Recreation Park offers cozy environment

Visalia is midway between Los Angeles, San Francisco

(California Dept. of Transportation)

By Eric Justic / | March 5, 2006 5:02 PM

In the movie Bull Durham, Joe Riggins tells Crash Davis there might be a managerial opening next spring in Visalia, Calif. Considering the fictional Davis' love of baseball, Visalia would be a good place for the career Minor Leaguer.

Visalia is located in a picturesque part of the San Joaquin Valley in Tulare County, nearly at the midway point of California's two largest cities. It lies some 185 miles north of Los Angeles and 220 miles south of San Francisco. While Visalia may be a city of 102,000, it retains the small town appeal founded in the mid-19th Century.

"It's a small place. When you go downtown and sit in the coffee shop, everybody knows each other," said Toby Hyde, Visalia Oaks director of broadcasting and media relations. "You run into people on the streets and they are all friendly. It's actually a very small community."

Downtown Visalia is a particularly vibrant place and remains essentially the same as it was when the city was founded. Live music, art galleries and fine places to dine can be found there. Brewbakers Brewing Company and Restaurant makes a solid line of its own beers and serves food, while Visalia Brewing Company possesses a special deal every Tuesday in which every draught beer is $2.

The Sequoia Cycling Classic runs downtown on an early spring weekend. In the past, the race -- designed for amateur and professional cyclists, triathletes and the fitness-minded -- attracted participants like Lance Armstrong, Davis Phinney, Roberto Gaggioli and Alexi Grewal.

Residents also gather downtown for annual festivals and parades. For 20 years, Visalia has hosted a St. Patrick's Day Parade along Main Street, where establishments serve traditional corned beef and cabbage.

Visalia has played an integral part in California's history. In 1852, a group of adventurous pioneers settled in a swampy area with oak forests, then known as Four Creeks. They built a log fort to protect themselves in the sparse terrain, just two years after California achieved statehood. Nathaniel Vise was one of the first to call home this unnamed territory that later was named Visalia after his ancestral home in Visalia, Ky.

The gold rush spurred more residents, as did visiting stagecoaches. By 1874, Visalia was incorporated as a city; it became a charter city in 1923.

Baseball has been ingrained in Visalia's culture almost since its inception. In the 1880s, club teams from Visalia played other squads. Recreation Park, the home of the California League's Oaks, opened in 1946, has hosted more than 6,000 games and sent 140 players to the Majors. Along the way, it is being affiliated with 11 different Major League organizations. The Oaks have been Visalia's team since 1977, except for a brief stint as the Central Valley Rockies in 1993-94.

In keeping with the spirit of Visalia, Recreation Park offers fans one of the coziest and most intimate spots in Minor League Baseball. It is among the smallest parks in the Minors with a capacity of 1,612. Fans get an up-close look at the Oaks in a grandstand that is fewer than 30 feet from home plate. Other charming features include a skate park just outside the left-field wall.

"Our left-field wall has a screen that goes up 50 feet to protect skaters from home run balls," Hyde said.

It's fitting to have a place for recreation adjacent to Recreation Park because Visalia boasts lots of recreational opportunities. It has a close proximity to Lake Kaweah Marina for fishing and boating enthusiasts. For golfers, there is Sierra View and Valley Oaks golf courses. Campers can get acquainted with Horse Creek Campground that is located at Lake Kaweah.

Two of the nation's best parks are within an hour's drive. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are operated as one facility and possess huge trees, deep canyons and a vast mountain region. Sequoia was the second national park designated in the United States, and General Grant National Park, the forerunner to Kings Canyon, was third.

"It's one of the most beautiful national parks, has the famous Sequoia redwood trees," Hyde said.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon have diverse habitats, thanks to an elevation that ranges from 1,500 to 14,491 feet. The foothills are studded with oaks and towering Sequoia groves. Trails lead to high alpine wilderness and beneath the surface lie more than 200 caverns.

With all this scenery and culture, it's easy to see why Visalia is a good place for Minor Leaguers to play and for at least one fictional one to crash.

Eric Justic is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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