BRIAN SABEAN: IN REDLANDS TO WATCH HIS SON PLAY AT REDLANDS

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: San Francisco Giants’ General Manager Brian Sabean.

No interviews with this guy. I had a job to do and Brian Sabean was being a Dad.

It was my habit to cover University of Redlands football games from the visitors’ grandstand.

NCAA rules prevented me from being on the sidelines in between the 30-yard-lines. It’s OK. I understand. That’s reserved for players, coaches and referees. But I needed better vision.

In the school’s well-constructed press box, there was too much unprofessional behavior (footnote: Maybe that’s all changed in later years), rooting for favorable Bulldog plays, snarling at officiating calls — you get the picture.

You might not think it gets in the way, but it’s a distraction in covering highly-competitive games.

It chased me to the visiting side’s grandstand.

On a sparkling, cold Saturday night, Redlands was playing Occidental College, from Eagle Rock near Pasadena, in 2008.

Game about to start. Both teams ready. Appearing out of the stairwell was a familiar face. As a lifetime San Francisco Giants’ fan, I couldn’t believe who I’d spotted. What in the world was Brian Sabean doing at Redlands? This was football, not baseball.

Brian Sabean
Brian Sabean, a longtime executive with the San Francisco Giants who helped construct four World Series teams and three champions, was spotted at a University of Redlands football one night while watching his son play for visiting Occidental College (photo by San Francisco Giants).

Quickly, I scanned Oxy’s roster.

Sean Sabean, a six-foot, 210-pound freshman linebacker from San Mateo Serra High School, was on the Tigers’ roster. It was Brian’s son.

What a great Dad, I thought. This was an out-of-the-way location, for sure.

I had a list of questions formulating for Sabean — if only I could get to him. I was covering a game. On deadline. He wasn’t working.

The San Francisco Giants had just parted ways with Barry Bonds. Years of getting close, including a 7-game World Series loss to the Angels in 2002, had frustrated Giants’ fans everywhere.

Sabean had started rebuilding the Giants with draft picks like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Buster Posey would soon come onto the scene.

The questions:

  • Barry Bonds.
  • Performance enhancing drugs.
  • Drafting ball players.
  • Any trades he might be working on.
  • Free agents?

Sabean was constructing a team that would win three World Series championships in the coming years.

At Redlands, 2008.

 

 

DEE FONDY: REMEMBERED BY BUD SELIG AND WILLIE MAYS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

In memory of the 1973 World Series.

Dee Fondy, an ex-major league baseball player who lived in Redlands for years, never seemed to show up in the spotlight. He was completely without fanfare. His son, Jon, said his late father never sought the publicity of local newspapers, preferring a low-key existence. A war hero and a local product (though he was born in Texas) from San Bernardino, Fondy was a golf-playing member at Redlands Country Club during his retirement years.

It wasn’t all that well-known, however, that Fondy was a premiere advance scout for the New York Mets — a spot that is most likely among baseball’s under-appreciated roles. A year after nearly producing a scouting report that nearly helped win the 1973 World Series, Fondy landed a spot with the Milwaukee Brewers.

It was Fondy who scouted the defending champion Oakland A’s for the Mets in its 1973 showdown against a Hall of Fame-led team, namely Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, “Catfish” Hunter and manager Dick Williams.

The Mets, injured and suffering throughout the season, managed to package an 83-79 season together. It was good enough to win the National League Eastern Division.

In the National League playoffs, New York outlasted a 99-win Reds’ teams loaded with Hall of Famers — Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, plus the likely Cooperstown inductee Pete Rose — in five games.

The A’s were baseball’s defending champions, having beaten the Reds one season earlier. This time, it was Oakland taking on the Mets, whose Hall of Fame talent included Tom Seaver and Willie Mays, playing his final season.

The Mets had a 3-2 lead in the Series, based off 10-7, 6-1 and 2-0 wins over the A’s in Games 2, 4 and 5. Hunter outdueled Seaver in Game 6, 3-1, before Kenny Holtzman beat Jon Matlack in Game 7, 5-2.

Fingers, the loser in Game 3, saved three of those games. It took Oakland’s best efforts.

