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Dick Vinal

 

Date and Place of Birth: November 30, 1945, San Carlos, CA
Date and Place of Death:    April 15, 1967, Long An Province, South Vietnam
Baseball Experience: Amateur
Position: Pitcher/Outfield
Rank: Specialist 4
Military Unit: A Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Division, US Army
Area Served: Vietnam

If you grew up in the 1950’s, 60’s or 70’s, chances are you remember the rituals of a Little League at-bat. You would usually hitch up your oversized flannel pants, rub some dirt into your hands, bend awkwardly like an eighty-year-old at the waist, then nervously squint into the eyes of the opposing pitcher who was always a bit more wild than accurate. Since most of us often closed our eyes when we swung the bat, just making contact between the bat and ball was a major victory. Of course, at every age, there are those that stand out. Dick Vinal would be one of those kids. Although his baseball prowess would peak as a teenager, his amateur career would culminate in perhaps the ultimate achievement for a fifteen year old ballplayer at the time. For as a member of the San Carlos, California, Babe Ruth League All-Stars, Dick’s team went as far as they could and won the 1961 Babe Ruth League World Series.

Richard Alden Vinal was born on November 30, 1945, in San Carlos, California. San Carlos lies twenty five miles south of San Francisco and equally north of San Jose. Incorporated in 1925, San Carlos is just 5.5 square miles and had a population of 21,370 in 1960. Many industrial businesses lined the main artery of Highway 101 (as they still do today), with the San Francisco Bay to the east and tract housing hugging the hills to the west. The town, whose nickname is “The City of Good Living”, has an interesting wartime military connection. From 1942 through 1945, San Carlos served as a war dog training center, specializing in mine sweeping capabilities. In all, over 4500 dogs went through the training, with well over 1000 chosen for the delicate mine detection work in the Pacific Islands during World War II.

Growing up in the late 1950’s at 800 Bauer Drive in San Carlos was an idyllic experience for Dick. The working class community was close-knit, with well kept homes and manicured lawns. A walk from his front door to the street with a glance off to the right, offered Dick an impressive view of San Bruno Mountain and a brief slice of the San Francisco Bay itself. Just about six or seven blocks from his home sat Burton Park. Burton Park was the community hub for kids at the time and it boasted a playground, activity center, tennis courts, a lot of green grass, and of course, a baseball diamond. It was on this field that Dick and his teammates would start their amazing journey and become part of local lore.

Being selected to the San Carlos Babe Ruth All-Stars was quite an accomplishment. The team was obviously talented, and years later, two members would be drafted professionally; Steve Caria to the Baltimore Orioles and Jim Magnuson to the Philadelphia Phillies. Dick wore uniform #4 and was selected as a pitcher/outfielder. On July 22 - 24, 1961, the county championship round of the Babe Ruth tournament was hosted at Burton Park. Five localities were represented, including Menlo Park (2 teams), Redwood City, Tri-City (made up from the local towns of Burlingame, Millbrae and Hillsborough), and San Carlos. The Tri-City team featured Dick’s high school classmate and future big league pitcher, Danny Frisella, who would later star for the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets. San Carlos first crushed Menlo-American 12 - 1, then shut out Redwood City 3 – 0, and finally finished off Frisella and his talented Tri-City team in a close 3 – 1 battle.

In Hayward, California, on July 28 – 29, San Carlos defeated Oakland 1 – 0, and Mountain View 9 – 2, to take the next round of western tournament. At the Northern California Regional the next weekend in Woodland, CA, San Carlos piled on victories over Eureka, East Sacramento and Hanford. The victory over Hanford garnered a spot in the Western Finals that was to be played in exotic Honolulu, Hawaii. The boys continued their miracle run in the eight day tropical tournament, with big two wins over Reno (Nevada), and Phoenix (Arizona). On August 12, a third victory (a 5 – 2 win over Phoenix), sealed the Western title.

Rabid fans filled the entire city of San Carlos as news spread that the team was on their way to the international tournament. As the boys prepared for their trip to Glendive, Montana, each night seemed to require a fund raising dinner and a rousing pep rally. On August 17, ardent league and team sponsor, Walt Del Rossi, hosted a farewell dinner at his Gold Platter restaurant. The city of San Carlos presented the team with brand new uniforms with the city’s name emblazoned across the front. The next day, with coast-to-coast smiles, the team boarded Greyhound buses to Montana. The team was brimming with confidence, knowing they had beaten the best teams in the Western region of the United States.

The team arrived a day before the August 21 – 27 double-elimination tournament was to start. Glendive was a sleepy, western-type town, not too far from the North Dakota border to the east. They town was open and welcoming, as all of the coaches and ballplayers were put up by local host families. In all, ten teams vied for the top prize. They were: Mobile (Alabama); Mosel (Germany); Anderson (Indiana); Darien (Connecticut); Portland (Oregon); West Burlington (Iowa); Englewood (New Jersey); Tulsa (Oklahoma); San Carlos (California); and host Glendive (Montana). Portland and Darien were the first teams to fall and in the end, only Englewood and San Carlos were left standing. On Sunday, August 27, the showdown began at 3:00pm.

