#4: Isle Be Seeing You ~ The Cubs in Catalina

I’ve never been to Wrigley Field.  It must be pretty nice, what with the ivy and all. Built in 1914, it has been the home of the Chicago Cubs for 99 years.  Only Boston’s Fenway (1912) is older.

I’d like to visit Wrigley some day, but not in March.

Because it’s cold.  And, it snows.  And, there are no Cubs there in March.

(Did you know that the Cubs are one of the only major league teams that doesn’t have an oversized, furry mascot roaming around during games? The Cubs are ready-made for a mascot – they’re Cubs, for heaven’s sake.  The team believes a mascot would cheapen the majesty of Wrigley. They are wrong. Mascots are amazing.)

But, back to Spring Training … and #4 on my list of most amazing Spring Training locations (mascot, optional).

There are very few cases of a team actually buying their own Spring Training facility. (Multi-multi-multi-millions of dollars, the majority from taxpayers, fund most of the Spring Training parks you can visit today.  Thank you, Americans!)

In the early years, most teams were virtual nomads, wandering from whatever college or minor league park in the south might accommodate them for a few weeks each spring.  They bunked en masse in fraternity houses or cheap hotels, and dined at boarding houses overseen, I gather, by plump, elderly widows dishing out the morning grits.

Now, imagine if your owner bought an island – an entire island! – and then plopped you and your teammates right down in the middle of it.

Who cares if the nearest other team is THOUSANDS of miles away?  This is Paradise, Baby!

And, so, when Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley shelled out about $3 million for Santa Catalina Island, 25 miles off the coast of California, in 1919, he packed up his Cubbies and shipped them off to Xanadu.

Cubs Catalina

Dodgertown? It’s a TOWN.  The Cubs had an island!

Dodgertown in Florida was fashioned out of an abandoned old concrete military base in the 1940s.  (The Dodgers abandoned it themselves in 2008.)

By contrast, Catalina is an island. Twenty-one miles long, eight miles wide.  70 degrees and sunny when I last checked.

Wrigley set about making Catalina a must-see tourist destination. He improved the island’s infrastructure, and built a dazzling array of hotels, dance halls, and recreation facilities. And, he gave them the Cubs.

Just like Wrigley, but in Catalina!SDN-067431, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.

Just like Wrigley, but in Catalina! (1928)
SDN-067431, Chicago Daily News negatives collection,
Chicago History Museum.

As Cubs pitcher Bob Kelley, who enjoyed his first Catalina Spring Training in 1948, put it, “It’s a long way down to earth from there.”

Catalina was the Cubs’ Spring Training home from 1921 until 1951 (minus a couple years during World War II, when Indiana had to suffice).

Catalina's Hotel St. Catherine

The Cubs lived at the luxurious Hotel St. Catherine, nestled on the bay.  They practiced in the warm sunshine at a ballpark that perfectly matched the dimensions of Wrigley Field. They had a lovely clubhouse which still stands today and houses the local Country Club.

The Cubs Clubhouse is now the Catalina Country Club.

The Cubs Clubhouse is now the Catalina Country Club.

During off hours, Cubbies could swim, sun, golf, hunt, or “chase skirts” at the glamorous Avalon Grand Casino, which wasn’t really a casino, but the world’s largest dance hall, filled, I’m sure, with the world’s most beautiful girls.

The Cubs' Leo Hartnett takes in the Catalina sights.SDN-067342, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.

The Cubs’ Catcher & future Hall of Famer “Gabby” Hartnett takes in the Catalina sights. (1928)
SDN-067342, Chicago Daily News negatives collection,
Chicago History Museum.

Frankly, I’m surprised anyone ever left.

With no other major league teams nearby – especially in the early years – the Cubs played a good share of intrasquad games, took on local teams, and even once played a boat-load of movie stars that were ferried out on a publicity stunt.

But, paradise never lasts, does it? A run of bad weather over a few seasons – rain, even some snow – was Catalina’s undoing. The Cubs decamped for Mesa, Arizona in 1952, where they’ve been ever since.

