Pete ‘N Peters sports bar started around rich softball tradition
[Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series about Pete ‘N Peters sports bar in Tahoe City and its involvement in the community]
Inside Pete ‘N Peters there are so many knickknacks it’s enough to make a first-time visitor’s head spin. First, there are the regular bar features: Two pool tables and a shuffleboard table running along the backside of the bar, TVs showing the latest hot sporting events and a juke box to the left of the front door.
Then there are the not-so-usual characters, like the painting of General Custer with a suction cup arrow sticking on his forehead that has been hanging out in the bar for nearly two decades. There are cowboys and Indians, there are bears, and football players, and a fat housewife holding a fish (on the wall, that is). They are captured in famous pictures, unique pictures, local pictures – pictures galore. And the bar life is hopping on any given night.
Then there are the trophies – trophies upon trophies, bar paraphernalia that has more significance than a Pete ‘N Peters one-timer could ever know. Don’t mind the huge 1997 golf tournament trophy above the jukebox. It’s the softball trophies that are the main reminder of the gone, but not forgotten, tradition of fastpitch softball that spanned nearly three decades in the Lake Tahoe area from the early 1960s to the late 80s. And Pete ‘N Peters opened on Feb. 1, 1976, right in the thick of it.
“We built the bar around softball,” said Peter Paine, co-owner of Pete ‘N Peters and a fine athlete in his day. “Softball was a big event in this town all through the 70s before Pete ‘N Peters was here, after Pete ‘N Peters was here, and in the late 60s. Softball was a really big event.”
Pete Perata, the “Pete” of Pete ‘N Peters, met Paine in 1958, while the two worked as bellhops at Squaw Valley Lodge. Some time after they met, Perata left Squaw and went on to start Perata Excavation, Inc., a business that still exists locally. Paine continued to work at Squaw until 1969, at which time he took a job at an Italian restaurant at Bacchi’s Inn for the next seven years; but he remained good friends with Perata.
As Perata’s business began to prosper, so did the popularity of softball in the area. Although pick-up games were common in Truckee and Squaw Valley in the early 60s, the fastpitch softball heritage as it survives today officially began in 1964, when Perata was a major player in the development of the Tahoe City Adult Recreation League and sponsored his first fastpitch team, Perata Excavation. Along with teams like Bear Creek Construction, Dale Engineering and Vail Construction, Perata Excavation was part of the nucleus that began the Tahoe City Adult Men’s Fastpitch Division A Softball League and took its first league championship in its first year of existence.
“They were kind of Levi’s and (different colored) T-shirts, that’s what everyone played in. This was pretty recreational,” said Paine, who originally played for Hearthstone (now Rosie’s).
At the time, there were plenty of young men in town to fill out the league. Fastpitch softball was a source of male bonding in a town in the midst of a construction boom, Paine recollects.
“During the late 60s and early 70s, we had a lot of building here that kind of followed the Olympics (at Squaw in 1960). There was a lot of guys in town – a lot of good ball players and a lot of athletes. It was a fraternity of people. You all played against one another; you made a lot of friends.”
In the local league, the games were originally played at Fletcher Field, basically an all-dirt field where the Tavern Shores Rental building now stands.
“Tahoe Tavern (eventually) bought the area out and gave the Tahoe City PUD a bunch of money because they wanted to build over there, and they used that money to build the softball field that’s (currently) down at the end of the golf course behind the Grove Street school.”
In 1971, the Tahoe City Public Utility District took over management of the league and ran the new park.
It was at that field that Perata Excavation made a name for itself and the team became more significant than a bunch of locals competing for town pride. It was in the mid-60s that Perata Excavation competed in its first tournament in Reno, and the players weren’t granted much respect by opponents.
“They used to laugh at us and call us a bunch of hippies and told us, ‘Get outta here,'” Perata said. “We were determined to get them back.”
A stained-glass reminder of a 1975 Perata Excavation state championship, a gift given to Paine in the bar’s early days, hangs behind the bar and follows the bar’s insignia, “Sports and Spirits” – softball spirits like the legendary left-handed power-hitter Steve Moore that passed away nearly a year ago from an unexpected heart attack.
