Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Object of the Game: Part Two

In 1954 led by manager Lefty O'Doul the Padres finished first in the Pacific Coast League for the first time since 1937. By 1956 the Padres were playing Open Division ball, one step above AAA and one step away from joining Major League Baseball as a third league. Only the PCL ever received that designation as major league owners contemplated the untapped West Coast market. Pat and Grandma Pearl had settled in by then in a house on South 33rd St. between Imperial Ave. and Ocean View Blvd (at that time Filipino territory). My grandfather planted fruit trees and two large cypress at the front gate. He built a chicken coop and a vegetable garden. He erected a flag pole where he ran up the stars and stripes each morning and took it down at sunset.

My Grandparent's house on S. 33rd as it appears on Google Maps today.

There were two more children now, my aunt Patricia going on 8 and Pat Jr. who was 6, and family life had shifted dramatically. My mom and her brother endured step-child status under conditions she described as something "slightly better than slavery’” made to perform the bulk of household chores and constantly referred to as “his kids”. Entering their teens they rebelled ditching classes at Memorial Jr. High to drink homemade fruit wine in Balboa Park. My uncle Johnny was a pretty boy turned cholo getting into random fights and trying to look good while doing it. And there were daily battles among them all that found my mom and uncle constantly shuttling back and forth between the Old Man’s house and the house six blocks away—the home of my grandmother’s sister and most appropriately named Ola.

My Great Aunt Ola in the front yard on 33rd St.

Spanish for “wave” my great aunt Ola helped her niece and nephew navigate the space between Paterno’s outright tyranny and his awkwardly applied obligation to raise them as he fulfilled his promise to Aniceto. The little sister of a runaway herself she had wisdom to share on the pros and cons of leaving a “good provider”.

Grandma Pearl at age 12, 1931

My Grandma Pearl had run from similar circumstances as a 17-year-old girl. She arrived in San Diego in 1937 the same year Ted Williams and the Padres won their first PCL Championship. She spent three years waiting tables at the Chee Chee Club on Broadway when it was off-the-path enough to serve even the Filipino sailors. One of them was Aniceto Medina.

Aniceto Medina, 1940

Aniceto had barely arrived in San Diego early in the year of 1941. He had come through San Pedro where the immigration processor listed his Place of Residence as the USS Saratoga, and my grandparents courtship moved as quickly as the CV-3. Between April 2 and June 21, 1940 the ship was involved in what the US Navy called Fleet Problem XXI a defense of the Hawaiian Islands. In mid to late October of that same year the crew delivered personnel from San Pedro to Hawaii then returned for an extended dry dock and overhaul at Bremerton Shipyard in Puget Sound on January 6, 1941. With the Saratoga under repair Aniceto began the first of only two prolonged stays in San Diego. Having met my grandmother in the bar that was already "divey" even then (a testament to my grandmother's spirit that she could handle herself in a roughneck navy bar) their courtship was short, and they married quickly. In fact, when the Sara sailed for Hawaii on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, my uncle was already on the way, and on April 14, 1942, John Medina was born.

The Chee Chee Club as it appears on Google Maps today.

My mother arrived in similar fashion. After a year of and a half of constant deployment in both the main theaters of the Pacific War and and support missions in and around Australia and Java, the Saratoga reportedly limped into Puget Sound battle scarred and in need of repairs on June 10, 1944. Aniceto was dispatched to San Diego along with the rest of the crew. The ship sat in dry dock through the summer but on September 24th it arrived in Pearl Harbor. My mother was born January 17, 1945 two months premature but exactly seven months after Aniceto's July homecoming. He never made it back to meet his daughter, and while his story remains largely unknown, buried beneath both the Pacific Ocean and a lifetime of suppressing all unnecessary talk about “him,” he left his mark on all our faces. Even my sons have it. I can see it every time someone says they look like me.