“Dad’s scouting report was in Yogi Berra’s back pocket,” said Jon Fondy, Dee’s son, who had produced the report. “They almost pulled it off and beat the A’s.”

Berra, a Hall of Famer, was New York’s manager. Part of Fondy’s scouting report had to be data that led to Mets’ pitchers holding A’s hitters to a .212 Series average with just two HRs.

The comparative rosters of both teams should have left Oakland in position to sweep the Mets, or at least take them in five games. Fondy’s notes on the A’s, however, gave New York’s pitchers a strong advantage.

One season later, Fondy was off to Milwaukee.

Dee_Fondy_1953
Virgil Dee Fondy spent four decades in major league baseball, notably as a first baseman over eight seasons, later as an advance scout (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Fondy, a lefty during his playing days, wound up with the young, expansionist Brewers – eventually heading a scouting department that signed Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. In the Brewers’ only World Series appearance, 1982, those future Hall of Famers were paramount in the teams’ success.

CONSTRUCTING AN OBITUARY

Upon Fondy’s death – Commissioner Bud Selig responded to a call from a local newspaper – to laud the career and life of the onetime Pirates, Cubs and Reds first baseman. Fondy had once been traded with Chuck Connors, who went on to fame as television’s “The Rifleman,” a CBS production.

Selig, of course, knew Fondy from his days as Brewers’ owner. Fondy had worked for Selig.

In August of 1999, Dee Fondy died at a retirement home in Redlands.

In his obituary, I wrote: “He had played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds and was the last player to bat in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, died of cancer. He was 74.

“Fondy, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier, died at Plymouth Village.”

His death reverberated through baseball.

While working on Fondy’s obituary, I’d placed a call to the MLB offices in New York City, seeking comment — a standard procedure. Baseball usually responded quickly. In this case, it was the commissioner, Bud Selig, who had placed the return call.

Bud_Selig_on_October_31,_2010
Alan “Bud” Selig, a Hall of Famer as onetime Commissioner of Baseball, weighed in personally on Dee Fondy’s 1999 death (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

I was out of the office when Selig called. Mike Brown, the news editor, took the call, jotted down Selig’s comments, and forwarded them to me. I must’ve missed the commissioner’s call by just minutes in August 1999.

“Dee Fondy was one of my favorite people,” Selig told Brown. “He had a great sense of humor. He and I used to kid each other a lot.”

FONDY’S MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER 1951-58

Fondy hit .286 with exactly 1,000 hits (69 HRs) over eight seasons in the majors, having batted .300 over four full seasons. His debut, in April 1951, came just a month before Willie Mays’ legendary MLB entry.

Signed originally by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, Fondy came to spring training in 1949 and competed with Gil Hodges and Connors for the starting job at first base. Dodger lore shows, of course, that the spot was won by Hodges.

Fondy played in the Dodgers’ farm system until being traded, along with Connors, to the Cubs for outfielder Hank Edwards. It was a golden era of Dodger baseball that included Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, plus Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and a host of highly popular Dodger players.

He won a spot on Chicago’s roster. His first major-league hit was a bases-loaded triple off St. Louis pitcher Ken Raffsenberger. It was opening day, April 17, 1951, at Wrigley Field.

By 1957, Fondy was traded to Pittsburgh. In that deal, the Cubs sent Gene Baker and Fondy for the Pirates’ Dale Long and Lee Walls. Midway through that ’57 season, Fondy was leading the National League with a .365 average, finishing at .313.

Traded to Cincinnati for Ted Kluszewski, a transaction mentioned by Tom Cruise’s character in the 1988 movie “Rainman,” his career concluding in that 1958 season.

Fondy grounded out for the last out at Ebbets Field in Pittsburgh’s 2-0 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 24, 1957. That grounder went to Don Zimmer, whose throw to first baseman Jim Gentile ended an era.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles the following year.

Jon Fondy had some fun memories.

“I ran into Willie Mays once and he said, ‘I’ve still got the bruises from the tags your dad used to give me. He was a hard-nosed player,’ ” said Jon, a freelance cameraman who has covered major league games.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays once told Dee Fondy’s son, Jon, that he laid some pretty hard tags on him. “I’ve still got bruises,” said the inimitable Mays (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

It was off to work, eventually, as a scout for the Mets and in Milwaukee, where he signed Molitor, who went on to collect over 3,000 hits.