Team pictures hang in the bar consisting of players that were so good they defeated the King and His Court – a famous five-man fastpitch softball team featuring the unbelievably good pitcher Eddie Feigner – by a score of 5-2. Vida Blue, a former Major League left-handed pitcher, played with these guys and looked silly trying to play third base in an exhibition game. As Blue found out fast, this fastpitch softball league and the guys who participated in it were no joke, like they had been made out to be in those early Reno tournaments.
Perata Excavation won five straight league fastpitch championships from 1972 to 1976 playing in its all-orange uniforms with a classic red “Perata” design across the chest, black stirrups, black belts and a cursive “P” on mesh black and white hats with a red bill. Whether or not you thought they looked good (Paine called the uniforms “god awful”), they played good, and that’s all that mattered.
Perata Excavation rode its local success to a few tournaments in Reno in the early 70s, and by 1975, it posted a 52-10 overall record and was crowned Nevada A State Champions. That same year, Perata won its own Perata Invitational (which was an annual Fourth of July tournament held in Tahoe and hosted by Perata Excavation), the Roseville Invitational and the Western Nevada A Zone Tournament on its way to a state championship. Representing Nevada in the 1975 American Softball Association’s National A Championships in Hamilton, Ohio, Perata Excavation went 2-2 to place 18th among 37 teams.
After the conclusion of the 1975 season, Perata and Paine signed the lease for Pete ‘N Peters in November 1975, and they saw it open on Feb. 1, 1976, in its current location on North Lake Boulevard in Tahoe City. With Paine playing second base and catching for the Perata team and Perata managing the team, there was an obvious connection between the bar and softball.
“A great number of people that have lived in this town for over 20 years have been customers of this bar mainly because of softball,” Paine said. “People that have lived here for a long time have all played softball from time to time.”
Demonstrated by the major local softball events like the Perata Invitational, softball, especially on the weekends, was something the community rallied around. Spectators in excess of 1,000 were not uncommon, and close to 1,500 fans watched the Tahoe City All-Stars defeat the King and His Court in the summer of 1978.
“Saturdays and Sundays were an event,” Paine said. “It was something for people to do. (Beyond the outfield fence) would be lined up with trucks, and people would be sitting on the backs of flatbed trucks rooting for the Perata team.”
By the time Tahoe City hosted the Men’s Class A National Fastpitch Championships in September 1978, the town had etched its name in softball history forever. At the time, it was the smallest town to host the nationals.
Perata Excavation took another state championship in 1976 and finished with three altogether. Perata donated money from his business to get equipment in the North Tahoe High School gym so that his team could practice in the winter months. His donations also helped high school athletics.
“Everything we did for the children,” Perata smiles, “and then we were next in line.”
When Perata sold his excavating company in 1978, it marked the beginning of another era in fastpitch folklore – the formation of the Pete ‘N Peters team, playing in more traditional red, white and blue uniforms. For a short while, it played against Perata, but it became the dominate team in the 80s when the Perata team became extinct.
“They called us the ‘Other Guys’ because Perata was the better team,” said Paine, who managed and played for the Pete ‘N Peters team. “Perata was the best team, and we’d always lose to ’em. We decided we’d go out and play tournaments, then we’d lose two games (in double elimination tournaments). But after a couple of years we were starting to get really competitive.”
In only its second year, Pete ‘N Peters was runner-up state champions. For two years, both teams co-existed and Pete ‘N Peters acted as a sort of farm team for Perata, but Perata would be no more by 1980.
“As we got into the 80s, we melted down the teams into one,” Paine said.
Pete ‘N Peters built on the success that Perata Excavation had enjoyed. On the national level, it competed in the Cactus Division, which included teams from Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.
“We traveled a lot, sometimes putting $25,000 to $30,000 a year into it,” Paine said. “We’d play a lot of tournaments in Oroville and Stockton. We’d go out and play in Elko and Ely.”
At the height of the Perata team’s success, Perata himself paid between $60,000 and $80,000 out of his own pocket to fund the team, he said. Eventually, the cost and time that went into it led to the demise of Pete ‘N Peters competing outside of Tahoe.
Between the Perata and Pete ‘N Peters teams, they amassed seven Nevada A State Championships. Paine describes it as “fading out,” but the late 80s marked the end of the Pete ‘N Peters team, as he knew it. But a new generation was waiting in the wings to revive the old blood line of fastpitch softball for one more good ride.
