BISBEE — These guys were at the ballpark so much that summer. Even 66 years later, they remembered just about every inch of it. They spent so much time there in fact, back in 1950, the one thing they were overwhelmed to see upon returning for a visit last week was the actual town of Bisbee.
Al Endriss and Dick Smith were teammates on the 1950 Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings, back when the Class C affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers called Warren Ballpark home for a bunch of players with an average age of 22 hopeful for a shot at the big leagues. They spent all their time at the ballpark. They lived in nearby Warren Hotel, just around the corner from the park. They all ate at Mamie’s Drive-In, right across the street from the ballpark (where the Conoco Station is now), where Mamie let the players eat off their tab until they got paid. “The best chicken fried steak you ever wanted to eat,” Endriss still remembers.
Their whole life then revolved around a two-block radius around Warren Ballpark, when they weren’t taking road trips to places like Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, in the Arizona-Texas League.
So when the two came back for a visit last week for the first time since 1950, in many ways they were seeing the rest of the town itself for the first time.
“I had no idea that the surrounding area even looked like this. Hilly, and mountains around,” Smith said with glee.
The two met that season and became fast friends. Their friendship has endured almost 70 years later, and when the opportunity came last week for Smith to leave his home in Seattle and Endriss his home near San Francisco to come together for another walk around Warren Ballpark, it was too much to pass up.
Moments after walking into the park along the first base side, under a sunny sky full of blue, it was even too much for the usually talkative Endriss, 88, to get words out.
“This brings back a lot of memories. My goodness.” He stopped to pause a lot. Adding to the setting were perfect conditions for playing ball. “Oh yeah … This is … amazing. Amazing.”
Unlike many minor league stadiums of yesteryear that have fallen into disrepair or are gone altogether, Warren is vibrant with baseball still living there. It’s now the property of the Bisbee Unified School District, which still makes use of the facility for both high school football and baseball, making it, according to most sources, the oldest stadium in the U.S. still in use for baseball since first opening its doors in 1909.
By the time the 1950 season rolled around, Smith was playing left field, Jack Dunn was in center, and Endriss patrolled right. Dick was 19 years old, and Al and Jack were 21.
“I’m trying to acclimate myself or at least familiarize myself with the ballpark with no fence,” Smith said. Back when the Kings played, a portable fence was used to save hitters from the 440 feet to dead center that the ballpark’s original fence — still there — once used for the outfield. The high school team also uses a portable fence in the spring, but that wasn’t up on this day while the outfield was configured for football season. “It kind of throws me off. This is 325 down the line?” Smith asked, pointing to the right field power alley. “It looks about 10 miles further than that.”
Before long, Smith walked the diamond’s entire basepath. In 1950 he was the only member of the team to appear in all 148 games, batting .316 and leading the Copper Kings in total bases with 309 with a team-high 37 doubles to go along with 17 triples and 16 home runs. At 86, a cane now helped him get around the bases.
Also before long, some friendly trash talk picked up.
“Dick, I never saw you go down that baseline so slow,” Endriss egged on.
And, boy, were there memories at every turn. When Endriss got behind home plate, he was immediately brought back to the game in which he was forced into catching duties — far from his usual position.
“There was a guy, Red Osorio [Luis ‘Red’ Osorio, 18-year-old pitcher for El Paso]. He’s in that dugout (points to visitors’ dugout) going ‘Hey Endriss, you can’t catch!’ He’s giving me all kinds of sh— for about three innings,” Endriss recalled with vivid clarity.
“I threw off the mask and walked to the dugout and said, ‘C’mon, get your ass outta there! Come out here and say that!’ Well, the umpire came and stood right between us — I forget the guy’s name, I really respected him; big guy — and he goes, ‘I’ll tell you what, you gotta go through me to get to him.’ I said, ‘I think I’ll go back and catch.’”
The two also went back through the clubhouse area below the grandstand. Some of it is as dark and dank as it was then; probably gross to some, yet heaven to fans of a baseball stadium frozen in time. Soon enough they came through the tunnel that feeds into the home team’s dugout — their old dugout — which is artfully unchanged in 66 years.
“Did you ever wonder, ‘Did we really do that? Did I really play? Did I do this in a game?’” Endriss wondered aloud.
Endriss was downright giddy about the chance to revisit Warren.
“We never stop talking about the stories of what we did in Bisbee-Douglas,” he added. “We always talk about it. The time machine? We’re in the time machine right now. We’re back here.”
Smith, too, was taking in some of the surrealism of being back on their home field — such an important part of their youth, and the start of their friendship — 66 years later.
“Can you believe it?” he smiled in wonderment. “I didn’t think I’d be anywhere 66 years later!”
Smith would play six seasons of minor league ball, getting as high as Double-A, plus two seasons (1953-54) with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, widely regarded as Triple-A in its time.
That 1950 season would be Endriss’ last in baseball. He soon turned to football where he would reach the NFL where he played two games with the 1952 San Francisco 49ers on a team that featured Y.A. Tittle at quarterback. Then he went north for a year with the Canadian Football League, where he scored three touchdowns with the Calgary Stampeders.
Thursday last week, though, was all for memories and smiles. Both with white hair now, they’re remarkably tack sharp, and even took turns tossing a ball (Al brought a baseball he clutched the entire time) at the backstop behind home plate. Dick had some trouble getting his right throwing shoulder to cooperate, and ended up throwing one in underhand. Al proceeded to fire one in, and with some real heat. With some trash talk to boot.
“This has been our dream. We’ve talked about it for so long,” said Endriss. The two would also visit historic Copper King Stadium in Douglas, the Copper Kings’ second home, during their stay. They also played on the same field in Cambridge, Maryland, in the Eastern Shore League in the late ’40s.
“I don’t know whether we’ve put that one on the bucket list yet,” Endriss joked.
There was no storing information back then for nostalgia’s sake. Back then they were ballplayers in their early 20s living their lives and doing their thing. No time to take stock of the moment when the moment is happening.
“No,” Smith smiled. “Because there was no tomorrow.”