By Jonathan Williams
A community gem will soon get the rightful polish.
Stengel Field Foundation President Spiro Psaltis and state Sen. Anthony Portantino are working to organize a formal presentation ceremony to provide the field with a much-needed makeover, despite nearly a year of no renovations.
Last July, Portantino announced a $2.2 million fund to restore the field. Nearly a year later, no money has been spent; a decision looms between the Stengel Field Foundation and the city of Glendale to get the funds into the necessary hands.
“The ball is really in the city’s and nonprofit’s [the Stengel Field Foundation] court to come together to implement the progress,” Portantino said. “I’m the guy who requested the money on their behalf. I’m not going to tell them how to spend it.”
However, this month, Psaltis and Portantino’s office said the Dodgers could potentially be part of the official ceremony and have been in coordination to begin the process of planning the renovations.
Built in 1949 as the Verdugo Municipal Baseball Field, it was renamed Stengel Field in 1952 to honor Casey Stengel, the New York Yankees great who lived in Glendale until his death in 1972.
Home to several teams, the field has seen steady use over its nearly 75-year history.
It was condemned in 2011 because of water damage. Even so, the field stayed in use.
A campaign, backed by supporters of the “Save Stengel” movement, led a charge to refurbish it.
In February 2020 and after years of negotiations, the field received a much-needed update. In July 2022, Portantino announced the state had included his $2.2 million request in its 2022-23 budget.
“I am happy to help garner funds to restore our landmark baseball field here in Glendale,” he said in a statement. “Casey Stengel Field has been around for decades and with the upcoming restoration, it can continue serving the community.”
From that $2.2 million, it’s projected that synthetic turf will replace grass, a press box will be built and a covering installed for the bleachers and bathrooms.
“Baseball is important,” Portantino said. “Casey Stengel is an important figure and certainly that field is important.”
For nearly a year, Casey Stengel Field has been maintained without a single cent of that $2.2 million, with the support of Crescenta Valley High School and Glendale Community College.
“I think there’s a lot on the city’s plate,” Portantino said. “There’s no controversy about the issue. It’s just a matter of the city bringing folks together and figuring out what they can and can’t do with the $2.2 million. … Clearly, it’s something that should be done. The longer it takes, the price of construction goes up. They should start facilitating.”
Psaltis, a USC graduate, grew up just steps from Stengel Field. The Glendale High graduate helped USC win an NCAA national baseball championship in 1978.
After a baseball head coaching job at Glendale High from 1978-1986, Psaltis became the voice of football, basketball, baseball and track. He also calls some events for Crescenta Valley and La Cañada High School.
When he’s not traversing the city announcing games, Psaltis is the acting president of the Stengel Field Foundation. What started as an organization to save the field has become a movement to push these renovations forward.
“Playing games at Stengel Field was the most memorable thing I’ve ever done,” Psaltis said. “So, it has its spot … as a historical place and a very special place in the hearts of youth baseball and college baseball. … The setting provides a unique situation as you’re going to get. That all adds to the romantic part of it.”
After the 2011 condemnation, both the college and the high school enacted improvements of their own such as pitching pop-up tents to sell concessions. Crescenta Valley purchased its own mobile, modular power source.
In February 2020, officials from GCC and Crescenta Valley unveiled renovations to the field’s dugout and clubhouses, which took eight months to complete. The Glendale Unified School District ferried two bungalow classrooms and placed them there. That means there are now lockers there, axing what players had to do before: buckling up their baseball pants and tying up their cleats in the parking lot.
Despite all of this, with age came wear and a need for modern facilities. For example, the nearest restroom is in the park, more than 300 feet away.
In the early 1940s and 1950s, the Yankees, Dodgers and USC would practice there. Some Pacific Coast League teams would have games on the green grass tucked into a hillside. Psaltis said it even had sunken dugouts, just like the pros. But, despite the love it received from ballplayers, it just didn’t bring in any revenue for the city.
“I certainly do not blame the city of Glendale one bit,” Psaltis said. “There was basically no income coming in so why would we maintain and make this a marquee place … otherwise for the sake of community involvement?”
A TEAM EFFORT
In the wake of the renovations, Glendale College and Crescenta Valley baseball team members have decided not to wait for the money to come home. Instead, they’ve maintained the field for over a decade, and the pristine layer of natural Bermuda grass is telling.
“They’re the ones who’ve made the field what it is right now,” Psaltis said. “The field is in absolutely fantastic shape.”
While Psaltis doesn’t know when the meeting will happen between the two groups, he and the other Stengel Foundation officials have a wish list:
1. Bathrooms on site
2. Extend the netting from first base, around the stadium seating to the third base side
3. An overhang attached to current bleachers
4. Start the process of installing synthetic turf to the apron of grass along the dugout
5. Establish a press box behind the home plate
Why has it taken nearly a year, and what funds need to be disbursed?
The players deserve better, supporters say, adding that the stagnation on Stengel Field upgrades is a disservice to its memory. There’s no doubt that student-athletes who’ve gone on to play at the highest level, coaches who’ve dedicated so much to them and all the community members who saved this near 74-year-old gem etched into the side of a hill off Canada Boulevard, are eager to see the fruits of the $2.2 million promised to them.
Psaltis says he could’ve been more assertive in acquiring the funds.
“Part of it would be my fault for assuming that the scheduling agenda was going to move through quickly,” he said. “I’m just thinking the agenda is going to be done by state Sen. Portantino’s office. Why haven’t I followed up? I just haven’t done it.”
Though no real progress has been made, the field is still in use almost every day, leaving parents wondering what’s next for the proposed renovations.
Juan Olmos took the drive down the 210 Freeway from Tujunga to watch his son play a scrimmage game put on by Verdugo Hills High School on a gloomy June day.
Olmos visits the stadium frequently to watch his son and was surprised the funds still haven’t been use.
“This field is really nice,” Olmos said. “If you put $2 million into it, it’ll be even better.”
Olmos said he couldn’t understand what’s taking so long since the funds were allocated last July. It’s been almost a year since the announcement and there’s been no movement from either side, he said.
He, like many, would like to see leaders from the Stengel Field Foundation and the state senator’s office come together and move more quickly, despite the little progress that’s been made by both offices.
Olmos said he offered to write Portantino a letter calling for the funds to be put into the field. It’s time for the money to come home, he said.
“It seems like a good idea,” he said. “I’m just one voice but if I can do something … and send them something then that would be great. I would let them know it’s a great idea and if it is happening, then what’s the holdup?”
First published in the June 17 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.