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|“baaw spli-yen guuudd?”|
|Who would start the opener, Meister or I?|
This was the kind of question my father always asked. “Are you starting on Tuesday? . . . . Did Endriss say whose starting? So you’re starting, right?” It drove me batty, especially since Endriss often waited until the last minute to announce his decision. Sometimes he changed his mind just before game time. Such was the case in the 1977 MCAL opener. Endriss told me I was starting. My father kept pressing and pressing, until I told him, yes, I was starting. I knew Endriss could change his mind. If he did my father would react in a way irritating the holy heck out of me.
So the day of the opener, still thinking I was starting, I entered the library. I saw Mick sitting at a table with his friends, who were more like his subjects. Mick saw me, raised his arms high over his head, and announced, “Mickey Meister . . . super sophomore to start opener!” That is how I knew Endriss changed his mind.
Which meant, of course, when I got to the ballpark and spotted my old man, he was watching with far too much interest for signs of my starting. When he saw Mick going down to warm up, he tried to get my attention as if some explanation was due him, or as if I could do anything about it. I loved my dad, but it was moments like these when he drove me out of my cotton picking’ mind.
Mick and I quote movies verbatim. I once had him rolling on the floor doing a perfect Strother Martin imitation from Cool Hand Luke: “Wha-at . . . we have heah . . . is a . . . failure . . . uh . . . to communicate. Take Luke heah. Waall he wants it, uhn, so he gets it. I don’ like it, any mo’ ‘n’ you men.”
Mick was 11-1 in his sophomore year of 1977, a first-team all-league selection. That was the year the University of Southern California began recruiting him. Here was a guy two years younger than me, and he comes to practice one day bragging about how he and his father had breakfast that morning with Trojans coach Rod Dedeaux.
After I left Redwood, Meister consolidated his position as the best pitcher the county ever produced. I felt Frank Ferroni had the best single season record of any pitcher, but when looking at his career as a whole – four years on the varsity - either Meister or Eddie Andersen would be accorded the “best ever” title. A pitcher at Terra Linda, Charles Scott may have been better, but his teams were not as good, slightly downgrading his record.
As a junior in 1978, Mick was an incredible 15-0 with 111 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched and an earned run average of 1.48. He led Redwood to a second straight North Coast Section championship and a number two national ranking. In his junior year Mick was All-Northern California, all-state, and All-American.
Mick entered his senior year (1979) as the best prep prospect in America, a first team pre-season All-American. He was fully mature physically at 6-5, 220 pounds. His fast ball was clocked in the mid-90s. He did not disappoint. He was 13-2 with a 1.67 ERA, again making All-California and consensus first team All-American. But it did not stop there. I returned from college in Southern California, visiting the Redwood team practicing for another appearance in the NCS play-offs. Meister naturally regaled me with tales of how many girls he “conquered,” what his daily alcohol consumption was (“I switched to wine”), how much dope he smoked and, oh yes, “I was named National High School Athlete of the Year.”
Not National High School Baseball Player of the Year, or “best athlete in the Bay Area,” or even the state. No, the nation. Who was Mick competing with in 1979? No less a name than John Elway, a three-sport superstar from Granada Hills in Los Angeles. From 1976-79, Mick was 39-3 with two no-hitters.
He had the grades to go to any school. Every college with a baseball team offered him a full ride. USC was an easy choice, however. His father was from the L.A. area. His mother once pursued stardom in Hollywood. He loved movies, nightlife and beautiful women, all in abundance in Los Angeles. USC won the national championship the previous season with a team experts called the greatest in collegiate baseball history. It was, as they say, a “no brainer.”
That summer he played in a series of all-star games, including a ballyhooed series between teams from California and Oklahoma played in Orange County. He dazzled everybody, pitching 10 scoreless innings against the tough Oklahoma hitters. Mick left with the score tied, 0-0. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, but committed to USC.
Once a pretty girl on the USC campus stopped him. “Did you play baseball at Redwood High School?” she asked him.
“I was Redwood baseball,” he replied. He probably was.
Dave Hoffmeister was a controversial figure. In 1977, Al Endriss was heavily accused of recruiting. I cannot truly say one way or another. I do know because we were so good, many players who lived outside the area wanted to play for us. Hoffmeister was one of those. He was from San Jose, close to an hour and a half drive south of Marin County. He finished 9-1 as a junior at Piedmont Hills High School. At some point he came to Endriss. Just as I returned for the Christmas vacation in 1975 only to learn Frank Ferroni transferred from Tamalpais, I now arrived back on campus in January of 1977 only to discover this guy Hoffmeister. He lived in an apartment, I think with his older sister.
He seemed to be a “fish out of water” in Marin County. San Jose is not exactly rural Alabama, but there is a cultural sophistication in Marin not found in most places. Even high school kids had just a touch of this panache. He was a funny-looking character, almost with an albino complexion, a round face, and curly white-blond hair. He was of average height and build. Hoffmeister had what they call a “Bakersfield drawl,” a slightly Southern accent found among people who tend to live in central California.
Early on I got a gander of him in the bullpen and was blown away. A right-hander, he threw hard, keeping it low. It moved and sunk, his curve broke like crazy, and I figured he was going to be a superstar. I played catch with him once. He snapped some slow curves.
“Baaw spli-yen guuud!” he drawled.
“Baaw spli-yen guuud!”
“Baaw spli-yen guuud!”
“What are you asking me?”
^ he yelled.
Ball spin good?
“Oh, yeah. It’s spinning real good.”
He immediately disliked me. As far as I was considered, this guy was going to take innings and glory away from me. Oh well, I came to Redwood to compete. If I wanted to be a “big cheese” I could have toiled on the Drake field, which I understood they needed to remove dog crap from every day because San Anselmo residents let their dogs run on it. No respect.
