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I was asked a fascinating question recently: If I could have a nice leisurely dinner with anyone I chose, living or dead, who would it be?
My first thought was Bob Fontaine, who had a wonderful sense of humor to go along with 50-plus years of immersion in the game of baseball. He was a special breed . . . a “baseball lifer” . . . someone who has done it all: player, coach, scout, manager, and general manager.
In the Spring of 1979, I had the opportunity to hear a small sampling of his wonderful baseball stories because I had just been named General Manager of the Hawaii Islanders, Honolulu’s entry in the Pacific Coast League. In the hierarchy of professional baseball, teams in the PCL were classified as “Triple-A” and players promoted from our level were the lucky few going to join the major league team. They were going to “The Show”.
The Islanders had arrived in Honolulu the day before, ready to start the Pacific Coast League season four days later. At the time, Bob Fontaine was General Manager of the San Diego Padres, “parent” club of our team, and he had come to Honolulu to see the facility where the games would be played, to see the minor league players perform, and—though I didn’t realize it at the time—I suppose to meet me.
That afternoon, the Islanders played the first of two exhibition games with one of the professional Japanese teams just a few days before the start of their season in Japan. Throughout much of that afternoon, I sat watching a professional baseball game in something of a haze, while Bob Fontaine casually spoke of playing, coaching and managing at every level in the game.
During the course of that afternoon, I mentioned I had taken my daughter, Ilima, to one of the Islander games during the previous year, and we had witnessed a very rare triple play. Fontaine nodded and said, ”If you go to a baseball game and don’t see something you’ve never seen before . . . [and he looked at me and grinned] . . . then you weren’t really paying attention.”
It’s impossible to get enough of that, so I’d like to have a nice, long, leisurely dinner with Bob Fontaine, just to listen to more of his stories. It would be a late evening.
Note: Bob Fontaine died in 1994. He was 73.
This article first appeared on www.trainsandtravel.com
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