Finding the Space Coast’s Baseball History


Rusty Staub scores ahead of Jim Wynn, who just homered for the Houston Colt .45s, April 4, 1964.

 

I visited the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa earlier this week in search of our baseball history.

The library has on microfilm editions of Florida Today from its inception in 1966, along with the Cocoa Tribune and other local papers.

If you want to print a copy of a microfilmed page, the old-fashioned way is to send it to a printer. That option is still available (for 10¢ a page), but new technology allows you to save an image digitally. That image can be enhanced using an application such as Adobe Photoshop, although there’s only so much you can do. Microfilms are usually fairly poor copies of original pages.

If your objective is to reproduce a photo from a microfilmed page, the much preferable option is to obtain the original print or its negative, but good luck with that.

The original photo is most likely the copyrighted property of the newspaper. Some papers are good about preserving their photo archives, others don’t. If the paper has gone out of existence, or merged into another publication, the archives are probably lost to history. If it still exists, you will be charged a significant amount for a print, and lots more if you intend to use it in a publication or for some commercial purpose.

The original negatives might be with the photographer, but if the image you seek is 40-50 years old that person is most likely no longer an employee, and may not be alive.

I reviewed two periods in 1964 to see how closely the Cocoa Tribune covered baseball back then.

Why 1964?

That was probably the most important baseball year in Space Coast history.

The Houston Astros, then called the Colt .45s, moved their spring training camp from Apache Junction, Arizona to Cocoa. The city built a new baseball complex for the team. We know it today as Cocoa Expo, but its given name was Cocoa Colt Stadium.

The Cocoa Tribune archives for April 1964 show the camp was covered daily by the paper. The Colts were treated like a hometown team, with extensive reports on every game, both home and away.

The image at the top of this article was scanned from a printout of an April 5, 1964 article about a spring training game at Cocoa Colt Stadium. Houston outfielder Jimmy Wynn just hit a three-run homer. That’s Rusty Staub ahead of him about to score.

As you can see, the image is — well, crummy.

I hope to use the digital microfilm reader on my next trip to the library, to see if I can get better results by capturing the page to a JPEG file. (Someone else was using it when I was there.)

The photo credit on all images was, “Tribune Sportsphoto,” so there was no clue who was the original photographer. The articles had no byline for their authors.

If you’re familiar with Cocoa Expo today, the images show it hasn’t changed much since 1964.


The Colts greet Cocoa Little Leaguers, April 5, 1964.

 

This image was in the April 6, 1964 paper. Cocoa Little Leaguers took the field to meet the Colt .45 players. You can clearly see the stands in the background, looking virtually the same as today.

The other period I searched was July 1964. Statistical references from the period included a Cocoa Rookie League, a minor league circuit that existed only that one year. It was Rookie-A, the equivalent of today’s Gulf Coast League Nationals in Viera.

What made this league unique is that all four teams played out of Cocoa Colt. In addition to the Colts, the Mets, Tigers and Twins also fielded teams. It appears that doubleheaders were played every day, weather permitting, with two of the teams playing in the first game and the other two teams in the second. Minor league doubleheader games are seven innings each, although it appears that Sunday games may have been nine innings. Game #1 started at 5:00 PM, Game #2 scheduled for 7:30 PM.

The Tribune did provide some basic coverage of the league. I found stories every day about the two games played, along with a basic line score. No attendance was reported, if anyone actually did attend. A few photos appeared with articles published in the league’s early days, but photographic interest seems to have waned after that.


Mets southpaw Tug McGraw threw a no-hitter at Cocoa Colt on July 3, 1964.

 

Three days into the season, Mets’ left-hander Tug McGraw threw a seven-inning no-hitter against the Colts rookies, which appears to have been his first professional start. The next day, Twins pitchers Jerry Lysico and Gene Melton combined to no-hit the Tigers.

McGraw went on to fame as the ace closer for first the Mets and then the Phillies. He passed away in 2004 from a brain tumor. His son is the famous Country-Western singer Tim McGraw.

Pro ball was in Cocoa long before the Colts arrived.

According to Professional Baseball Franchises From the Abbeville Athletics to the Zanesville Indians, a team called the Cocoa Indians played in the Florida State League from 1951 through 1958. Before that, the Cocoa Fliers played in the Florida East Coast League from 1941 until the league disbanded during the opening days of World War II, as did many minor leagues.

I’ve no idea where they played, since Cocoa Expo wasn’t built until 1964.

Hopefully the Tribune microfilms will help us to resurrect that early Space Coast baseball history.

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