Second home

However much baseball has changed in my lifetime one aspect that has always stayed the same is the notion of a home team and an away team. This is true even when the two squads share the same ballpark (e.g., Dodgers/White Sox Spring Training) or play at a neutral site such as Mexico City or the Field of Dreams. After all, someone has to bat first.

The same is true with people and places. As we find ourselves in different spots over the course of our lives, we are sometimes at home and other times visitors. As a kid, I knew one home and that was the Palms/Mar Vista area of Los Angeles. Until halfway through the eighth grade, I’d spent my entire life in the same house on the same street in the same neighborhood. (Why this house has since been re-branded “Bigfoot Lodge West” is beyond the scope of this article.)

The red pin on the map was our house and center of my universe. That school in the upper left corner, Charnock Road Elementary, was where I walked for first and second grade. Tito’s Tacos, at the bottom of the map, was where we’d go out to eat. The Baskin-Robbins in the middle is where we’d go for ice cream when guests were in town. And most importantly, in the same strip mall as Baskin-Robbins was the liquor store where I traded what I could skim from my mom’s parking meter change for pack after pack of baseball cards.

Every now and then I make the trip back to Los Angeles to see old friends and take in a Dodger game. Forty years later, the old neighborhood is part familiar, part unrecognizable. Make the mandatory trip to Tito’s and place the same order I’ve always placed (tacos with cheese), head down Venice Boulevard to Baskin-Robbins, and this is home. Pass just about anything else, even the house I grew up in, and I’m the visitor, connected to nothing I see.

My son keeping tradition alive, 2017

Los Angeles will always be home to me, but my connections have dwindled to a just four: high school buds, tacos, the Dodgers, and nostalgia. Not a bad four to keep, I suppose, but sure a lot less than in the old days. That’s what the decades do to a place. Things happen. Things change. The blessing, of course, is that my remaining touchpoints, while few, have each gotten better with age.

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Only a few years ago there was a fifth connection to the city: family. My dad passed in October 2020, an indirect COVID casualty, but before that had spent a good 70 years of his life in L.A. That said, his true spiritual home was Venice, especially Venice Beach.

Locals, depending how far back they go, will remember him as the “cardboard sign man” of the 1980s and 90s, or–this century–as the “tee shirt guy.” In a town that prides itself on its freaks and crazies, my dad managed to lap the field, rendering the pretenders of this new urban Bohemia downright normal by comparison.

Accidental Jewel co-star Nelson Schwartz

Still, despite my dad’s near celebrity status (if not because of it) I hated Venice as a kid. Too dirty. Too weird. And, when my dad was there (i.e., all the time!) too embarrassing! I was definitely the away team here, a reluctant (though frequent) visitor at best. I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate the ways Venice was my dad’s lifeblood, nor was I aware of its baseball history. And, for damn sure, I had no idea there were baseball cards!

Venice Tigers baseball cards, 1913-14

Yes, Venice was briefly home to the Venice Tigers of the Pacific Coast League. The team that had called Vernon home from 1909-1912 (and would return to the industrial enclave south of Los Angeles in 1915) spent the 1913 and 1914 seasons just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. (You can see the approximate location of the Venice ballpark on the SABR Baseball Map. You can also spot Vernon in the map’s lower right-hand corner.)

Moving from the map to real life, the marker is not so easy to locate. Having wandered the neighborhood a fair amount, nary noticing a thing baseball related is proof of this. However, some nice online photos are available though the Historical Marker Database. Google Street View also affords this image, though my understanding is that it’s frequently defaced by graffiti.

The presence of the Tigers in Venice (and even Vernon) pre-dates my dad by quite a bit, and it would be a stretch to even call my dad a baseball fan beyond his love of Fernando Valenzuela. Still, I feel drawn to this Pacific Coast League squad of no-names simply because these Tigers, like my dad, called Venice their home, even if both parties left too soon.

I have a Venice trip in my future, one that I’ve already put off too many times. A friend has been holding my dad’s ashes for me far longer then etiquette should allow, and the plan has always been to spread them at Venice Beach. There are a lot of reasons why I’ve waited this long, but I feel like the ghost of an old ballpark, whether as bonus or distraction, may be just what I need to get moving.

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While I’m in the neighborhood I can also check out a couple other Venice Tigers-themed sites. About 0.4 miles from the Corner Ballpark marker, there is the precise location (southwest corner of South Venice and Abbott Kinney) where the ballpark (built in only five weeks!) stood . Though not an official SABR Landmark, why not take a look! And finally, if I’m dropping ashes off the Venice Pier, I may as well stroll past the old parking spot of Ward McFadden’s Ship Café.

What does the Ship Café have to do with baseball?! How else did fans get ahold of their 1913 Venice Tigers schedule doubloons!

There will be a weirdness to the trip, as is tautologically true of all things Venice, but the weirdness will not emanate from the sights, the sounds, or even the smells. Now the weirdness will be my dad joining me, unmistakably, at every step. It will be his weirdness, once off-putting but now sufficiently missed as to turn the unwanted to welcome and the foreign to familiar. Steeped in his memory, this New Venice will offer me what it offered the Tigers, neither errand nor detour but second home.

Author’s Note: This article is dedicated to my father, Nelson Schwartz (1947-2020) and his special love of all things Venice.