Hoffmeister was no yahoo. He was a serious baseball player. Endriss immediately got very excited about him. He was obviously a talent. He had a great curve ball and a sinking, moving fastball. He pitched shutout ball in his first start. In 1977 he was 6-0. I never really got along with him, not because we had any problems with each other, but because we had little in common, really. The rivalry for mound time never really turned out to be a problem. In 1977 Endriss operated a “pitching staff by committee.” Meister, Hoffmeister and myself, among others, got all the mound time we could handle. Hoffmeister played at Cuesta J.C. for a couple years. The Redwood-Marin-Cuesta pipeline was unbelievable. Aside from Hoffmeister, Chuck Hall, Gary Zunino, Matt Endriss, Mike Lopez and Howard Gibian played there. So did Brad Lucchi and Brad Silva of Terra Linda. Hoffmeister transferred to the University of Pacific, where he was an all-conference selection. He eventually became an attorney.
Steve Compagno was a junior in 1977. He was a tremendous athlete growing up in Larkspur. He was a neighbor of Al Endriss’s, at first thought to be one of his favorites. Being an Italian and a Catholic who worshipped at Saint Pats gave him an early lead. His father also was a counselor at Redwood. Compagno loved girls and always dated the prettiest ones. He was a left-handed pitcher and basketball star.
I liked Steve and got along with him, but he could backstab me. He was one of those guys who was your friend until it did not serve his best interests. He was a world-class needler, but it was all part of team competition. He did not do things with malice aforethought. He was self-centered and could blow people off. He was one of the most competitive athletes I ever played with.
Compagno pitched part of his sophomore year on the varsity, dominating the “winter league,” but was very disappointing in 1977. He was unable to break into the pitching rotation. He argued with the coach. Then his father got into it with Al. That was not to his son’s advantage. He quit the team about three-quarters into the season, transferring to Marin Catholic. He proved how good he was. Compagno teamed with Dennis Keating to revive the Marin Catholic baseball program in 1978. Pags made All-MCAL in baseball and basketball.
Compagno always had success with the ladies. There was a cheerleader at Marin Catholic who was absolutely stunning. I mentioned her once to Cam Garrett, who said he had been with her, which was like telling me he hung out with Barbi Benton. Then he said Compagno dated her, but it got better; the girl’s mother was like Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate and had an affair with him. Unreal. I ure never saw stuff like that when I was in high school.
After starring in two sports at College of Marin, he took a scholarship Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. After compiling a 6-0 record he played in the New York Yankees organization. His roommate reportedly was John Elway.
He hooked up with the legendary Satch Hennessey, once a world champion weight lifter in his weight class. He was considered one of the leading strength trainers in the nation. Pags worked out with Bill Bordley, the ex-USC All-American trying to come back from an arm injury with the Giants. I stopped by on several occasions at the Marin Catholic weight room. I was stunned at how hard they went after it. Pags never made it because there was a limit to his ability. Bordley had no limit to his, but pain ended his career.
Compagno applied the same dedication to his business as he did to sports, becoming a millionaire with First Security Loan in San Rafael. He never lost the itch to pitch, though. He played in the over-30 league when I did. When the Major League baseball players struck in 1994-95, Compagno was one of the guys trying out for a roster spot in his 30s. He got into coaching, both baseball and basketball at Redwood. In 2009-10 he led Redwood to their first North Coast Section basketball title.
Mid-way through the 1977 campaign the “recruiting” accusations gained more momentum when the Jones brothers, John and Jim, transferred to Redwood from Novato. In truth they quarreled with the coaches at Novato, quit, and decided to come play for us. The fact they were great athletes – in Jim’s case, one of the all-time greats as it turned out – did not seem so “coincidental” to the rest of the league.
John, a senior, was a bull of a guy. He was an excellent running back for the Novato football team and a solid hitter in baseball. The real catch was younger brother Jim. I was unsure of their ethnicity, possibly half-Hawaiian, Samoan, or Oriental, but they were built like trucks. The Jones brothers were tough kids, but good guys. I think they had it rough growing up, but I never got details. My impression of them was if they did have a difficult up bringing, it made them better for having survived it.
John stepped right in. As if we needed still more offense, he hit rockets. He was a natural leader who fit right in immediately. After high school he joined the U.S. Marine Corp, which did not surprise me.
Jim was only a sophomore. As soon as I saw the guy I knew he was going to be a star. His body was similar to Tom Seaver’s, maybe a little shorter. He had huge legs and a strong upper body. Jim’s pitching motion was perfect, making maximum use of the power generated in his lower body. I tried to pitch like this myself. At my height I was not really making the best use of the tools given me.
Jim pitched a few games for our JV team. He was called up to the varsity, pitching effectively in a few spot appearances. He was a position player for the most part, inexperienced on the hill. When given the chance to stop the bleeding in the NCS title game with Hayward he fell flat.
But in his junior and senior years, Jones combined with Meister, becoming one of the greatest one-two pitching combos ever seen in high school baseball. Rarely at any high school anywhere have two pitchers been as good for two years as they were in 1978-79. As great as Mick was, Jones was almost as good if not better. He threw absolute heat, had a fantastic curve ball, and in many ways became a more polished all-around “pitcher” than Mick. Like Mick he was a two-time prep All-American. As juniors, Meister and Jones, along with Bud Biancalana, led Redwood to the NCS title and a number two final national ranking. Jones threw five no-hitters in high school (three as a junior, two as a senior), including one against a strong team from Oregon. Redwood expanded their schedule. They were playing all-comers; Taiwan, Oregon, Southern California. Meister and Jones were veritable “cover boys,” featured in every magazine and newspaper covering high school sports. Jones was 10-2 in 1978. He won the opener of the 1979 NCS play-offs in brilliant fashion, 1-0 at Albert Park. He drove in the only run of the game. Mick was upset by El Cerrito, ending the run of championships.
