Baseball, Classic Cars More Than Just Pastimes for AUHS Class of ’56 Grad

1956-Del Drake 002Like many men from his era, 78-year-old Del Drake loves cars and sports, especially Fords and baseball. Of course, the vehicles he was driving while attending Anaheim High are now considered classics, and baseball has evolved from a game played with informal rules using improvised equipment to a big money sport that’s become America’s beloved pastime.

But classic cars and baseball are more than just hobbies for Drake, who has been recognized by the governor of Idaho for starting the first senior softball program in the state. And growing up with a father who was a mechanic known for coaxing the maximum speed from his vehicles, Drake’s life-long passion for cars just came naturally, as did his talent for playing ball.WP_003110

Trying to impress a girlfriend who he described as a “baseball nut,” Drake joined the Anaheim High team and played centerfield for Coach Wallin. He earned his girlfriend’s heart when his 1956 team won the CIF Sunset League Championship, the first time Anaheim High’s baseball team had achieved this honor since 1940. Drake still wears his Sunset League championship jacket and keeps a bookcase and trunk made in an AHS woodshop class in the loft of a barn on his 10-acre farm in Star, Idaho.

After leaving Anaheim High, Drake attended Orange Coast College, where he played football and baseball when he wasn’t taking HV/AC classes or heading to the beach for a game of volleyball. Once he graduated from OCC, Drake enlisted in the Navy and played baseball two years for the Armed Forces. When he got back home, he played in a Huntington Beach league.

WP_003107He already had a full-time job when Angel Stadium opened on April 19, 1966, but he didn’t consider his second job as an usher as real work since it put him closer to the game. Drake was there for opening day and continued working at the stadium for the next two and a half years.

Life went on and by age 40 Drake was still playing ball, this time fast pitch softball with such teammates as Irv Knowles from AUHS Class of ’58 who became an Anaheim City Councilman. It wasn’t until he moved to Idaho that finding a game became a challenge. His best friend since 6th grade, Al Tikker from Class of 1957, already an Idaho resident, urged Drake to join him, promising it was just like Anaheim in the 1950s, except spuds were the top crop instead of oranges.

On his second day of residency, Drake found the Boise Park and Recreation Department and asked about a senior softball league. When he was told there was no such program, Drake decided to help form a league.

Through advertising in newspaper and radio, he recruited 13 players, 9 of whom were California transplants. They played in a tournament that was covered by the “Idaho Statesman,” generating so many phone calls that Drake now runs a league of 18 teams with 150 players. He is now Idaho’s senior baseball league state representative, and the City of Meridian has proclaimed September 26th as Idaho Senior Softball Day.

He gets a lot of help managing the league from his wife Joyce Volpone, who attended Savannah High School in Anaheim. It’s a second marriage for both of them. Combined they have six children and eight grandchildren, including a grand-daughter who is a nationally ranked softball player. As a freshman on the varsity team, she hit a grand slam to win her high school championship game.

Only when baseball season is over is there time for his other passion: restoring his collection of classic cars and trucks.

His dad’s 1915 Model T has a preferred parking spot in Drake’s barn. The Model T is one of several vehicles his father owned. One of Drake’s first memories was standing at the steering wheel of his dad’s 1930s roadster. There’s also a photo of him sitting on his father’s only Harley Davidson, which appears in a book titled “The Indian Harley Davidson Wars” by Alan Girdler. His dad preferred Indians and he owned up to a dozen of the bikes throughout his life.WP_003103

His collection also includes a 1940’s Ford coupe and Woody, a 1951 red Ford pick-up and a 1969 4-speed Mach I Mustang he purchased in 1979 for $150. His coupe is bedecked with a Clem Colonist logo that reflects Drake’s sentiment that: “Once a Colonist, Always a Colonist.”

Due to the distance, Drake’s cars won’t be on display at the Oct. 15 Colony Classic Car Show, but he will be attending his 60th reunion on Oct. 1, to share his cherished memories of growing up in Orange County in the 1950s.  “I grew up in the right place at the right time,” said Drake.

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