The 1994 Northridge Earthquake, Little League, and the Big A Stadium

This post deals with the Northridge quake and its impact on baseball in Southern California. First this, from the Fresno Bee, reporting on the January 17 quake and Cal State-Northridge:

As a shortstop at Bullard High School and Fresno City College, Chad Thornhill has handled hot shots afield and unnerving fastballs at bat.

Early Monday, nature threw him a curveball in Northridge that left the 21- year-old bewildered, literally shaken and suddenly realizing the value of life beyond his passion, baseball .

“It felt like the world was coming to an end, the way my room was shaking,” Thornhill, who now attends Cal State-Northridge, said of the earthquake that measured 6.6 on the Richter scale.

Thornhill and teammate Kevin Howard, a Bullard and FCC outfielder, were unhurt in the quake.

“Just woke up shaking and hoped it would end,” Howard said. “It seemed like it would go on forever.”

Golden West High graduate Traci Gallian, a softball player at Cal State-Northridge, has returned home to Visalia after her dormitory sustained extensive damage, her older sister Niki Gallian said.

Former Fresno State softball pitcher Amy Windmiller was unhurt in the collapse of an apartment building that killed 16 people.

Thornhill and Howard moved to the San Fernando Valley with the idea of hitting and catching baseballs , earning college degrees and enjoying Southern California living.

Not on the agenda was dodging flying dresser drawers, gushing water pipes and ruptured gas mains during and after the violent earthquake , the epicenter of which was virtually in their backyard.

“I figured nice weather year-round, play ball and have fun,” Thornhill said. “This is the kind of stuff you see on TV, not in real life. I’ve never been so scared. It’s a mess.”

So is Gallian’s dorm room. Her sister said Traci spent Monday night with a teammate in Newbury Park. Traci phoned her parents about six hours after the quake, and they drove Tuesday to Northridge to bring her home.

“Her dorm room was pretty much destroyed – everything on the floor, everything broken,” Niki Gallian said. “The sliding glass door onto a patio was blown out. The dorms are closed, and they are not allowing students in or out.”

Thornhill and Howard said their multi-level apartments near campus were damaged but not nearly to the extent of a three-story complex reduced to two stories down the road.

Windmiller, who pitched for Fresno State in 1991, said she and roommate Shannon Jones dived out of their first-floor window shortly before the top two floors collapsed on the first.

“It seemed like an eternity,” Windmiller said. “I was screaming. Then a picture fell on my head, and I knew I had to get out of there.”

Jones, Windmiller’s catcher at Sacramento’s Mira Loma High, said: “You didn’t have time to think. I don’t know what prompted me to jump out the window, but that’s why I’m alive now.”

Thornhill added: “Two more seconds and they’d be down there with the [crushed] cars. They were more in shock than anything.”

Thornhill said he was close to shock himself. Most frightening, he said, was darkness that seemed to loom endlessly without electricity until sunrise.

For about 30 minutes after the tremor, Thornhill said he and three roommates huddled in a living room soaked by water from a tumbled fish tank.

“We couldn’t see each other; we just listened for voices,” he said. “We could see fires all around. There were complexes burning down not a half-mile from us.

“Ashes were coming down, and there were sparks everywhere. It was scary as hell to be in the dark. Once the sun came up we realized what had happened and got our wits.”

Thornhill said he tried unsuccessfully to telephone his parents, Bill and Margaret Thornhill, in Fresno.

“All I was thinking about was my mom, dad and brother [Eric],” he said. “My brother and I have been at odds, and it was then that I realized what he means to me.”

And this, from the L.A. Daily News, on the Northridge Little League team and the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa, that August:

Put down your National Enquirer. Tune out the O.J. Simpson hysteria. Forget about a baseball strike.

Here’s a story that will excite and inspire everyone in the San Fernando Valley. It’s a tale about a group of 11- and 12-year-olds living out their baseball fantasy just seven months after a horrific earthquake brought unprecedented confusion and uncertainty into their everyday lives.

The 14-member Northridge Little League team is one tournament championship away from earning a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The team is 12-0 in playoff action entering Friday’s West Regional in San Bernardino.

It’s a script made for television. Are you paying attention, Steven Spielberg? These Northridge players are going to become as familiar as Sean Burroughs, Aron Garcia and Cody Webster, Little League stars of the past.

And don’t anyone worry about Northridge players having to adjust to sudden media scrutiny. Believe me, they are ready for prime time. Unlike many major leaguers, these Northridge players don’t shy away from reporters. They rush toward anyone carrying a note pad, eager to offer their best one-liners.

It’s a talented baseball team, filled with hitters up and down the lineup. The pitching staff is five-deep. The manager, Larry Baca, has a calm, easy-going demeanor that fits in perfectly with his high-energy players. . . .

First baseman Matt Cassel [who became a quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs]. You want personality? Just follow around Cassel. He talks to his shiny aluminum bat named “Susan.” He always has the dirtiest uniform. Twice he got hit by pitches in a game and didn’t shed a tear. He’s the team’s best athlete and has been hitting some monster home runs. He’s also a little hyper. “If he’s in my car, I have to tie him down,” Baca said.

