Fregosi's jersey boys

Left: DAVID SWANSON / STAFF; right: AP The Phillies placed one of Jim Fregosi's hats on an empty seat; former major leaguers (from left) Pete Mackanin (Rangers), Kent Tekulve (Pirates) and Bobby Knopp (Angels) are among those sporting jerseys Fregosi wore.
Left: DAVID SWANSON / STAFF; right: AP The Phillies placed one of Jim Fregosi's hats on an empty seat; former major leaguers (from left) Pete Mackanin (Rangers), Kent Tekulve (Pirates) and Bobby Knopp (Angels) are among those sporting jerseys Fregosi wore.
Posted: March 07, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - That's the part of golf you have to enjoy, Dave Cash was saying. Every bad shot brings a chance to make up for it, to hit one better than was previously possible. Sitting next to him was Robert Person, finishing off a paper plate of food.

"You guys weren't even born when I started playing," Cash said.

The former second baseman laughed. It was 1969 when he broke icnto the big leagues. Sept. 13, Forbes Field, 10,440 Pittsburghers in the stands. He was 21 years old. Person was born 3 weeks later in Lowell, Mass. Neither man was aware that he would one day drift into the orbit of a 27-year-old shortstop who at the time was out in Anaheim starting for the Angels. Yet there they were yesterday, seated at a table in a cafeteria inside the spring training home of an organization where they had combined to spend 9 years, brought together by the passing of the incomparable Jim Fregosi.

Milt Thompson sat down, having flown in from Kansas City. A few feet away, Lee Elia swirled the contents of his plastic foam cup. Thompson played for Fregosi for one-and-a-half seasons, Person, for 11 games. Cash was on his coaching staff in 1996.

All across the cafeteria, little scenes like this unfolded.

"This is my son, Chris," Kent Tekulve said as he gestured to the young man sitting next to him.

Tekulve held his hand near the edge of the table, parallel to the ground, as if to approximate the top of a child's head.

"You met him when he was this high."

Of course, Darren Daulton said, his face radiating with a healthy brown glow, a crisp coating of whiskers running to the sideburns beneath his clean, bald head. Hands were shaken, backslaps exchanged.

The whole room hummed with the sound of collective catching up. Most days, the Phillies will host 18, 19, 20 professional scouts from other teams. Yesterday, around 40 showed up with their radar guns and lineup sheets in hand, while another 35 to 40 reported without any official duties.

"I'm going to end up wearing this jersey more than he did," Gord Ash said, holding up a white Blue Jays jersey emblazoned with the No. 7 and the name "Fregosi."

The former general manager hired Fregosi to manage his club in 1999. Fregosi rarely wore the jersey, preferring a Blue Jays windbreaker over a blue shirt.

"At the end of the season, the jersey would be as white as the day I gave it to him," said Ash, now a special assistant for the Blue Jays.

Frank Coppenbarger, the Phillies' longtime clubhouse chief and travel secretary, worked with Majestic to secure jerseys, 10 of them, each of which Fregosi wore during his five-plus decades in the game of baseball. There was Lee Thomas and Bobby Knoop in Angels jerseys, Roger McDowell in a Mets jersey, Pete Mackanin in a Rangers jersey, Tekulve in a Pirates jersey, Terry Pendleton in a Louisville Red Birds jersey, Greg Walker in a White Sox jersey, Gary Hughes in a Giants jersey, Ash in the Blue Jays jersey. And, of course, there was Daulton, the unquestioned leader of the club that made Fregosi an icon in Philadelphia. The crowd roared as the former catcher strode onto the field, his lean but muscular frame showing no obvious affects from his battle with brain cancer.

Pendleton and Daulton played against each other in the 1993 National League Championship Series that sent Fregosi's squad on to the World Series. Fregosi managed Pendleton on the Triple A Redbirds.

"What's up Double-D!"

The two players exchanged a firm hug.

There were tears as the Fregosi family, flanked by the Braves and the Phillies, stood near home plate and watched a video tribute to their patriarch. The Phillies, who paid frequent host to Fregosi in his capacity as a scout for the Braves, have kept his usual spot in the lunch room vacant since he died last month at the age of 71 after suffering a stroke. Yesterday, they laid one of Fregosi's hats on a seat behind home plate in the section reserved for scouts.

There is nothing easy about death, about its suddenness, about its implications. At some point, that empty chair is going to be ours. We deal with it the best we know how. We memorialize and we remember and we talk about great ballparks in the sky where men like Fregosi go. More than anything, though, we look at days like yesterday, and we see all of the lives that continue to intersect because of the one that we mourn, and we realize the exponential nature of it all, that even when a body stops to function, its life continues to exist.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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