans.
When Garfield died in May 1985, Rubin, in his best Brooklynese, delivered this moving eulogy over the public address system:
“Dey put da cat to sleep, folks. He had distempah and – whatchacallit? – no white corpuskies or somethin’. Now, I know yous’ll miss da cat, but please don’t bring no cats to da ballpock. I don’t want no tree-hunnerd cats here tomorrah night.”
Ah, minor league ball at Hi Corbett Field. The legend lives on, thanks to Jay Zucker’s love for baseball and the fans of Tucson.
Corky Simpson is a retired Tucson Citizen sports columnist who attended an untold number of games at Hi Corbett Field.