I parked my rental car across the street from the small park that was surrounded by a chain link fence. Inside the enclosure the trees moved softly in the breeze, and the air was full of the sweet smell of freshly cut grass and the wildflowers climbing on the buildings where food was cooked and served at picnics, receptions and fiestas.
I saw a man with a small power lawnmower near the wooden bandstand, and when he looked up I caught his eye, motioning I wanted to come in. He nodded and waved to come ahead. I stepped through the partially open gate and walked toward him across the grass.
“Hello I’m Scott Janssen. I was here several years ago and thought I’d stop back by and take another look. Is that okay?”
The older man, brown skinned and weathered, smiled. “Yes, it’s okay to look around. Many people have been here, and many stop back by. We used to rent the park out a lot, but these days not so much, you know, insurance is so high, but some can afford it and still rent it. That’s what I’m doing, cleaning it up for a wedding this Saturday. But walk around, look and remember. It’s a nice place. Is the kind of place where new beginnings happen. New lives, new friends, baby baptisms, weddings, family dances and fiestas and reunions. Many good things.”
“Thanks I had a good time when I was here before. What’s your name?”
“Manuel Silva. Manny” he answered, and held out his hand. “I’m the caretaker. I belong to the Portuguese Society that owns the park.”
We shook hands, then he asked, “What did you come here for before? A wedding?”
“No, a boxing show, the tribute to Joey Lopes.”
A wide smile crossed his face. “Ah, that was the only boxing ever here. I was here too; it was very good. Henry Rodriquez put that on for the boxing club. He is a good man. His three sons all boxed and he helped a lot of young boxers. A lot of them were here that day. And of course you saw Frankie then, no?”
“Yes, I did, and I met both Frankie and Henry.”
“Very good. Well, look around. The chapel is open, too. I must go and get this grass cut. I have a lot of work to do.”
“Thanks,` Mr. Silva.”
I walked away from the bandstand, crossing a narrow unmowed strip of grass to the entrance of the small chapel that had housed countless weddings and baptisms. The door was ajar and I stepped inside. It was cool and dusky, the only light was the sun coming through the stained glass windows. It was a peaceful place.
I sat down on a pew near the door. Silva was right. At some point in time, somewhere, there are places where people experience new beginnings in their lives, San Pedro Park had been that place for many.
I’m a writer, a freelancer. I’d worked for various publications on the West Coast before ending up in Seattle, where I now live. I do magazine and newspaper work, both print and on the internet.
I cover a variety of subjects, but mainly professional boxing, and that’s how I ended up at San Pedro Park the first time.
I had just covered two back-to-back nights of pro fights in Reno and Lake Tahoe and come down to West Sacramento, where I used to live, for a couple days of R&R hanging out by the swimming pool at the Best Western Harbor Inn, a hotel I stayed at whenever I was in the area.
Late the next morning I was settling into the coffee, newspaper, and pool scenario, when Cecilia, the head housekeeper, saw me.
A small woman full of energy and enthusiasm, she came up to the gate of the pool.
“Mr. Janssen, ola! You stay again?”
“Yes, I’m afraid you’ve got me for a couple days. How are you and the rest of the girls?”
“We are fine. The hotel just passed a big inspection; we did good. So it is good. Hey, Mr. Janssen, you write about boxing, no? We talked about it before, yes?”
“Well, you know Maria. Her brother is in a boxing show this day, this afternoon. It’s at this place called San Pedro Park. It’s over near Emma’s Taco House on Hobson Avenue.
You should go. They are amateurs, young guys, but some are older, in their twenties or so. They will be turning professional soon. You know West Sacramento. We have many good fighters. One of them fighting today, Frankie Velez, is very good.”
She continued,“ Do you know where Emma’s is?”
“Si, okay, then you turn left there on Solano and left on Hobson by the church and follow it down. It’s a nice park right in the middle of the neighborhood.”
She paused for a moment then with a mischievous smile continued, “You’ll like it. There will also be many pretty senoritas there. They dress up fancy and parade around.”
“Thanks for the tip, CeCe I might check it out, and hey, I’ll tell your boss you’re doing a good job.”
She laughed, “gracias, Mr. Janssen. Have fun.” She waved and walked away checking her clipboard with her list of rooms to take care of.
I thought about it for a while. Professional boxing, which is my regular work, is a world all of its own. There are rules, of course, and regulatory commissions, but the bottom line is money. That changes everything. The dollar can cover a lot of indiscretions.
However, I first got into boxing covering amateur bouts, and at that level the sport is relatively pure and innocent. There is no cash to be won, just trophies and medals. It’s young people trying to obtain success and a sense of self-confidence through physical fitness, discipline, and dedication to a sport. Many young men and a few women have had their lives turned around positively by their participation in amateur programs.
As much as I had been thinking about just hanging out at the pool, the idea of a local amateur boxing show on a nice Sunday afternoon seemed like it might be a refreshing change of pace from the hardened and cynical professional scene. I went back to the room, changed into some shorts and a tee shirt, grabbed my baseball hat, camera, and sunglasses and headed out.