As good as Jones was on the mound, he was also a great hitter and all-around player. He decided he wanted to concentrate on being an everyday position player after high school. He was drafted out of Redwood but accepted a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. I think Jim drank a little too deeply of the sun and good life in Honolulu. He transferred to Yavapai Junior College in Arizona, where he slammed 18 home runs. That attracted another scholarship to a college located in paradise, Malibu’s Pepperdine University. This time, more mature at a Christian school, Jones settled down as the Waves’ catcher in between my friend Chuck Fick and another Redwood receiver, Chad Kreuter.
Jones starred at Pepperdine, then had a long minor league career, mostly in the Oakland Athletics organization. He never made it to the Major Leagues despite great talent and dedication to the game. He was one heck of a pitcher. Maybe he would have gotten there had he concentrated on that. In 1989 he tried a comeback as a pitcher with Milwaukee’s triple-A team in Denver, going 6-6. That was it for him.
At one point, Howard Gibian and I read about a third baseman named Jim Jones playing third base for the Giants’ farm team in San Jose. We drove down, expecting to see Jim. It was a different Jim Jones. His name was as common as it gets, but infamous because of the People’s Temple slaughter. He played a number of years at Huntsville, Alabama, Oakland’s double-A Southern League affiliate, where he met a local girl, settling down, developing a total Southern twang. He was always a country boy, anyway, not really a Marinite, although John continues to live in the county.
Our catcher, Howard Gibian was and remains one of my best friends. Howard inherited a big tradition at Redwood. Al Endriss built his dynasty with great catchers going back to Jim Peters, Doug Hartman and Ross Ohrenschall. Perhaps Howard could have lived up to their legacy, but he had a very sore arm. He could not throw runners out. Had we not bludgeoned teams as thoroughly as we did it may have cost us dearly. By and large we destroyed teams. It was frustrating, though. If a base runner chose to steal, they were not thrown out, even if we pitched out. That was just wasting a ball.
He had a few key hits, including a grand slam homer at a crucial moment in the NCS play-offs, and made All-MCAL. He played at Cuesta J.C., but never did much.
Howard incurred an arm injury keeping him from attaining the success he thought would be his. His lack of physical development past age 14 or 15 was his greatest detraction. He never graduated from college. His father died when Howard was in his early 20s, an event with a very deep negative affect on him. He “took over” his dad’s rug dealership, but the business failed. Howard was very frustrated. Most of his childhood friends achieved successes he did not; in baseball, in academics, and so forth. He was a very loyal friend. I never really figured out why Howard had so much success with women. He was not a bad-looking guy, but I did not think he was that handsome. His “rap” was not exactly Renaissance poetry. Unreal chicks thought he was a gift from God.
The night before I left to report to the Oakland A’s minor league camp in Oregon, I went to a party in Richmond with Howard. He hooked up with some hottie. I needed to get up early the next day. I was forced to walk to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where I hitchhiked home.
When we partied at the Black Oak Saloon, my pal Garth Henderson was amazed at how girls who passed up on him went for Howard. We hung out at a place in San Ramon called Bobby McGees, which featured “best body” contests and fabulous girls. One night Howard and I went home with a gorgeous blonde and friend/roommates. Howard, the blond (and another girl) went into her bedroom. I sat in the living room with a pretty Oriental girl, but got nothing. A few years later Howard laughingly showed me the blond’s wedding announcement.
“She’s not exactly virgin territory,” he said.
One night a fantastic-looking girl eyed me and smiled. I figured I was in. She slyly sidled up to me saying, “Can you introduce me to your friend?” I almost vomited. On another occasion things did not go quite so smoothly. I was visiting from Los Angeles when Howard came by to take me to “the Triangle” in San Francisco. He had a co-worker with him, a guy who played football for Bear Bryant at Alabama. We talked endlessly about that. We hit the Columbus Bar & Grill. An incredible girl in a tiny little mini-dress with massive boobs exploding out of her dress caught everybody’s eye. She approached Howard. Go figure. Then Howard talked to her. He returned with a quizzical look on his face.
“What happened with that bombshell?” I asked him.
“Well, she opened her mouth and said you look great,” said Howard, only he used a heavy male voice to describe, “you look great.” I knew transsexuals and variations on the theme existed. That was the first time I really knew how good they made themselves look. To the initial, untrained eye this “guy” looked like a dream girl. At least Howard picked up on it before making a big mistake.
When the Internet age hit, Howard became a master of Match.com and Facebook. He sent me outrageous photos of hot women he was “dating.”
Once Howard asked if he could borrow a bed I was not using. I allowed him to but told him I needed it back at some future point. That point came a couple of years later when I moved back to Los Angeles. I asked for the bed back. Howard “stored” it in a leaky garage. Water and moths ruined it. Apparently my knowledge of this fact was somehow a fault of mine. We did not speak for a couple of years. We always re-united. He eventually managed to “find himself” making a living in cell phone sales.
Bill Scott was another all-league selection. He hit close to .400. He played for Los Angeles Harbor J.C.’s 1978 California state championship team, but for some reason gave up playing after that.
Second baseman Bill Medrano was a junior in 1977. He was an excellent player, but a bit of a rebel. He managed to get himself kicked off the team. He returned in 1978 and was all-league. He played at College of San Mateo for Endriss’s good friend John Noce, who was largely responsible for the growth of the Italian baseball leagues. Medrano could have played at a higher level but probably burned too many bridges.
