Cactus League Dispatches From The Pink Pony…

Punky G. will be posting Giant Spring Training updates from the legendary Pink Pony in Scottsdale Arizona for the next week or so… at least until they ask us to pay the tab. You can only get so much swag, gratis, and “on-the-house” before the promise of free online publicity in the Punky G. blog starts to seem like a bad trade. And speaking of bad trades, many involving the Giants were hatched right here at The Pink Pony (affectionately known as the Pony to regulars) over a double on the rocks. All Giant fans should have a little understanding of the role this famed establishment has played in the team’s history, both good and bad.

OK, for starters this is the new Pink Pony, the old Pony closed in 2009. After original owner/host Charlie Briley passed away in 2002, he left the restaurant to his wife Gwen who oversaw operations and ran the place before eventually putting the Pony up for sale in 2008. In 2009, the Pony closed and remained dark for a couple of years. The site was purchased by new owners in 2010 for $1.1 million and re-opened in 2011. They tried to keep the look and vibe of the old Pony and on the surface have done a pretty good job. Is the food as good? Are the drinks as strong? Are the stories any better? You’ll have to judge for yourself. Punky G. is not one to be criticize when working on an “open tab” However, I can share a little bit of history with you.

Those were the days…

Over the years, the Pony was a hangout for baseball greats, their fans and longtime locals. The establishment received widespread acclaim. Baseball writer Roger Angell with The New Yorker touted it as “the best baseball restaurant in the land” and in 1986 Sports Illustrated declared it “the most popular hangout for baseball people in the civilized world.”

The old Pony was a sort of Mecca: Giants memorabilia covered the walls behind the bar and you can almost hear Frank Robinson ordering a beer with his steak and see Chub Feeney puffing on a big, smelly cigar while sitting on a stool at the end of the bar. The Pink Pony was as much to Arizona baseball as was Mays, McCovey and Marichal were to the Giants in the 60s.

Here’s a short dispatch on the old Pony by Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle on March 1, 2008:

A jovial Billy Martin had his spot at a corner table, approached only by friends. The literary set met baseball royalty when Roger Angell and Ron Fimrite joined Bill Rigney and Chub Feeney. There was a night in the early ’80s when the bar-side patrons included Eddie Mathews, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey and Ernie Banks – five Hall of Famers.

That was the Pink Pony, jewel of the southwest, in its prime. It remains one of the great baseball establishments in America, always at its best during spring training, a place to gather and talk the game and gaze upon priceless memorabilia collected by its late, great host, Charlie Briley.

Things aren’t quite the same around the Pink Pony these days. Charlie’s widow, Gwen, has put the place up for sale, lending an air of melancholy to those aware of the development. There hasn’t been as much interest as Gwen would prefer, but it’s only a matter of time before someone steps up with the cash.

To whomever that person or group may be, a plea on behalf of everyone who passed through those doors: Take good care. Don’t turn the place into a trinket shop, a hair salon or an ice-cream parlor. Keep the Pink Pony’s good name and leave those walls untouched.

This marks the 60th year of the Pink Pony in the greater Phoenix area, and the 38th at its Scottsdale Road location. Over the years, it was a haven for managers, general managers, former players, even some active guys grabbing a steak dinner. Trades were made on the pay phone, writers’ stories outlined on cocktail napkins. A bunch of us got an unexpected trip to Arizona during the 1989 World Series, when the Loma Prieta earthquake forced the A’s to set up an emergency training camp, and I set up my computer right on the bar one evening to hammer out a story.

When I dropped in late Thursday afternoon, to the backdrop of a gorgeous Arizona sunset, I was drawn to a photo of the young Ted Williams alongside Babe Ruth, retired but wearing the Yankee uniform, around 1939 or ’40. Briley’s collection of bats, mostly wooden commemoratives from past World Series, lines up handsomely behind the bar. With a little imagination, you can hear Martin, Gene Autry, Harry Caray, Bob Uecker and so many others whose voices rang out through clouds of cigarette and cigar smoke.

In these health-conscious times, it’s OK to have lost the smoke. The rest of the Pink Pony’s aura should be nurtured and preserved as long as pitchers and catchers report to the Arizona desert, christening the arrival of spring. This “For Sale” sign carries a prerequisite.

And now a glimpse to the future…

First up… The G-Men launch their 2012 Cactus League play next Saturday (March 3) against the D-Backs at Scottsdale Stadium. This little gem of a desert ball park is actually celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year (Opened in 1992). Which was almost the Giants last season in San Francisco (remember when we thought they might be headed to Tampa?) Seems like ages ago… Hey bartender! Hit me again with another story from the old days…

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