Play Ball! Francisco León García Stadium

Baseball fans in Puerto Peñasco, and from across the region, have mentioned the name Francisco León García indefinitely when referring to the city’s baseball stadium. Yet, few know (particularly new generations) who Francisco León García was and why the stadium bears his name.

Mr. Francisco León García, better known among his friends and dear ones as “Pancho” León, was not around for the unveiling of the plaque on the baseball stadium bearing his name as he had succumbed months earlier to an illness. However, in addition to leaving his mark on the stadium, Pancho León planted a legacy in promoting and organizing the “king of sports” in Puerto Peñasco.  Innumerable talks going after sponsors, doing just about everything necessary to see that games were held, and leading the home team were among the many activities Pancho did each season, highlighting his role as a true baseball promoter and why, during the administration of Gilberto Castillo, his name was chosen for the stadium, which was already 10 years old.

Francisco León was in his twenties when he came with his family from Pitiquito to live in Puerto Peñasco. Before becoming a baseball promoter, he dabbed into other fields including as a bricklayer, fisherman, and taxi driver…though one thing held true, he was always around baseball.

When the need arose for a person to take on promoting the local baseball season, and being in charge of the teams, that’s when Francisco León stepped in; this was just before the launch of the Northern Sonora League (Liga Norte de Sonora).

During his years as a promoter, Pancho León encountered success, victory, defeat, and agony, serving as promoter, manager, water boy, leader, and counselor. Though he never played on the field, he gave it all to see each season through.

At that time, games took place on the then Armex and Hieleria baseball fields, and subsequently at a stadium built in the center of town where the Benavides pharmacy can now be found.

In 1952, Francisco married Margarita Moreno, and together they had four children: Carlos Francisco, Ramón, Gustavo, and Lourdes Margarita.  His wife, also a baseball fan, along with taking care of the home joined her husband in the comings and goings of baseball, as a cook or nurse for the players, plus sewing damaged uniforms, hauling water, and even chasing balls that made their way off the field.

Foto utilizado con permiso de Alberto Aldrete

Among anecdotes friends and family tell of Pancho León, is that of his son Ramón León, now a lawyer.  He recalls the times when watching challenging teams getting an advantage on the Tiburones, the avid promoter would threaten that Rene Romo was up next. “Hold on, here comes Rene Romo…you sons of the Ejido de la Sangre,” he would say.

He’s also remembered for when he was appointed Police Chief during the administration of Oscar Palacio Madueño.  As described by Amaranto Celaya in a fragment of the book Andanzas, “He (Pancho) would laughingly tell the story how on his first day on the job he gathered all the police in front of the school Ventura G. Tena, lined them up and quite self-assuredly announced, Policemen! It’s 6 o’clock! Play Ball!”

Another of his family’s memories is when a game had to be suspended due to a storm that scared those in attendance when a lightning bolt hit the central tower. The game was cancelled, the people left, and Francisco León together with a friend stayed until the end of the storm to take care of the lamps.

There’s also the time he had the opportunity to invite Héctor Espino (professional Mexican league player) and Pancho Barrios (professional Mexican league player who also played in the Major Leagues) to eat at Señorial while they were touring through Puerto Peñasco, and then couldn’t sleep because he was so wound up (also retold in Andanzas by Amaranto Celaya).

“Francisco León was a man of few words,” recalls dentist Joaquín Hernández who had the opportunity to know Pancho and his family. “He was a faithful Tiburones fan who lived baseball as a director, promoter, and yes, while he certainly made mistakes, what stood out was he was a well-intentioned man and it was a great honor they named the stadium after him.”

Among his pleasures, people recall he would read the works of Antonio Plaza; “La Voz del Inválido” was his favorite poem, and it is remembered he would always utter a phrase whenever he heard a military band strike up, “Llorando respondió guerrero, la voz de mi patria es lo primero” (Weeping, the warrior responded, the voice of my country comes first).

Although Pancho León passed away relatively young after succumbing to an illness, which as Amaranta Celaya described he went through stoically and courageously, he had the opportunity to be honored in life through several acknowledgements, such as that presented by the Municipal Sports Office and the team from Bahía Adair in commemorating his 25 years dedicated to baseball. Also, in 1978 he was presented with an acknowledgment in being the main promoter of the Tiburones, and received recognition from the state of Arizona for his collaboration in sports.

Another honor León García received came in September of 1979 when the Tiburones won the championship and dedicated it to his memory.

Pancho’s son Ramón León was on hand for the unveiling of the plaque in January 1979, when the stadium was christened Francisco León Garcia. He was there, together with his family, paying honor to his father although, as he says, he would have liked to have him alive even if the stadium didn’t bear his name.

Now, 38 years after the stadium was named in his honor, and following the recent remodeling of almost every inch of it, it remains under the name Francisco León García. As his son and relatives state, this is a worthy act as conserving the stadium’s name also preserves the history of baseball in Puerto Peñasco.

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