Baseball great Ted Williams grew up in North Park in a musical family — who knew?
Be it glorious summer — or just after another homegrown baseball talent leaves the Padres for the Red Sox — Ted Williams (1918–2002) remains eternally relevant. “Teddy Ballgame” endures as arguably the greatest achiever among San Diego’s many fine athletes. But what of young Theodore Samuel Williams — who grew up playing hard in North Park — as any part of any SD music scene? He was raised around music — and he did participate in a local band.
Ted’s musical mother, May, born Micaela Venzor of Mexican parents, was a Salvation Army member for 33 years. She played and sang songs of Jesus — and collectied donations year-round — on streets, buses, and in SD and Tijuana bars. Proficient on guitar, banjo, cornet, and piano, she excelled in the Salvation Army band. But Teddy dodged his mom’s enlistment efforts early on.
In fact, in his 2005 book The Kid: Ted Williams in San Diego, editor Bill Nowlin cites “how mortified Ted was at the ribbing he received from schoolmates, who would tease him about being dragged along with his mother when she was on the street with the Salvation Army band.... Ted told Bob Doerr [his teammate on the San Diego Padres in 1936] that when his mother brought him along with the Army band, ‘I used to try to get behind the big bass drum so that I could hide.’”
Ted’s father, Samuel Stuart Williams, was also musical, a U.S. Army trumpeter. And Ted’s nephew Sam Williams is an acclaimed finger-picking folk-singer. While living at the Williams home on Utah Street with his grandmother May — who’d lead sing-alongs on guitar and piano — Sam also played North Park Little League ball. His bio notes he later “became an ‘itinerate musician’...performing at colleges, coffeehouses, and nightspots in California, Oregon, and Washington.” But young Teddy chose baseball over music — or, sometimes, food: investigating his skinniness revealed the elementary schooler was skipping lunch for more hitting practice instead.
Such focused intensity inspired the Baseball Project, a side group including REM’s Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate). Their 2008 debut sported a rousing Ted tribute, whose title quotes a salty boast the slugger would make (according to Jim Bouton’s classic baseball memoir Ball Four). As liners note, “Ted Williams would take batting practice and shout ‘I’m Ted Fucking Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball’ before every pitch, sometimes adding, ‘Jesus H Christ himself couldn’t get me out!’”