Fondy retired from baseball in 1995 after serving as a special assistant to the Milwaukee general manager.

“He was as good a judge of talent as I’ve ever known,” Selig said. “He played a great role in the development of the Brewers. I had as much faith in his baseball knowledge as anyone I know.’”

FONDY’S FUNERAL: ONE FINAL HURRAH

It was at Fondy’s funeral that several ex-players – Ray Boone and Sal Bando included – had shown up to pay final respects. Another funeral-goer was a man named Fred Long. For years, Long coached local baseball, eventually rising to becoming a major league baseball scout.

Fondy’s influence had been felt in Long’s scouting life.

Long, who was nearing 80 at the time of Fondy’s funeral, had plenty of stories to share, sporting World Series ring — Florida Marlins, 1997.

Fondy, said Long, was one of the best guys he’d ever known. “And the guy knew baseball, too. You should’ve heard him.”

His minor league career included stops at Santa Barbara (California League), Fort Worth (Texas League) and Mobile (Southern League), each a Brooklyn Dodger farm club.

Before his climb into the major leagues, Fondy racked up 863 minor league hits, whacking out 130 doubles and 52 triples.

His career as a minor leaguer, major leaguer, scout and scouting director covered exactly 40 years — 1946-1995.

Isn’t it interesting that Fondy worked as a scout for the same organization in which Hodges — who edged him for Brooklyn’s first base job — was the manager?

Born on Halloween in 1924, Dee Virgil Fondy’s death took place on Aug. 19, 1999 in Redlands. Fondy, a native of Slaton, Texas, served in the Army during World War II and was part of the forces that landed on Utah Beach in Normandy in 1944, three months after D-Day. He received the Purple Heart.

Fondy had also been survived by twins, Jon Fondy and Jan Cornell of Las Vegas. His wife, Jacquelyn, had died a year earlier. Fondy’s funeral was in nearby San Bernardino, almost directly next door to Perris Hill Park’s Fiscalini Field.

Growing up in San Bernardino, Fiscalini Park was where Fondy had played plenty of baseball.

 

 

 

WHO’D REMEMBER JOHN BLOCK, AN NBA PLAYER DRAFTED BY THE LAKERS?

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: Former NBA player John Block.

By the early 1980s, I was a student of NBA history. I vividly remember those rabid NBA playoffs from the late 1960s — the Lakers and Celtics, the Warriors and 76ers … all those Russell vs. Chamberlain matchups … Kareem taking over Russell’s duels against Chamberlain.

When John Block, UC San Diego’s coach for a time (1980-83), brought his Tritons’ squad to the Redlands Tournament one year, I knew his NBA background.

It wasn’t hard to forget a former NBA player that spent a decade going up against the world’s greatest players.

Milwaukee coach Larry Costello brought Block in for a season, hoping his 6-10 bulk could take a little pressure off Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

At Redlands, I said to him, “Give me a status report on small-college basketball for the Tritons.”

He laughed. Block was just starting a coaching career. There was a lot to learn.

“Where do I start?” he asked.

This guy had been teammates with Kareem and Oscar Robertson with the Bucks.

1966 file photo of Lakers John Block.
John Block, a 6-foot-10 forward who played with a variety of NBA  teams after being drafted by the Lakers, brought his UC San Diego team in to play at the Redlands tournament in the early 1980s (photo by NBA Retired Players Association).

After his USC days, he’d been an original draft choice (third round, 27th pick), of all places, the Los Angeles Lakers. Teammates with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. He didn’t have far to travel. USC and the Lakers both played home games at the Sports Arena.

Traded to the San Diego Rockets where Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes was an NBA scoring champ.

He didn’t last long with the Bucks. He wound up with one of the NBA’s all-time worst teams in Philadelphia, where he won a spot on the NBA All-Star team.

Teammates with Nate “Tiny” Archibald at Kansas City-Omaha.

A year later, he was at New Orleans, playing alongside “Pistol” Pete Maravich.

In his final season, 1976, he was with a Chicago Bulls’ squad that included Artis Gilmore.