With softball’s huge popularity in the 70s and 80s, there was a younger generation who dreamed of the same success. That team was spearheaded by Rod Collins, now the fire chief at North Tahoe Fire Protection District.
Then, in 1989, Paine said, “a bunch of the young guys who used to come out and watch us play, they said, ‘Mr. Paine, we want to start a team.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it, but I don’t really want to run the team anymore. I don’t want to go every weekend and travel.’ I was getting kind of old for that. I was in my 50s by then. So Rod Collins says, ‘I’ll run the team.’
With little confidence in the team, Paine agreed to become the manager, entering it in a tournament ran by The Sportsman in Reno.
“Teams would come from all over the West (for this tournament),” Paine said. “I told the guys, ‘I’m gonna put you in this tournament, and I’ll get you a pitcher. We’ll put it together and see what you guys can do.’ I thought they would go two and out. Well, they got third in the tournament.”
After the exceeded his expectations, Paine knew he had to fulfill his commitment. Paine was a player/manager on the team, but he eventually turned the managerial duties over to Collins. Another change of identity was in order as well.
“We changed the uniforms, and we had a whole different thing,” Paine said. “We turned them into gray and maroon, like the (old Philadelphia) Phillies (uniforms). We had a few of the old (Perata and Pete ‘N Peters) players on that team, but I went down and I got a catcher and a shortstop from the University of Nevada, Reno baseball team.”
The team that resembled the Phillies went on to win a few more state championships under Collins, but times were changing in the softball world, and a new style of play was about to take over in Tahoe City.
Like the softball days of yore at old Fletcher Field, the sport of fastpitch softball is extinct in the Tahoe area. With the popularity of slowpitch and co-ed leagues taking over by the late 80s, the fastpitch league that had drawn so many fans in the 70s and early 80s ceased to exist by the summer of 1990 in the area. By 1991, over 30 co-ed teams filled five divisions in the adult softball program.
Fastpitch has declined in the last decade or so among men, especially, with the popularity of the sport taking refuge mostly among high school and college women’s softball.
“The fallout of the league was the lack of pitching,” Paine said. “Fastpitch is gone. Fastpitch is pretty much extinct all over the place (among men).”
Bob Habeger can attest to Paine’s comment about the lack of pitching. Along with Chendo Hernandez, Habeger was one of the main pitchers for the Pete ‘N Peters team of the 80s. Hernandez and Habeger also threw for the late team managed by Paine, and then Collins.
“My last year (in fastpitch) was 1991,” Habeger said. “There weren’t a lot of young (fastpitch) pitchers around then. It was a great era, but things move on. You just saw it dwindle from 16 (fastpitch teams), to 8, to 6, to eventually four or so. Slowpitch really took over.”
Eventually there were no fastpitch teams left in Tahoe. Habeger went on to pitch for a team sponsored by the Peppermill in Reno and also another team from Colfax, but the time constraints and traveling “got to be too much,” he said. And the beast known as slowpitch spelled fastpitch softball’s demise.
“I don’t want to take anything away from slowpitch because they’re two different games, but slowpitch is more player friendly and there’s not a lot of strategy (compared to fastpitch),” Habeger said. “You don’t have to bunt and there’s no stealing. I play slowpitch now, and I have a lot of fun. You can play when you’re over the hill,” he laughs.
Habeger, in his 19th year as the North Tahoe High School baseball head coach, has been around the games of baseball and softball for many years. But just like Paine and Perata and others who lived and played through Tahoe’s fastpitch softball glory days, he knows it was a unique experience.
“It was very competitive – that would be the thing I miss most. The competition was intense. You developed rivalries with other teams. When we went on the road, we took our kids. The guys took their dogs. It was a lot of fun years.”
Tinker Ward knows that historic championship feeling, too. Ward, who played left field for the Perata team in the 70s, came up on Paine and Perata talking about softball on Monday night at Pete ‘N Peters.
He bursts into the conversation, “I was part of the history of this town,” he boasts.
“You still are,” says Perata to Ward, recapturing some significance of a lost sports era in Tahoe City.
Part one of this series ran in the B1 section of the April 9 weekend edition of the Sierra Sun (“Truckee Life” on sierrasun.com). Part two ran on B9 of the April 16 weekend edition and in “Sports” online. Thank you to Pete ‘N Peters and those involved in the interview process for your generosity.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.