By Kathy Brown, Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society
In the early 1900s a confederation of baseball teams called the Mother Lode League was formed. It consisted of teams, which might change year to year, from Sonora, Jamestown, Tuolumne, Angels Camp, Melones, Stockton, Oakdale, Columbia, Soulsbyville, and of course Groveland. The real passion for baseball in Groveland came during the Hetch Hetchy construction era. By the 1920s baseball had become a major sport for both players and spectators. At this time Groveland was the administrative headquarters for the Mountain Division of the Hetch Hetchy Project - the building of the dam and the section of pipeline to Moccasin. This brought a lot of men into the area to work, as well as giving jobs to local miners who were once again idle.
“Chief” Michael O'Shaughnessy, who oversaw the construction of the dam loved baseball and encouraged his workers to play it. During the summer the Hetch Hetchy project hired some high school and college players for work because they knew how to play the game. Ringers were hired by other Mother Lode teams as well. Some star players even went on to play ball for major or minor league teams but the majority of the Mother Lode League teams were local workers, lumberers, and machinists.
Walter Magee, a machinist at the Hetch Hetchy maintenance shop in Groveland, where the CalTrans yard currently stands, is credited with organizing the first Hetch Hetchy era team in 1919. Bernice Laveroni, owner of the popular ice cream parlor located where Precision Optics is currently, acted as the team treasurer. They had a team, but no field to play on, so the men used a Fresno Scraper to level a rock-filled pasture on the Phelan Ranch, near the entrance to the current Pine Mountain Lake, for their home field. For a while the team even had a mascot - a little bear cub raised by Floyd Cassaretto - who was taken to the games in a bucket.
For four or five years, baseball was the highlight of the Groveland social season. The games were usually played on Sundays “when there was nothing else to do.” Entertainment for the entire weekend revolved around the games. Sometimes it was a “new-fangled” movie shown at the social hall. Often the team, it’s supporters, and sometimes competitors would dance the night away in the social hall across from the Groveland Hotel with a break for a midnight supper served by Charlotte at her hotel. This was the “Roaring Twenties” after all! Other league teams did likewise, and the visiting team and supporters might be invited.
Groveland's biggest rival for years was Sonora. At times there was a caravan of up to 50 cars snaking down the grade for a game and on the return everyone would stop in Jacksonville for an Italian dinner before heading back up The Grade. For the most distant competitions, the Groveland team sometimes hopped a ride on the Hetch Hetchy Railroad track bus, connecting to the Sierra Railroad to go farther.
After the mountain section of the Hetch Hetchy pipeline was completed in 1923 many of the workers moved to communities down the line to continue working. This spelled the demise of Groveland's Mother Lode League baseball team and the Golden Era of Groveland baseball.