A couple years after high school I was looking to make a few bucks doing part-time work. An employment agency sent me to Fireman’s Fund to clean dishes. Medrano was in charge of the dishwashing room. All was okay until lunch. Medrano left for 15 minutes. Dishes kept coming on this moving platform, quickly overwhelming me. I piled up the dishes in the corner, on the sink, on the table, to the ceiling. It was like the chocolate factory scene from I Love Lucy. Medrano walked in. He could not open the door, there were so many dishes all over the place.
“What in the hell is goin’ on here?” he said, sounding like Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles.
He helped me clear the room. At day’s end the supervisor said, “Well, I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
I was soaked from head to toe. My socks and shoes were soaked. I stunk of gravy and spaghetti sauce. My fingers, ears and hair were wrinkled. I just handed him my filthy smock saying, “I don’ think so.” Then I effected Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry persona. “It’s a mighty high price to pay for bein’ stylish,” and left.
After Medrano left Brett Parker took over at second base. He handled defense quite well and played at Cal State, Chico. Brett was a good guy, Like me he was an A’s fan. We went to several games, laughing like crazy at the sight of an over-sized vendor we nicknamed “the giant boy.”
Greg Zunino was even better than his brother Gary. He probably rates as the greatest offensive player in Marin County history. Somehow he is not yet in the Marin Hall of Fame, but he will be. A team co-captain with Jimmy Connor in 1977, Z Man was a pre-season All-American. He pounded the ball for a .510 batting average, an MCAL record. He made All-Northern California, All-California, and second team All-American in Joe Namath’s Prep Sports magazine. He made several other All-American teams.
He played in the California North-South All-Star Game and was named to the California All-Star team. Z accepted a full ride to California. In the summer after graduating from Redwood, Greg played in Canada. He became a legend in his freshman year at Cal, hitting four consecutive home runs while going eight-for-eight in a junior varsity double-header. That game was spoken of in mythical terms as it made its way back to Marin baseball circles. Promoted to the varsity he led the Golden Bears with a .279 average and 12 doubles.
Z hit .341 as a sophomore. He played third base on Cal’s 1980 College World Series team. He scored the winning run in a classic 14-inning, 2-1 win over Missouri in the Midwest Regional. The Golden Bears, coached by Bob Milano, defeated Nevada, Las Vegas to advance to Omaha. They made it to the semi-finals but fell to Arizona, the eventual national champion. Greg hit .306.
Every summer during his college career Greg played in high quality collegiate summer leagues. His Jayhawk League team won the National Baseball Congress tourney in Wichita, Kansas.
When Bruce Johnson took over at third base in Greg’s senior year, Zunino moved to left field. He made first team All-Pacific-10 Conference and was the team captain. When he finished his four-year Cal career he held virtually every career offensive record in the school’s long history. He is regarded as one of the best players ever to play baseball at the university.
Greg graduated from Cal with a degree in business administration. He was drafted by the New York Yankees, spending several years in their organization. After being released Zunino entered coaching. He was an assistant on Coach Endriss’s staff at College of Marin in 1984 (when I briefly volunteered, as well). Then he played a few years in the Italian pro league, been promoted and developed in large measure by John Noce and Rocky Shone. Shone was a San Rafael High graduate and old friend of Bill Lee, who was the captain of Cal’s 1970 team.
Zunino also managed in Italy. One of his players was Alan Pasquinelli, a Redwood player in the late 1970s. A friend of mine, Dan Farano played in the Italian pro league during this time. Greg met his wife in Italy. When he returned to the States, Zunino became a scout under the guidance of Gary Hughes, a longtime Marin baseball figure who worked for many teams and was often mentioned as a general manager candidate. Z started a family, lived in Texas for a while, moved to Florida, and has been a respected baseball man with a number of organizations.
Greg remained a close friend of mine. In 2010 his son, Mike was one of the top prospects in the nation. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Florida, where he was the starting catcher as a freshman, following in his father’s footsteps. Mike also played in the College World Series.
I look back to our freshman year (1974) and think, with some wonder, about what might have been. I beat out Z for the starting shortstop job at the beginning of the season. He took it over after I was out a week with the flu (just as he took the right field job from Mike Lopez when he broke his leg, never looking back). Had I not been sick would I have stayed “ahead” of him? No.
Shortstop Roland Americo “Buddy” Biancalana, Jr. played four years of varsity ball at Redwood. He was a three-time first team all-league selection, twice All-Northern California and all state, and an All-American in 1978. He was selected for the California North-South All-Star Game and to the California All-Star team. A smooth fielder and switch-hitter with little power, he was offered scholarships by every major college program in 1978. He raved about the Longhorn “hostesses” who took care of all his “needs” during a recruiting visit to Austin, Texas. Bud was leaning towards Arizona State until he signed with the Kansas City Royals. They made him their number one draft pick, giving him a signing bonus in the six-figure range.
After working his way up through the minor leagues, Buddy was called up to the Major Leagues in September of 1982. Mickey Meister, our mutual friend Kevin McCormack, and I were all at USC at the time. We went to see him when the Royals visited the California Angels. We went to his hotel room in Anaheim after the game to drink some beers. Buddy said teammate George Brett literally “delivered” a girl to him the previous evening, a kind of “welcome to the big leagues” gift.
“George can’t get married,” Buddy told me. “He can’t find a ‘nice’ girl. They’re all groupies who’ll sleep with him, but he can’t start a family until he’s out of baseball.” That was what Brett did in fact do.
Buddy was not a big guy, but he was fast and agile with a gun for an arm. He was a very good-looking fellow. Women gravitated to him wherever he went. In 1985 Biancalana was Kansas City’s starting shortstop for all seven games of their World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Series also featured two of my minor league teammates from the Cardinals, pitcher Danny Cox and infielder Curtis Ford, and a Kansas City pitcher, Buddy Black, who I also played with.