This 6-foot-10 guy could shoot — 11.9 points a game, plus nine rebounds and four assists over 10 pro seasons.

All of a sudden, a guy with all those credentials showed up coaching against Redlands.

Those uneventful years at UCSD — 32-46 covering 1980-83.

Redlands beat his team in its own tournament.

“Nothing to report, really,” said Block. “I’m just getting this team going. I’ll know in a year, or so.”

It was tough recruiting at an NCAA Division III campus, he told me.

Redlands’ recruits beat his recruits that night in Currier Gymnasium.

 

REDLANDS SHOOTER LEE CALKINS HAD INSIGHT TO FLASHY KINGS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

The Great One was walking toward the parking lot. It was halfway through a high school championship golf match. I recognized him instantly and I knew exactly what to say.

“Lee Calkins says to say hello,” I said.

This was surprising to the man, who was scurrying off to the parking lot. Something about an appointment he couldn’t miss.

He’d been faster on a pair skates. Wayne Gretzky, who couldn’t have been more shocked, said, “What is Lee doing nowadays?”

I told him that Lee was the main photographer for a newspaper in Redlands.

Wayne Gretzky was walking off a golf course in Murrieta when Lee Calkins’ name was mentioned. He said, “Tell Lee I said hello.” (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Gretzky was in a hurry to leave. His son, Trevor, was playing golf for Oaks Christian High — a school way out in Los Angeles County. The team was good, too. The Great One had to show up to support his kid.

This was the National Hockey League’s greatest scorer. Arguments can be made that he’s the NHL’s greatest player.

Calkins, hired by the Redlands newspaper (at my recommendation, following a tryout), had sort of a fabled career in shooting sports.

For openers, he’d once worked for Topps, the baseball card company, shooting major leaguers for their annual bubble gum cards.

There always seemed to be something coming out of Lee’s mouth about Nolan Ryan. Then with the Angels, Lee caught the Ryan Express at Anaheim Stadium often enough.

“I’ll you this,” said Calkins. “I don’t think Nolan Ryan threw 100 miles an hour.”

Well, Lee, uh, you see, it’s kind of well-documented.

“Speed guns weren’t that accurate in those days,” said Calkins.

I’d shoot back. “You’re challenging the fact that Ryan threw 100 miles an hour?”

He paused and smiled. “I think he threw 125 miles an hour.”

Speechless, naturally.

You try to look for signs that he was kidding. There were no smiles. Maybe a little smirk. It was true, he was saying.

The other note about Calkins was the few years he’d spent shooting the Los Angeles Kings.

Then owned by Bruce McNall.

Then coached by Barry Melrose.

Players on that team included the phenomenal Marty McSorley, Luc Robitaille, defenseman Rob Blake, Jari Kurry. The goalie, of course, was Kelly Hrudey. Hockey history soared in L.A. during that era.

There was also, of course, Gretzky.

It should’ve come as no surprise that the Kings, during the 1992-93 season, skated into the Stanley Cup against the Montreal Canadiens. Only a few years earlier, Gretzky, McSorley & Co. had lifted the Edmonton Oilers to unbelievable heights.

McNall bought the Kings.

Nick Beverley, deputized by McNall to be an aggressive general manager, was turned loose.

L.A. took an all-out assault on the NHL. Players were acquired to turn the Kings into contenders.

Watching from the front row glass was none other than Calkins, who sped down the freeway from Redlands during those years.

There was Calkins, his lenses shining against the L.A. Forum ice in search those hockey shots.

There were a couple pages of Calkins’ in a coffee table book, “A Day in the NHL.”

Every arena was shot by someone. Calkins had the Forum.

I remember Lee saying, “The Kings were a rough team in those years. They led the NHL in penalty minutes.”

Remember, this is coming from a recreational player who donned the mask and gloves, playing goalie.

It was right around the year 2009, I think, when Gretzky and I came face to face. Never before. Never again.

“Will you do me a favor?” Gretzky asked that day.

Sure.

“Tell him I said hello.”

Sounded Lee Calkins’ name was probably the only way to get his attention.

It worked.

 

 

 

A CHANCE TO ASK FERGUSON JENKINS ABOUT DUROCHER — IN REDLANDS!