Englewood was the most integrated team in the tournament, having over half the team of African-American descent. On the long bus trips throughout the summer, Coach Ed Arslanian refused to segregate his team and he was both revered and reviled for his efforts. Nevertheless, the team was well disciplined and talented despite the off-the-field distractions. In fact, the team still holds the Babe Ruth World Series Team Home Run record of 12 home runs in a series over fifty years later. That power was absent, however, when Englewood met the scrappy San Carlos nine. Behind the powerful pitching and hitting of Steve Caria (seven K’s and a three run homer), San Carlos cruised to a majestic 9 – 2 victory. They were now world champions!

After the World Series win, the team was welcomed home with a huge parade and keys to the city. The September 4, 1961 issue of Sports Illustrated featured a small write-up of their triumph. On September 12, 1961, the team was feted at Candlestick Park, where they mingled with All-time great Willie Mays, and Pittsburgh Pirate star, Dick Stuart. (Stuart had grown up in San Carlos and was a fan of the local champs).

As the hubbub wound down, Dick settled in to a typical teenager’s life. He was an accomplished bowler, loved to chase girls, and often could be found “cruising” the local streets and avenues with his high school buddies. (Dick was nearly killed in May of 1963 when the car he was riding in was sideswiped by another young driver. He was ejected from the car and nearly run over by a second vehicle. Fortunately, only cuts and severe bruises were suffered by Dick and the three friends he was riding with). Dick attended Junipero Serra High School, a private all-boys school in nearby San Mateo. Known for its college-prep academic curriculum, Serra has boasted some impressive baseball alumni trough the years. Notables include player/manager Jim Fregosi, New York Met infielder Greg Jefferies, and controversial home run king, Barry Bonds (NFL great, Tom Brady also attended the school). Dick would graduate in the summer of 1963.

Just two and a half years later in January of 1966, Dick received his notice from the Selective Service Board #58 in San Mateo, CA. He reported for induction into the U. S. Army across the bay in Oakland, and waited for his orders. He married his sweetheart, Susan, on July 5, 1966, and soon after, reported to Fort Riley, Kansas for basic training, and once completed, proceeded on to advanced infantry training. Dick was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. His unit was to specialize in the new jungle warfare tactics that were now required in the ever expanding war in Vietnam. The 9th would use surgical helicopter insertion and foot patrols to harass enemy forces all along the Mekong Delta. The 9th Infantry was the largest U.S. unit to serve in the Mekong Delta; an area that contained a third of the 15 million South Vietnamese people, and where its fertile land grew 80 percent of its rice. On December 19, 1966, Dick landed in Vietnam and he and his buddies dug in at Camp Dong Tam.

On April 14, 1967, C Company left the security of their base camp and patrolled along the Delta shore in the Long An Province. Known as a heavily hostile environment, contact with the enemy seemed inevitable. NVA troops had been massing in great numbers in the region while the U.S. was answering directly by fortifying its own troop strength by adding more foot soldiers and patrols. Almost as if planned, a skirmish ensued and C Company lost five men. The next day, April 15, Dick was serving as a rifleman while on patrol with A Company. All was quiet, but nerves were tightly wound because of the losses the day before. Suddenly, while crossing an open field of rice paddies, machine gun and small arms fire erupted all around the platoon. As they dove for cover, bullets whizzed overhead and the men scrambled and crawled for their lives. Dick found a low, water-filled ditch, rolled in, and proceeded to return fire at a frantic pace. In the initial burst, Dick had seen his communications officer fall. Fully realizing the grave nature of the situation, and without regard for his own personal safety, Dick made the decision to sprint to the aide of his wounded brother. As he zigzagged through the mud and murky water, a hailstorm of bullets chased every water-logged step. While rendering aid to his wounded officer, a singular crack from a well-concealed sniper’s bullet found its mark and Dick slumped, then fell, his wound fatal. The entire firefight would claim twelve U.S. lives.

For valorous action that day, Dick was awarded our nation’s fourth highest honor, the Bronze Star with V device and Oak Leaf Cluster (denoting his second award), and his second Purple Heart. He also earned the Combat Infantry Badge, the National Defense Medal, and the Vietnam Service and Campaign Medals. On April 23, 1967, Dick was interred at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma, California, Section 4, Row 18, and Grave 93. His name can be found on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., Panel 18E, Line 32. Dick is also remembered, along with eleven others from San Carlos who gave their lives protecting our freedoms, on the City of San Carlos Veterans Memorial Marker, located not far from Dick’s boyhood home in Highlands Park. However, the most poignant reminder of Dick we have today remains at old Burton Park, where our story began. The baseball diamond is still there. Kids still run the bases, shag the balls, and they still swing for the fences with their eyes closed. The ballpark has been renamed Dick Vinal Field, and it not only serves as a reminder of a local hero who gave his life in battle, but it’s also a nod to that special summer in 1961, when the San Carlos All-Stars challenged the baseball world, and won.

© Mark Haubenstein, July, 2013 Permission of use granted.

Sources
“Images of America, San Carlos”, N. Veronico, B. Veronico, 2007
The Jefferson City Post, Jefferson City, Missouri, 03/09/1967, Page 6
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 07/25/1961, Page 14
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 08/22/1961, Page 13
The San Mateo Post, San Mateo, California, 08/23/1961, Page 8
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 08/29/1961, Page 14
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 12/24/1966, Page 20
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 10/13/1967, Page 27
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 02/16/1968, Page 16
“The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam”, Ira Hunt, Jr., (USA Ret.) 2010
Sports Illustrated, 09/04/1961
VirtualWall.org

Thanks to Mark Haubenstein for contributing this great biography.

Date Added July 15, 2013 Updated August 28, 2013

 

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