In the 1970s, the Wrigley family donated most of the island to a conservation trust.

When I asked a client, and Californian, about Catalina, she said, “You know I lived in Palos Verdes for 30 years. I could see Catalina from my window. I never went there.”

Maybe Catalina is the local “attraction” that exists everywhere. It’s like the museum, monument, or historical spot, in your own town, that you never bother to visit.  (Then, inevitably, you move away and wonder, “Why did I never go there?”)

All my client knew about Catalina was that it was once stocked with wild boars to encourage hunters to visit.  Someone else I asked knew about the feral goats that overran the island until the late 1990s when some were rescued and removed, and many others, well … weren’t quite so lucky.

Then there’s Catalina salad dressing, which, everyone believes, was named for the island though no one seems to know why. (Kraft won’t say, and believe me, I tried.)

Even though the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, you can’t discount a team that spent 30 years warming up on a beautiful island. So, I deem Catalina Island in California #4 on my list of amazing Spring Training locations.  #3 Coming Soon. 

POSTSCRIPT:

In 2014, the Cubs will move into a spacious, new Spring Training facility, funded, in large part, by $84 million provided by the city of Mesa, Arizona, according to The Phoenix Business Journal. They will enjoy a luxury ballpark, ample practice fields, and a state-of-the-art “training complex” that will be the largest of all the Spring Training venues.  The area, which will include its own park, lake, and shopping/dining district, will be called Wrigleyville West.

Previous Posts in My Top 5 Amazing Spring Training Locations:

#5 ~ The Yankees in Shreveport, Louisiana

The Season Before The Season

Learn more about the Cubs in Catalina:

Spring Training With The Cubs, South Bay Daily Breeze (2009)

Greetings From Catalina, Spring Training Magazine (1997)

Chicago Cubs: Baseball on Catalina Island by Jim Vitti

Here’s a sweet two-minute film on the Cubs & Catalina:

omballnewThis post is dedicated to Cubs fan Jan Yuvan of Yuvan Yoga, Chicago. Even though she didn’t know me, she graciously allowed me to use her OM baseball photo on this blog. If any Cubs fans are reading this, please contact the Cubs and urge them to hire her as their Yoga Coach. The World Series will be in the bag!

9 thoughts on “#4: Isle Be Seeing You ~ The Cubs in Catalina

  1. As a native Chicagoan I loved this! My dad took me to Wrigley Field just once when I was seven years old. It wasn’t a weekend as I recall, so he must have been playing hookey himself. Not surprisingly the Cubbies lost, but the hot dog was memorable, and the experience made me a fan for life. Waiting for #3!

  2. My dad was a Cubs fan, topped only by his favorite Cleveland team (also not much one for winning, but a very loyal chap…). I didn’t know the Cubbies didn’t have a mascot; would be hard to top Edgar, Allan, and Poe, anyway! Thanks for the great early pics, links, and the video. What a lovely way to spend a cold, damp, dreary day “up north,” dreaming of being warm at spring training in FL…. 75 degrees, 50% humidity and just a bit overcast in Sarasota right now – sigh.

    • I think every team deserves a mascot. I’m sort of partial to the Oriole Bird … but the 4 Racing Presidents (including President Taft, their newest member) at the Nationals games are very very cool!

  3. I’ve been to Wrigley a couple times the past few years(my fiance is a huge cubs fan), and it’s definitely worth going to. You should take a trip and go before they renovate it all up. I had a blog last year about going to Wrigley and posted some pics. Thanks for the info in this blog, I had no idea they did this!

    • There is so much baseball I still need to see in person. I’m working on it! Good luck to your Dodgers … I thought of you as I was putting together the Dodgertown post. Thank you for reading!

  4. Pingback: #3: From Daytona Beach to Dodgertown | Baseball, Yoga, Life ... (and me)

  5. Pingback: #2: Look It’s Me! The Orioles in St. Petersburg | Baseball, Yoga, Life … (and me)

  6. Pingback: #1: Home Sweet Home ~ Spring Training in Charlottesville, VA | Baseball, Yoga, Life … (and me)

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