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: Former Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.

Here’s where being a media member has its advantages:

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins had appeared in Redlands to conduct a youth clinic at Community Field and, perhaps, sign a few autographs.

Chicago Cubs’ fans were plentiful throughout the country.

One venerable veterinarian, who lived in Redlands, could recite all the Cubs’ doctrine from those Jenkins years.

Here are the guys that fans instantly thought about when recalling those Cubs’ teams from the 1960s: Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks were the headliners. Jenkins, of course, was the ace pitcher.

Leo Durocher was Cubs’ manager, a fact that wasn’t enthusiastically accepted by the local vet.

“Durocher ruined Jenkins’ career,” said the vet. “He used him too much. Ruined his arm.”

He was adamant. Mind couldn’t be changed on that.

ferguson Jenkins
Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins spent a few hours in Redlands, teaching baseball to youths and answering questions about former manager Leo Durocher (photo by Wikipedia).

This, of course, was years later — after baseball had starting dedicating a full core of relief pitchers to win games. In Jenkins’ days, legendary pitchers like Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Mickey Lolich, Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, you name it, would pitch 300-plus innings each year.

Bullpens weren’t quite as deep.

So here was Jenkins in my sight line: “Tell me about Leo Durocher.”

Jenkins took it from there.

“Leo helped make my career. If it weren’t for him … I’ll tell you, he taught me a lot. I owe him a lot. I owe a lot of my career to him.”

Under Durocher, Jenkins became one of baseball’s top hurlers.

“When I got traded to the Cubs,” he said, referring to the 1966 deal in which Philadelphia traded away a future Hall of Famer to the Cubs, “we were the worst team in baseball.”

Durocher had just been named Cubs’ manager. Jenkins, under Durocher, won 20 games in six straight seasons — all seasons that Durocher had managed him, incidentally.

“He worked you, no question about that,” said Jenkins.

The Cubs never won a pennant, a division championship, or made it to the World Series.

“Some of those years we came to spring training,” said Jenkins, “and we knew we’d have a chance to win … because of Leo. He turned that team around in Chicago.”

Where was that vet, that so-called Cubs’ fan? He needed to be listening to all this.

The guy who’d been teammates with Ruth & Gehrig, turned the Brooklyn Dodgers into pennant winners, managed Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, among others, he was, perhaps, baseball’s greatest connection to multiple generations.

“I never had any trouble with Leo,” said Jenkins. “I know what people say about him, what they try to insinuate.”

If there was a criticism of Durocher from that 1969 season, said Jenkins, “it’s probably that he never gave our regular guys a break.”

It was Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Jim Hickman, Randy Hundley and Don Young. The Cubs took second to the Miracle Mets.

Jenkins finished 21-15 with a 3.21 ERA over 311 1/3 innings that season.

I still have no idea how someone from Redlands had lured the fabulous Jenkins (284-226 over 19 seasons) to Community Field in the early 1990s.

It was almost an afterthought that Julio Cruz, a onetime Redlands High player, and Rudy Law, a former Dodger and White Sox player, had also showed up. Infield play, outfield play, a little hitting.

Later, I was told that ex-Pirates’ pitcher Dock Ellis had shown up — too late to be noticed. Ellis, it’s likely remembered, is the pitcher who surrendered the tape measure home run hit by Reggie Jackson out of Tiger Stadium at the 1971 All-Star game.

Jenkins, incidentally, was one of just four N.L. pitchers in that 6-4 loss to the A.L. Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal pitched in his final mid-summer classic and so did Houston’s Don Wilson.

Imagine, two of the N.L.’s four all-star pitchers had shown up in Redlands a couple decades later.

Jenkins had arrived at Community Field in a white limousine. Dressed in his Cubs’ uniform. Showed kids his style of pitching.

“Show ’em your wallet,” he said, demonstrating his high-leg kick, twisting his torso with his left buttock toward the hitter, “and let it fly.”

That’s how a Hall of Famer did it.

Fans might not remember this, Jenkins said, “but Leo converted me into a starting pitcher. I’d been a reliever. He turned my career around. I became a Hall of Famer.”

Jenkins left Redlands like he’d arrived — in that white limo.