Buddy batted .333 in the Series. Somehow his name got the attention of late night talk host David Letterman. Because of space considerations it tended to appear in box scores as “B’c’lana, ss.” At the time, Pete Rose was closing in on Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record. Letterman began to do a “Pete Rose watch,” showing Rose was 50 hits away, 30 hits away, five away. All the while he also demonstrated how Biancalana was “only” 4,000 hits, or 3,990 hits, from “catching” Cobb.
When the Royals won the Series, Buddy was a guest on Letterman’s show. He was able to laugh at himself, offering Letterman a bat. He told him, “It’s never been used.” For about a year he was a genuine baseball celebrity. He remained a cult personality in the colorful pantheon of Kansas City baseball history, right there with Buck O’Neil and Satchel Paige of the K.C. Monarchs, Brett, and other “legends.”
In 1986 when I was married I took my wife, Katherine, to Anaheim Stadium to see Bud play two straight days against the Angels. Bud was a very light hitter with little power. He was a switch-hitter. Batting from the left side against Hall of Famer Don Sutton, he slammed a line drive homer down the right field line. Unbelievably, he followed that up with a home run the next day.
We took him out for dinner and drinks after the game. I thought he would be ecstatic over his “power surge.” He managed to play it off as if it was an every day occurrence. Katherine and I met his first wife, a blonde beauty from the Kansas City area, but he divorced her.
Buddy played for the Astros and Rangers before retiring. He is in the Marin Hall of Fame. He managed several minor league teams and also got involved in “sports motivation” with an emphasis on focus. He re-married, has children, and still lives in the K.C. area. We are still friends who stay in touch, although I was startled to find he is something of a political conspiracist. We saw each other in 2009 when Bud was a charter inductee into the Redwood Athletic Hall of Fame.
Steve Hoffmire finally had his day in 1977. Expected to achieve great things at Redwood, he made the varsity as a sophomore, but spent a painful year on the bench as a junior. In 1977 he put it all together, earning All-Northern California honors. Nevertheless, he and Endriss clashed on occasion. I think Al identified Hoff with Gary LaTorre, another “rich kid” from Tiburon who defied him on occasion. Hoff was not a defiant one, but he skipped to the beat of a different drummer.
His best friends were Pat “Muddy” Waters and Jeff Stewart. They were both tall, good basketball players who wore their hair long, dressed like Grateful Dead band members, and were more or less post-‘60s “flower children.” On warm spring days Hoff and those guys tossed Frisbees on the main lawn. They hung out with earthy chicks flashing “peace signs,” which I always pointed out was either Dwight Eisenhower’s signal Hitler was beaten, or evidence of the latest Trojan stomping.
Against Terra Linda early in league play, Hoff was on third base when a fly ball was hit to the outfield. He tagged up and scored. TL appealed the play. Hoff was doubled off third, ending the inning. Endriss went into one of his all-timers, screaming, “Hey, ahhh, hey Hoffmirrrre! Why don’tcha go be . . . captain of the Frisbee team? You and Waters and Stewart and all those guys.” Waters and Stewart were both standing near the dugout. They heard it. Poor Hoff grabbed his hat and glove, heading out to left field stoically trying to let it roll off his back. I almost died laughing/ I had to stick my head in a towel so Endriss would not see me. That night the game’s highlights were shown on the NBC affiliate. Naturally the microphone captured Endriss yelling “Hey, ahhh, hey Hoffmirrrre . . .”
For years I made full use of my considerable skill at imitation, do a perfect Endriss, mixed a little with the mythical “Fabe Mireni” character Kevin Wiltz and Cam Garrett made up. In bars, at his frat house, at re-unions, Hoff endured me yelling, “Why don’tcha go be . . . aaaahh CAPTAIN of the Frisbee team? You and Waters and Stewart and all those guys.” Waters laughs about it. I think Stew took liberal exception to the connotation, which he saw as some sort of Right-wing diatribe. Hoff never was amused.
I was at Jim Connor’s home one night, just a few doors down the street from my Uncle Charles, on Via la Paz in Greenbrae. Hoff, Doug Baird, Cully Fredericksen; all were there. My presence was a source of some amusement, as in, “Hey look, Steve Travers has arrived.” My social skills were not very good. I was easily shocked.
Hoff claimed they were going to have a “Crisco party.” The plan, he claimed, was that they were gonna “nude up,” put Crisco cooking oil all over their bodies, and rub each other.
“Are there gonna be any chicks?” I asked, aghast.
“Naw, just guys,” Hoff replied.
“Whaaa . . .?” I muttered.
Cully and some of the other guys, apparently in on the “joke,” urged me to “join in.”
“What in the wide, wide world of sports is goin’ on here,” as Slim Pickens would say.
That did it for me. I drove home. I am sure Hoff was just pulling my chain, but the mental image of he, Jim Connor, Cully Fredericksen, Doug Baird, Pat Waters and “all those guys” “nudin’ up’ ” amid Crisco cooking oil was too awful to contemplate.
Hoff was always successful enough with the ladies he could get away with joking about a homosexual jock party. I suppose it took great confidence in his own heterosexuality, but it blew my 18-year old mind. It really was a sign he was slightly different.
Hoff claimed he was happy Endriss would be his coach at Cal. When Bob Milano got the job I suspect he breathed a sigh of relief. He had scholarship offers from several schools, but was academically inclined. He wanted the Berkeley education. Cal told him he could “walk on.” He was expected to earn a scholarship by his sophomore or junior year.
He played on the junior varsity but made a few varsity appearances as a freshman. He joined a fraternity. That seemed to consume his passions. He partied heavily, quitting baseball. Waters, Mike Tokerud and I occasionally drove over to Berkeley, hanging out at Hoff’s frat. He was into frat life. I never got an explanation why a guy who loved baseball as much as he did quit. He could have played in a great program for a great coach on probably the school’s best-ever teams with a teammate from high school (Zunino). Like I say, he skipped to the beat of a different drummer boy. He did make good friends with the pitching coach, John Hughes.
