Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Freeway Series Game to Remember
Before the Dodgers and Angels were eliminated in the playoffs, there was a lot of hope among fans of both teams that they would meet in a Freeway World Series. It reminded me of the first time I saw the Dodgers play the Angels, which was in a spring training game before the start of the 1963 season. I was 15 and my friend Bill Barci and I took the RTD bus from the Valley into Hollywood, then transferred to another bus on Sunset Boulevard which dropped us off near the ballpark's entrance gate.

We sat in the left-field bleachers along the side that overlooks the Dodgers bullpen. Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Ron Perranoski were playing catch and I marveled at how tall both Drysdale and Koufax were. We got there early enough for batting practice and Bill caught a ball that Frank Howard hit into the bleachers.

The game turned out to be one of the most exciting I've ever seen, with the Angels winning, 4-3, on a inside-the-park grand slam by rookie shortstop Jim Fregosi. Fregosi, who had sprinters speed (he was a state champion in high school), lined a single to right that outfielder Ron Fairly overran. The ball rolled to the wall and Fregosi scored behind three Angels teammates without a play.

Bill was probably the biggest sports fan I've ever known. We went to St. Cyril's grade school and Notre Dame High together. In the mid-1950s, the old Pacific Coast League L.A. Angels had a player named Steve Bilko. In 1956, Bilko hit 56 home runs and my friends and I thought he was the greatest slugger of all-time. "He's not as great as Babe Ruth," Barci said one morning before school started. I had never heard of Babe Ruth.

When Wilt Chamberlain and the Harlem Globetrotters came to Los Angeles for an exhibition, our basketball team tried to emulate the Globies on the playground, with behind-the-back passes and any kind of weird shots we could think of. "They're not as great as Bill Russell and Boston Celtics," Barci exclaimed. I had never heard of Bill Russell.

Bill suffered lot of personal tragedy during his childhood. His father died when he was in first grade, and then his mother passed away when he was 14.

He was taken in by a wonderful family in Sherman Oaks named Seward and he lived with them until he graduated from high school in 1966. Bill struggled with his grades until his senior year when he knuckled down and did well enough to be accepted into Loyola University.

Even though he was only about 5-9 and didn't weigh over 150 pounds, he had a tenacious personality. When I heard that he was playing club football for the Lions, quarterback no less, I wasn't surprised. But this was some time after we had lost touch with each other.

In a recent high school alumni newsletter, I saw that Bill was listed among the alumni who had died. I wish we had stayed in contact over the years and recalling that Angels-Dodgers game back in 1963 made me think about him.

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