The Cassels could become one of the most visible athletic families in Valley baseball over the next decade. Matt’s brother, Jack, 13, is a highly touted freshman at Notre Dame High School. Another brother, Justin, 10, is also a promising player. . . .

The mother of Matt Fisher recently wrote an article distributed to other parents.

“January 17, 1994 disrupted so many of our lives,” she wrote, recalling the Northridge Earthquake . “Our homes were shattered, our nerves were shattered. Everything we had taken for granted like local markets, theaters and malls were suddenly reduced to rubble or closed indefinitely. Our only recreation was baseball . . . .

“Together these boys have worked and played so hard. There has been no beach, late nights, movies and sleepovers. Their lives are baseball and rest up for more baseball . Guess what? They love it! Whether we go to Pennsylvania or not, our sons are winners. . . .

“Fourteen wonderful young men who will never forget the summer of ’94.”

I’ll be rooting for Northridge, just like everybody else in the Valley. They’re our team now, and they’re ready to take on the best.

Northridge did make it to Williamsport, where they lost 4-3 to Maracaibo, Venezuela, in the championship game of the Little League World Series of ’94. (By the way, congratulations to the Huntington Beach team for winning the 2011 Little League World Series).

Finally, the Northridge quake did a lot of damage to Anaheim Stadium, home of the Angels (and owned by the city of Anaheim). Here, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reports on what happened:

Anaheim Stadium sustained significant damage during Monday morning’s predawn earthquake when a scoreboard and Jumbotron video screen came crashing forward into the seats.

A portion of the stadium roof beneath the “Little A” scoreboard collapsed, and city officials have postponed the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Races scheduled Saturday night and rescheduled the event for Feb. 12.

Damage to the stadium was estimated at about $4 million, although city officials said the figure could go much higher.

Although the City of Anaheim has earthquake insurance, it likely will have to pay for most, if not all, the damages to the stadium.

“The deductible is 5 percent of the stadium’s total value, which is $125 million,” said Bret Colson, Anaheim’s public information officer. “So in an earthquake , we have to pay for the first $6.25 millon in damages.”

“If there is a silver lining, it’s the timing of the earthquake ,” Colson said. “If we had had a motor sports event going on at the time, there would have been several fatalities. There would have been people in those seats who most definitely would have been killed. It’s not a question of if, just how many.”

The Sony video board that collapsed into the seats weighs 17 tons. It and four large billboards, along with the “Little A” structure, crashed inward from the top rim of the stadium, smashing dozens of seats on the uppermost level.

Although all of Anaheim Stadium’s damage was confined to one area, it was substantial.

“When the roof fell forward,” said Colson, “it pushed seats back and through the infrastructure of the stadium. You can see seats sticking out, and we have at least two or three sections with major cracks in the concrete. Large chunks of concrete fell into the concession area and the exit ramps.”

Colson estimated that full repairs will take several months, but the Angels’ coming baseball season doesn’t figure to be affected.

The newly built Anaheim Arena, commonly known as the Pond, stands less than half a mile from Anaheim Stadium but sustained no damage.

Anaheim Stadium had never been significantly damaged in earthquake before, coming through the Whitter quake of 1987 (5.9 on the Richter Scale) and the Sylmar quake of 1971 (measured at 6.5) with just minor cracks in walls.

In fact, preliminary research indicates no natural disaster has ever done more damage, in terms of dollars, to any North American stadium than what occured Monday in Anaheim.

When the MLB season started that April, the Orange County Register reported that the stadium was far from recovered:

When the Angels play host to the Dodgers tonight in the second of three exhibition Freeway Series games, a temporary video screen will be up and operating in the field-level section of left field.

That means 2,800 seats around the temporary screen will not be available for the 1994 baseball season. The first few rows of the second-tier club level will not be sold because spectators would not be able to see over the temporary screen. Also, 3,000 seats have been removed from the third-tier view level where the old Sony Jumbotron crashed during the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake , damaging the men’s and women’s restrooms, a concession stand and hundreds of seats.

“Those view-level seats are the last seats that would be sold in a game,” Stadium Manager Greg Smith said. “Those would be sold only if there were in excess of 60,000 people at a game.”

While the temporary video screen is 62 percent the size of the old Jumbotron, its lower position makes it easier to see for those sitting in over-hang sections.

The 26-foot-by-36-foot Jumbotron, which displayed commercials, advertising information, entertainment features as well as slow-motion replays, was installed in 1988.

The temporary screen, delivered from Japan last week, is 20-feet-by-29 feet. Workers took three days to put in the lighting units, which will be transferred to the new $3.4 million Sony Jumbotron being installed where the old Jumbotron was located. The new Jumbotron will be up in time for the first exhibition football game Aug. 13.

Because the earthquake destroyed the “little A”, the Marlboro sign and four of the six trivision advertising signs, fireworks for the Angels’ opening home game _ April 11 against Cleveland _ will be shot off from the two standing trivision advertising signs.

“They’ll be firing the fireworks every time there is an Angels home run,” Smith said.

Anaheim Stadium was the only structure in Orange County damaged by the earthquake . The cost of fixing the Sony Jumbotron is estimated at $10 million. It is unclear how much will come from insurance companies or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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