In 1991 I was a coach on Milano’s staff. I asked him about Hoff. He said had he stayed in the program, he would have earned a scholarship and probably been a starter, or at least been an important member of the team, by his junior or senior year with a shot at playing professionally. He would have played in the 1980 College World Series.
He is still is an iconoclast, like Paul Coppersmith a figure from a J.D. Salinger novel. He read Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac, enjoyed being a contrarian. He became a house painter, turning that into a thriving business, employing Muddy Waters for life.
His brother, Dave died tragically of cancer. By the 2000s the Marin County Athletic League was filled with more Hoffmires (the children of Dave and Steve), male and female, than I could count. They all played sports at Marin Catholic, some in the college ranks.
Jimmy Connor finished off his four years at Redwood living up to most expectations of him. He earned nine letters in three sports. He was all-league twice in football, twice in basketball, and three times in baseball. Although a close call, I would rate him a slightly better high school athlete than his legendary older brother, Mike, which is saying something.
Jim’s arm was hurt. It dropped his stock, but baseball was undoubtedly his best sport. I found him to be unaggressive offensively and defensively in football. He lost his shooting touch in basketball. In 1977 he hit .494, setting a school record for home runs with 15, while scoring 45 runs (most driven in by Zunino). I rate Zunino to be a far better, more aggressive player, though. Jim, despite good speed, was a tentative base runner. Still, he made All-American at Redwood after being a 1977 pre-season All-American.
He was recruited by most of the top programs in the Pac-10. Stanford went after him hard. His grades never waivered. I think everybody assumed he would follow his brother Mike to the Farm. Instead he took Rod Dedeaux’s scholarship offer to USC. The Trojans baseball program of that era was so awesome few people could pass it up. Jim said he rooted for UCLA as a kid and was leaning towards Stanford until his recruiting trip to Southern California.
“It was a celebrity softball game, the USC alumni against a team of Hollywood stars,” Jim recalled. “I’m sitting on the bench and all of a sudden Walter Matthau and John Wayne are sitting on each side of me. They’re asking if I’m coming to USC and I say, yeah, well, I think so . . .
“Matthau says, ‘Aw, you gotta come here.’ Wayne is like, “Son, this is the only school. Be a winner.’
“I mean, it’s Walter Matthau and John Wayne. How could I say no to that?”
He came to USC. Everything he touched continued to turn to gold, as it had his whole life. As a freshman he was a member of the Trojans’ legendary 1978 College World Series champions. He played on the national champion two years in a row, in high school and now in college.
Jim played with many great stars at USC: Ernie Mauritson, Chris Smith, John Wells, Frank Pennachio, Tim Tolman, Dave Engle, Dave Hostetler, Rod Boxberger, Bill Bordley, Brian Hayes, Jeff Schattinger, Paul Homrig, Marty Wilkerson, Jim Cecchini, Dave Smith, Keith Brown, Bob Skube, Chuck Menzhuber, Mark Malconian, Bill Peltola, Jim McDowell, Dave Hodgins, Paul Ziegler, Lee Jones, Stan Williams, Dave Leeper, Jeff Wick, Spiro Psaltis, Mike Couchee, Anthony Munoz, Stan Edmonds, Dan Davidsmeir, Bob Batesole, Stu Pedersen, Steve Heslop, Phil Smith, Tim Kammeyer, Terry Marks, and Mickey Meister. He played for assistant coaches Justin Dedeaux and Ron “Arky” Vaughn. Because I went to USC shortly after Jim left, and was involved in the baseball program over the years, I came to know and be close friends with many of these guys.
Jim’s best year at Southern California was his sophomore season. I heard he led the Trojans with a .333 average, but my check of the press guides does not show him among the team leaders. Perhaps he did not “qualify” enough at-bats. I played against him in “fall ball” (he started). I watched him play first base against the Dodgers in an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium. I also saw USC play against Cal that year (he did not play). He was a first baseman exclusively, probably because his arm was shot. By limiting himself to this position he was vulnerable. A first baseman (Paul Homrig) transferred in from Cal State, Fullerton. Another player, Dave Smith emerged as a more aggressive hitter. Jim always looked for his pitch instead of hacking away. He had a slightly slow bat.
By his senior year (1981), Jim was no longer one of the favored players in the program. After the national title year of 1978, USC baseball took a shocking nosedive. In conference play, Arizona State, Arizona and Cal dominated. Cal State, Fullerton, Pepperdine and Fresno State had better teams. It was generally believed Coach Dedeaux was too old, unable to keep up with the times.
For such a smart guy, Connor also made a very dumb mistake. A writer from Sport magazine came around to do a story on Dedeaux. Jim and his friend, a pitcher named Spiro Psaltis, told the writer “off the record” the game passed Dedeaux by. The writer quoted Connor and Psaltis as “a senior left-handed first baseman” and “a senior left-handed pitcher.” Both descriptions described only Connor and Psaltis, respectively. Neither player saw much action of any kind the rest of the way.
I was surprised he was not drafted, at least given the chance to play professionally. Perhaps Jim was done with baseball and sports glory. He was draped in it since age eight. Jim may have told inquiring scouts not to bother. He had a mind for business and was eager to make money.
Jim graduated, forging a successful real estate career. At one point one of his colleagues in the Newport Beach area was Rob Scoal’s brother, Jeff. He married a beautiful blonde, Kym, who had some acting background. She chose to raise a family. They moved to Westlake Village near Los Angeles (where his neighbor is Tom Brajkovich). Their son, Trevor is a talented sportscaster. I forged an unlikely friendship with him because he interned with my good pal Jake Downey. Jim joined his brother Mike in the Marin Hall of Fame, I think on the first ballot or close to it. I saw him at re-unions. He met my daughter, Elizabeth. I stayed in touch with him through my USC books and mutual Trojan connection. We were never really friends in high school, but he was always nice to me. We are probably closer now than we were then. I always admired him and still do. He never lost his “golden boy” shine.
