LOS ANGELES – It’s always like coming home when I cover a game at Dodger Stadium. I worked here for years, for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook and Los Angeles Herald Examiner, newspapers no longer with us, and the memories are rich.
Stepping into the visitors’ clubhouse on Friday, I told a group of Angels about the time I tried to ask Cardinals legend Bob Gibson – in a corner of the clubhouse occupied at the moment by Joe Saunders – about his hometown of Omaha, Neb., which happened to be my own. I was doing something about a connection with Gale Sayers, who also called Omaha home, how two of the premier athletes ever hailed from the same place.
Gibson, not in a mood to chat, told me in no uncertain terms to take a hike. He wasn’t interested in discussing Omaha with me, now or ever. I also interviewed the late, great Roberto Clemente in this room, in the company of the late, great Jim Murray, who asked most of the questions. I remember Clemente talking about how terrible he felt, how his back was killing him and he didn’t know if he could even play that night.
He lashed three line drives, as I recall, and made one of his magnificent throws from right field. Clemente was the second most exciting player I’ve ever seen behind the one and only Willie Mays.
Near the press box, manned for years by a wonderful fellow named James Mims, I ran into an old buddy, Bobby Castillo. A right-hander pitcher for the Dodgers from East L.A., Castillo is the guy who taught Fernando Valenzuela the screwball.
Castillo, eyes alive as always, and I had a few laughs before Fernando, an announcer now with the princely Jaime Jarrin, showed up as if on cue. He was the same impish, smiling guy I met in 1980 and tried, without much success, to teach English in Dodgertown the following spring. Little did we know he was about to emerge as a national sensation.
My boyhood hero, the great Tommy Davis, walked by wearing No. 12, on his way to meet a group of fans. I shared a few words with Tommy D., who I covered briefly in his later years as a DH. Before breaking his ankle in a horrific slide – I was in the stands that night, high up in the left-field corner – Tommy D. was a Hall of Fame talent, I firmly believe. He was a great hitter and player, and he remains a gentleman of the highest order. He misses his old buddy Willie Davis, a dazzling presence who passed away much too soon.
Another familiar form arrived in Kenny Landreaux, another center fielder of superior quality for the Dodgers and other clubs. We reminisced, K.T. catching me up with some of the guys from those teams he enriched with his bat, glove and humor. Steve Brener, the Dodgers’ PR man from those days, surfaced, and in his company, of course, was Tommy Lasorda, the inimitable leader of teams I covered in the ’70s and early ’80s.
On Saturday night, Lou Johnson Al Downing — distinguished Dodgers of the ’60s and ’70s, respectively – strolled through the dining room, where Vin Scully was engaged in conversation.
There is no place like Dodger Stadium — the history it has preserved, its unsurpassed setting, the perfection of it all. I was here when it opened. I saw Sandy Koufax face Mays when giants ruled the game. I saw championships won and lost. Ownerships, managers and players come and go, but some things never change. This magnificent ballpark, thankfully, is one of those things. – Lyle Spencer
It has been a very rough year for those of us who spend most of our days and nights in the company of Angels.
It began with the Jan. 13, 2009 death of Preston Gomez, the game’s classiest ambassador. He was 86 and lived a full, rich life, but it cut to the core nonetheless. To know Preston was to love him — and respect his wisdom and insights.
Then came the unimaginable Nick Adenhart tragedy in the early hours of April 9. Nick was 22 with everything in front of him. This was one of those blows from which some people — myself included — never fully recover. Nick was a gem, pure and simple, and a light went out with his passing.
Now it’s Rory Markas, a sweetheart of a man, only 54 when he left us last night. We’ve known each other for years, going back to his days calling Clippers games. He enlightened and entertained from behind the mike and was a pleasure to be around on the road, smart and quick with a one-liner, as his good buddy and boothmate Terry Smith pointed out in a heartfelt conversation this morning.
Rory and Terry were a team within a team. The Sunshine Boys of Baseball. You could always count on both men for a kind word, a smile or a comforting shoulder if you were having a bad day. They don’t make them any better than Rory. Or Terry, for that matter.
Like so many SoCal kids, Rory grew up in the San Fernando Valley wanting to be a sportscaster. With their magic over the airwaves, Vin Scully and Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg did that to so many of us, by the hundreds. I veered off in another path, following the words of Jim Murray and Melvin Durslag into print, while Rory chased his dream and nailed it.
He was good at what he did, and he loved the life. He is gone much too soon, leaving yet another major gap in those lives he enriched.