Atec Ponza
History

Thu, Mar 28, 2019

Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Archives & Collections Catalyst

Artifact of the Month: Signs of Spring, The Pitching Machine

Springtime is always the start of new beginnings. The sun shines a little longer, flowers bloom…, all that. But springtime to me means baseball, and here in Santa Cruz, we take it pretty seriously. Ever since my son was five years old, I’ve been loving this time of year when hundreds of local boys and girls descend on Little League fields across the County (in our case, Harvey West Park) to perfect a swing, throw that change-up pitch you’ve been practicing, and the biggest decision—figure out what you are going to buy with your snack shack ticket after the game. Days after school are spent at practices where the pitching machines come out of storage to help all the young athletes knock one out of the park (or a line-drive to right field for a single is fine too).

Did you know the pitching machine was invented in Santa Cruz?

Lorenzo “Larry” J. Ponza Jr., the inventor of the baseball pitching machine, was born to Italian immigrant parents in 1918 and lived on Bean Creek Ranch in Scotts Valley. A graduate of Santa Cruz High in 1934, Larry went on to become a local machinist apprentice at the height of the Great Depression. After seven years in Hawaii to rebuild facilities after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Larry returned to Santa Cruz in 1950, and became involved in starting up the Little League program in Santa Cruz.

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To provide more batting practice for young baseball players, Larry Ponza invented the first portable on-field baseball pitching machine, the “Power Pitcher,” and pioneered its use into Little League in 1952. From then until 1992, Larry continued to develop and patent a number of different pitching machines, a batting practice device, and an automated batting cage with Athletic Training Equipment Company (“ATEC”). Larry Ponza lived in Santa Cruz for the rest of his life, inventing and patenting the machines from his shop on Post Street. He died December 15, 2004.

An honorary member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Larry Ponza’s first pitching machine was donated to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. After his death, Larry’s nephews, James and Larry Duimstra, graciously donated two machines to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, as well as many photographs, tooling manuals, blueprints, and patents relating to the pitching machines. I felt honored that the brothers thought of giving so many of their uncle’s treasures to the MAH.

After the donation to the MAH, I set up a display about Larry and one of his machines at Opening Day at Harvey West, among the chaos of Little Leaguers running on the field with their teams, trying to keep their uniforms clean until picture time. People enjoyed the display and were proud to know that Larry Ponza has been a local inventor who contributed so greatly to baseball. The snack shack was churning out french fries and burgers. It smelled like spring.