We had two right fielders. Mike Long was a senior, the younger brother of Rob Long, a star center fielder on the 1974 team. Mike never lived up to his brother’s record. He starred on the freshman team. Based on that, he was vaulted to the varsity as a sophomore. When Endriss demoted him to the JVs he seemed to lose his competitive edge. Mike was a hard-nosed player but drank and did drugs, a huge detriment to his game. After Redwood he went to work at Marin Joes for some 30 years. Eventually he ran afoul of the law.
The other right fielder (and designated hitter), Cameron Garrett became a star in his senior year (1978). Cam and his best friend, Bud Biancalana, were team captains. He graduated from UC-Davis but chose not to play baseball. He became a dentist.
Len Tallerico graduated from Santa Clara with a degree in business or accounting, then had success as a CPA before moving on to investment banking. Lenny also became a body builder, developing into a Marin version of Lou Ferrigno.
Byron Miles was our only black player. I look back now and must admit there was racism in the program. It would be easy to say we were all enlightened children of the post-1960s generation, growing up in liberal Marin County. In truth we were teenagers, spoiled brats, and capable of outrageously stupid behavior. Byron was used mostly as a pinch runner. Once, in a game I pitched, Byron made a key stolen base helping us win a game. I blurted out a very stupid statement: “Black is beautiful.” Connor just stared at me. Like a teacher scolding a recalcitrant child, he said, “That’s not cool at all, Steve.” Byron himself said he had no trouble with it, but Jim was right. Jim was far more mature than I was. Byron played at a small college in southern Oregon.
Dave Lui was our only Chinese-American player. For a period of time he and I were extremely close friends, His father was a teacher at Berkeley High School. When their baseball coach quit, Mr. Lui was pressed into coaching the Yellow Jackets’ baseball squad. He once took us to a USC-Cal basketball game, the first time I ever saw the Trojans play hoops. I never saw Dave after high school. I tried to find him on-line but have not succeeded.
Matt Morrison was a freshman when I was a senior. He bridged the gap between Mickey Meister and Chad Kreuter. After playing at UCLA, Morrison played in the Texas Rangers organization. He became a sportscaster and landed a position with Comcast Sports Net Bay Area.
Dave Krakora was a freshman in 1977. He became a teacher and assistant baseball coach at San Marin High. Tom McCormack, the younger brother of my friend Kevin McCormack, was also a freshman in 1977. He “walked on” at the University of Arizona, where he knew my friend Bob Ralston. He became a multi-millionaire in San Diego real estate.
In my four year at Redwood High School I competed with such talented – sometimes even superstar - teammates as Frank Ferroni, Mickey Meister, Steve Compagno and Dave Hoffmeister. I had such airtight defensive players as Bud Biancalana, Greg Zunino and Tony Guralas scooping up grounders and making throws to get people out. Outfielders like Gary Zunino, Steve Hoffmire and Jim Connor flagged down fly balls. Catchers like Ross Ohrenschall called my signals. It was better than playing with a bunch of losers at Drake.
When I got a car I started to develop outside interests; in girls, parties and music, but I never diverted from my baseball goals. I felt like a winner. I played with some of the best athletes Marin County ever produced. It was an honor and a privilege. High school may just be a time for youth. Many look upon it with very mixed emotions, viewing it as an odd hiccup in their lives, filled with stupidity, hi-jinx and maybe a few close friendships if they are lucky. For me it was special because of baseball. I made friends and grew. Beyond baseball my growth was negligible. Travel and experience would be my teachers. That came later. I played on the greatest sports team in the history of my school and the county. This is legacy few anywhere can claim. They are still talking about us with awe almost 35 years later.
In 2007 we held a 30-year Redwood class re-union. The night before the big event a group of players who played on Al Endriss’s teams between 1972 and 1978 had a big dinner with our old coach and Jess Payan at Marin Joes. Mike Lopez was there. Somebody said, half-joking, “Hey, do you remember Mike Lopez.”
“How could I possibly, ever forget Mike Lopez?” I replied with a big smile on my face. We shared a laugh and camaraderie. Endriss enjoyed the company of all his old players. Jim Connor, Len Tallerico, Kevin Wiltz, Matt Gondak, Mike Tessin, Steve Spelman, Jeff Lucchesi, Matt Endriss, Steve Hoffmire, Howard Gibian, Brett Parker, Lindsey Gordon, Mike Long, Buddy Biancalana, and I were among those in attendance. I was quite stunned when Al spoke, singling me out for my performance after I left high school.
Because my team was so good and my teammates so talented, almost every time I took the mound, in three years of varsity ball and two years in the Joe DiMaggio League, many pro scouts and college recruiters were in the stands watching. Endriss constantly got calls. There was no chance of being overlooked.
When college recruiters asked Endriss about me, he gave perhaps the greatest compliment I ever received. “I’ve had better players, but he’s the hardest working athlete I ever coached,” he said. Endriss once coached Pete Carroll. He was in high school coaching for over 20 years in 1977. He coached Ed Andersen and Frank Ferroni, both highly dedicated. He said I was the hardest working of them all.
Toward the end of my senior year, I began to get letters from colleges. Yakima Valley Junior College in Washington offered me a scholarship. They had one of the best J.C. programs in the nation, producing all the Stottlemyres; father, son, uncles, all pitchers.
Joe Kuschell and Tom Kilgore of the University of Utah wanted me. Mark Marquess took over as Stanford’s coach that year, recruiting both Meister and Connor heavily. He wanted me to “walk on.” He asked Connor what my grades were. Jim apparently thought I was smarter than I was. He told him I made As. That was a generous assessment. Coach Marquess could not get me into Stanford academically.