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The Object of the Game: An Attempt at Family History


This plaque at the foot of West Broadway marks the former location of San Diego's Lane Field, home of Ted Williams and my grandfather's preferred afternoon hang-out from 1942 through 1957. It sits at what would've been the ballpark's eastern entrance just beyond the right field foul pole at Pacific Highway closest to what Paterno Sirivan would forever call the cheap seats. "Pat" was an uptown guy, always suited and usually rocking a brown felt fedora who preferred to enter through the main gate at Harbor Drive closest to his seat behind the plate where he could hang with similarly attired afficionados:

Fans at the Lane Field Box Office on Broadway at Harbor Dr.

But his outward Ricky Ricardo cool belied the turmoil he stirred at home. His discipline was old school to a degree that only the children of immigrants might comprehend, and as my grandmother's second choice he had her two kids, my mom and her brother, from a previous marriage to deal with--which isn't to imply that he was happy about doing it. To this day, my mother refers to her step-father simply as "The Old Man." She will concede that he was nothing if not dapper, and that if there was anything he loved and tried show his family how to love it was baseball and his team of choice the San Diego Padres.

He'd learned the game as a boy in the Philippines playing pick-up games in the street with American sailors and watching their club teams play in the recreation fields on the U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay. I don't know much more than this about the origin of his passion for the game, but I will say it evolved into a lifelong love of things "American" and a stint in the Navy that got him shipped to San Diego and stationed at 32nd St. where he worked as a cook. While there he battled Aniceto Medina (my mother's biological father) for the affections of my grandmother-to-be, but eventually lost out. Undeterred and if any of the photographs I've seen of him over the years portray him as he actually was more than likely cocky enough to think she'd change her mind he decided to wait the situation out. I would insert an image here a candid shot of him strutting down Broadway near Horton Plaza taken by a street photographer. The Old Man actually admired the picture of himself enough to purchase it, but my mother claims it "got lost." His strategy while short-sighted showed determination, and he waited.

Aerial view of Lane Field

In those days the Padres had outgrown their former status as a AA affiliate for the Boston Red Sox, but stars like Williams were long gone. Playing independently in a league where only the Los Angeles Angels (Cubs) and Hollywood Stars (Pirates) were associated with major league teams recruiting new talent was difficult with no potential call up to the big leagues for clubs to offer. Most young players were off fighting World War II, and the Padres wrapped up the 1944 season dead last in the Pacific Coast League standings going 75-94. The Padres would finish no higher than 6th during the late war years. But as is the case with so much of that era in general, the lean times defined the strongest and truest, and the fans that stayed on board solidified the team's base. Going into spring training that year there was talk of a redesignation to AAA status. Pat Sirivan was among the optimists. Already 46 years old and semi-retired he had time to devote to being a fan often keeping score while posted up at the barber shop on Ocean View and 32nd or making one of his frequent visits to Lane Field. He also kept in close contact with my grandmother biding his time but also trying to make good on a promise he had made to his rival that he would look after my grandmother and her sister while Aniceto was at sea.

On February 21st, 1945 a tragedy with rippling affects ripped the door wide open for Paterno. Just nine days after she had delivered fighter planes for the assault on Iwo Jima the U.S.S. Saratoga was assigned to escort three U.S. destroyers to nearby by Chi-Chi Jima. Around 5:00pm that afternoon an air attack developed. Six Japanese fighter planes scored five bomb hits on the carriers deck. A hole was ripped out of the ship's starboard side and major fires ensued throughout the hangar deck. Aniceto Medina was working in the highly volatile magazine as part of the team responsible for running ammunition from the lower decks to the anti-aircraft guns and cannons above. Surrounded by fire in a room full of bullets and bombs, explosions eventually overwhelmed his team. The ship survived unlike the U.S.S. Bismark that was sunk in the attack, but Aniceto, my grandfather and mother's father, was one of 123 men who died on the Saratoga that day. We remember him most as the one we never met--my mom and I. A short time later my grandmother received his Purple Heart in the mail. A few months after that, Paterno proposed.

Saratoga hit by Kamikazes, 21 February 1945.

Video of the attack on the Saratoga

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