Standard Park opened in April 1983 and it’s been one of Tuolumne County’s principal community sports venue for 36 years, through the county’s population boom from 34,000 residents in 1980 to 54,000 in 2010.

People played softball and baseball and soccer in Tuolumne County long before Standard Park opened, of course. Baseball was invented before the California Gold Rush, and the origins of soccer are older.

In more recent times, the growth boom in Tuolumne County that started in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with growing popularity of youth and adult softball that stretched into the 1980s and 1990s.

Before Standard Park opened as Merlo Field, there were already more than 100 fastpitch and slowpitch teams playing on four to five different fields elsewhere in the county.

‘Zenith years’

Ron Fumar, 62, of Columbia was the first manager at Standard Park. He remembers he was hired by Tuolumne County in March 1983, and he had six weeks to get ready for the grand opening.

There were already decades-old Little League fields out there in the same location, Fumar said this week.

The old fields were also used as cow pasture, and there was cow dung in the outfields.

The old fields had dugouts, too, so when it rained the cow-dung runoff would flood the dugouts.

People used to call those fields the Cow Palace. Thirty-six years ago everyone was glad to see four new fields on land donated by Louisiana-Pacific Corp. Merlo Field was named for Harry Merlo, then-president of Louisiana-Pacific Corp.

“Before they built Merlo Field there was such a need the old rec department people were scheduling games all over at the local schools,” Fumar said. “That first 10 years it was a busy place.

“The 1980s to 1990 were the zenith of the softball years,” Fumar said. “It was going crazy out there. Softball was the most popular sport at the community level. Back in the day we had big tournaments almost every weekend out there.

“Lots of teams came from the Valley to play up here,” Fumar said. “We were jam packed.”

Fumar managed Standard Park from 1983 to 1994. He retired from Tuolumne County in 2010.

Still busy

Today the county expects more than 100,000 people to come through the gates each year.

The annual budget is about $300,000 for staff salaries, equipment, maintenance supplies, program supplies, and utilities, says Eric Aitken with the county recreation department.

Revenues and user fees that include everything from team participation fees and special events to concessions have brought in $80,000 to $95,000 annually over the past decade, Aitken said this week. That money goes into the county’s general fund.

Sixty percent of sports activities at Standard Park are geared to youth teams and 40 percent are for adult teams, says Greg Pearce, a recreation supervisor who oversees the county-owned, county-operated Standard Park Sports Complex at Tuolumne Road and Standard Road.

“The youth side, the park is used for primarily soccer, softball and baseball,” Pearce said this week. “For adults it’s softball and softball tournaments, company gatherings, alumni gatherings, picnics, barbecues, organization events, churches and companies that come out and use the park.”

A weekday evening

On one field Wednesday evening, the 14 and under fastpitch Norcal Assassins of Sonora practiced infielding and other skills with their coach, Harry Cribbs. Cheyenne Matyshock, 13, and Madeline Fowler, 15, took turns covering first base and fielding sharply-hit grounders and bouncing balls and cutoff throws, working on double-play scenarios and when to throw to third base.

Matyshock and Fowler and most of their teammates wore special face masks to protect themselves from fast-moving softballs. So did the pitcher over on an adjacent field, Steve Burrows, manager for men’s over-50 slowpitch Amos Screen Printing, another Sonora-based team.

Burrows worked his arcing pitches to fall in front of his opponents’ preferred bat swings and their reach from home plate, prompting some teasing and jesting from his own players, and from the opposing fenced-off bench area, where players with Sleven Electric of Sonora ribbed Burrows as well.

“It’s all about the camaraderie with the guys,” Burrows’ catcher, Dan Fox, 55, of Copperopolis, said between innings. “Getting out, having fun.”

Fox said he owns three Pic ‘n Save grocery stores, in Tuolumne, Angels Camp and San Andreas, and he and wife, Debi Fox, each play softball one night a week. Dan Fox said Debi Fox plays with the Know Nothings, a women’s team based in Sonora. The Know Nothings play Thursday nights at Standard Park.

Mike Pate, 54, the right fielder Wednesday night for Amos Screen Printing, agreed with Fox that camaraderie is one of the main reasons he enjoys weeknights softball with his team.

“A lot of us hang out together,” Fox said. “We spend time together. Go on vacation together.”

Amos Screen Printing and Slevin Electric battled to a 12-12 tie that finished in six innings. Another game was scheduled later Wednesday evening on the same field.

Available 7 days a week

A county web page devoted to Standard Park says the place is open, staffed and available for use seven days a week, 12 months a year, subject to weather. Pearce says that means the park is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday except holidays, it’s open evenings when activities are planned, it’s open 30 to 35 Saturdays a year, and it’s open 12 to 15 Sundays each year. The park is not open 24-7, 365.

Groups that use Standard Park regularly include Tuolumne County Youth Soccer, “close to 1,100 kids and they are biggest,” Pearce said, Tuolumne County Girls Fastpitch, Team Crush Youth Baseball, Sierra Cal with the National Softball Association, who do girls fastpitch and adult slowpitch for men’s, women’s and co-ed teams, NorCal Assassins youth girls fastpitch softball, and Sierra United Soccer Club, “they practice out here, fall league and winter league,” Pearce said.

In addition, Summerville High junior varsity softball and junior varsity baseball teams use Standard Park as their home field, Pearce said. Tioga High varsity baseball and varsity softball teams sometimes play opponents there. Woods Creek Little League do their opening days there.

SOZO Fellowship Church and Marc Spurrier with Onstage Dance Studio organize adult softball tournaments, the Quicksilver senior softball program runs a sanctioned senior tournament, Pearce said, and UC-Berkeley grads do Lair of the Golden Bear alumni events at Standard Park.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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