I desperately wanted to go to USC. I never heard from them, despite the fact they also recruited Connor, Meister, and Zunino. My hopes never materialized. I was going to “walk on” at USC sight unseen. Several smaller programs showed interest. Then I made a recruiting trip to San Diego State. I was enamored.
Coach Jim Dietz built San Diego State into a top program. The weather in San Diego was beautiful. The beaches beckoned. I never saw so many beautiful, tanned girls before. Dietz painted a rosy scenario, telling my father I would be a “great pitcher,” a key part of his team.
I remember what a warm feeling I had after it was settled I would play at San Diego State. My career was not over. I achieved an important goal. We stayed in a hotel in San Diego. I remember sitting at breakfast with my father. I cannot remember what happened, but he said something irritating to me. Something meaningless. I was about to say something equally meaningless back at him; some put-down lacking in respect. Suddenly my heart opened up. I looked at my wonderful dad. It occurred to me I would not be where I was without him. All the hours practicing with me, the encouragement, support and sacrifice. I owed it all to he and my mother. I smiled at him. That warm feeling I had when the Dixie land band came and play in front of us A’s games, came back. Father-son. Righteousness. The sort of innocent, pure love I felt with my grandfather. Because of the sins of this world, I too often hardened my heart, but not on this occasion.
Before we flew home, we rented a car. We took a leisurely drive up the coast to Anaheim. It was a wonderful drive. The pressure was off. The mission was accomplished. I looked at my surroundings, the endless strand of Southern California; my new home. The Dodgers beat the Cincinnati Reds on the radio, 3-1 behind Don Sutton. I remember it well. Vin Scully announced the day game on the radio as we drove. I took it all in. We checked into the Disneyland Hotel. That night we went to an Angels-A’s game, my first trip to the Big A. We rooted for the A’s. The Angels fans looked at us weird. Everybody was tanned. I never went to a baseball game where I saw so many attractive girls. A good-looking girl at freezing Candlestick or blue collar Oakland was newsworthy. It all added to the sense of ambience and anticipation of college.
I was 18. I graduated in June of 1977. I was about to enter into a wider world. I would have success and failure. I would find adventure and experience. I would take chances. Some would pay off, others would not.
But one last thing happened to me that memorable senior year of 1977. It made no headlines. Nobody knew it when it happened, but it was the single greatest thing that ever happened to me. It overshadowed everything I ever did. It was more important than Al Endriss, baseball, my parents or even my daughter.
Throughout my life I was not aware of God’s presence. I was struck by terrible bouts of panic over the possibility of non-existence. I suppose I experienced what the French philosophers refer to as existentialism. Some use the word nihilism, as in to annihilate. The lack of existence. I tried to justify non-existence by telling myself I had no “bad memories” of the eternal passage of time prior to my birth. Why then would I fear death? But I did. I had night terrors. It usually only lasted a minute or so, but it was utterly terrifying. I hoped and prayed there was a God, that He would grant me eternal Heaven. I did not fear the devil, or hell. These prayers were proof I was at least not an atheist.
In April of my senior year (1977), something miraculous (in my opinion) happened. I sat on an outdoor bench on a beautiful spring day, eating lunch by myself. Things were looking pretty good. I was 18 years old, having a good year on the baseball team. We were ranked number one in the state, dominating all competition. I was on schedule to graduate, ticketed for San Diego State. I knew I would have the chance to pursue the game beyond high school, a huge hurdle to overcome for a high school athlete. It was just the way a high school senior should close things out.
Suddenly a young man with long, dark blond hair and a beautiful face approached me. His face was beautiful, like the little kid I came across when I was around 11 or 12. I smashed that kid’s face in with my fist and spat on it, for absolutely no reason other than some kind of internal rage inside of me. But this time I felt no desire for violence.
“Hi,” he said. “Can I talk to you about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As I have said, I have never been an atheist, but I was not raised in a religious household. It was not discussed. My father was baptized and read the Lord’s Prayer as a child. He said he was an agnostic. “I just don’t know,” he said. His brother was no more spiritual. They seemed to be the kind of people who survived the Great Depression and World War II by dint of hard work, convinced they did it all by themselves.
My mother, whose own mother was Lutheran and had for that reason baptized me as one, claimed to believe in God, but not in a traditional Christian manner. Waking up in a cold sweat, contemplating eternal non-existence, was certainly not a sign the Holy Spirit was inside of me, and that my destiny was salvation.
“Sure,” I told him.
I do not recall much about the encounter. It was fairly short. He told me Christ was my savior, and the word of God was the New Testament. I think he had a Bible in his hand. He may have read some scripture. I cannot remember for sure. I cannot remember his name. I am not 100 percent sure he told me his name.
“Will you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” I replied.
That was Easter week. A TV mini-series on the life of Christ was shown on TV. I made a point of watching all of it with great interest. The next week this young man approached me again. I told him I saw the program, finding it to be very inspirational. The timing could not have been better. I was about to graduate and leave home, to find myself in the world. I would need Him.
Then something weird happened. I do not recall seeing him again. I cannot remember his name. I do not remember him graduating with the class in June. I cannot find him in old yearbooks. I have never seen him at re-unions. When I asked others about “the young preacher” who went about spreading the word of God at Redwood, nobody else recalls the guy. If he were walking about preaching God, would not many others have recalled him? It seems he would have approached many others, not just me. Others would have remembered. Is it possible he was an angel sent to direct a young man trying to find himself on a path towards Christ? Could he have been the boy whose face I smashed about seven years earlier, come to redeem me with kindness, forgiveness?
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” it says in the Gospel According to Matthew.