 

BAIROS’ ANNIVERSARY: OLYMPIC HOPES RESTED ON HIS BIKE SPEED

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It’s September 17, the anniversary of a 2000 Sydney Olympic Games appearance.

After 34 years of Redlands Bicycle Classic mastery, The Johnny Bairos Story might fall somewhere through the cracks.

To this date, Bairos is the lone local cyclist who had ever found himself standing on the podium – first in a stage – after winning a downtown Street Sprint Prolog.

Kristin Holmes Bairos and Olympian Johnny Bairos
Johnny Bairos, the 1998 Street Sprint Prolog champion at the 14th Redlands Bicycle Classic, is the lone local product ever to win a stage at the now 34-year-old event (photo by Hollynet.com).

He was, in fact, going to be an Olympian. Bairos was considered a speed-whiz on a bike. He wasn’t a road cyclist or a criterium specialist. In a regular time trial, he was probably underwhelming. In a short race of a few hundred yards, he was your man.

It’s how Redlands Classic officials set it up in 1998. Armed with a myriad of world-class road racers at the 14th annual Redlands cycling clash, Bairos landed on a Sunshine Germany team.

Organizers set it up on State Street.

In a week dominated by U.S. Postal’s Jonathan Vaughters, who was chased throughout the weekend by future Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, plus team duels set up with Navigators, Volvo-Cannondale, Shaklee and the Postals.

Jonathan_Vaughters_CA_2011
Jonathan Vaughters overcame a Street Sprint Prolog loss to local rider Johnny Bairos to win the 1998 Redlands Bicycle Classic, then racing for U.S. Postal (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

The 20-year-old Bairos out-quicked all comers in the opening street sprint.

Bairos, for his part, was trying to claim a spot in the 2000 Olympic Games.

A couple years later, I had a chance to chat with him for a story on his destination for Sydney, Australia.

He was a track sprinting sensation, officially named to the U.S. Olympic cycling team by a female United States Cycling Federation official.

“I’ve gone the entire emotional spectrum,” Bairos said. “On both sides. This is so much more of a relief to hear her say it. I couldn’t be happier.”

Bairos, who found out he was on the team, had to pass a 45-minute physical by USCF doctor Gloria Beim on July 22, 2000. She flew from Colorado to examine Bairos, who was just shaking off the effects of a near-fatal crash while competing in the World Cup Cycling Championships at Mexico City on June 17.

Beim put Bairos through a virtual torture test, ranging from sprints, starts, riding, plus examining his knee and the rest of his body.

“I think she was extremely surprised to see how well I was doing,” Bairos said. “She saw the force in my starts, the strength in my legs, and the only thing that was wrong was there was a little infection in my knee.”

THE CRASH, FALL IN MEXICO

Bairos was sailing along in perfect health and a lock for an Olympics berth before the disastrous fall during the Keirin portion of the World Cup in which he went more than 20 feet over the track railing.

The torturous numbers – a 25-foot fall, seven days in the hospital, a non-finished 750-meter race.

“As soon as I went over the rail, I knew I was in trouble,” Bairos said last month after returning to the Inland Empire. “I just closed my eyes and prayed.”

During the race, a Venezuelan rider pushed his way to the front, forcing a French rider to react so he wouldn’t fall. They got tangled up and a Swiss rider behind Bairos hit his rear wheel, causing the chain-reaction crash.

The results were devastating.

A shattered right sinus cavity. A fractured left sinus cavity. A gash on his chin. Black eyes. Missing teeth. A broken jaw. Cuts, bruises and contusions all over his body. Doctors had to wire his jaw shut so his face could heal. Two screws were placed in his kneecap.

A little over two years earlier, he’d been celebrating a 200-yard downtown sprint win over guys like Vaughters, Evans, Trent Klasna, Chris Horner and a bunch more.

Bairos had surgery in Mexico then was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he had additional surgery.

“I learned that I never count my chickens before they’re hatched,” said Bairos.

In August, he said, “I’m not quite 100 percent. But I’m extremely close. Once it gets time to race, it’s not a question of being 100 percent. It’s a question of being 110 percent, 120 percent, 130 percent.”

ONE SECOND AWAY FROM QUALIFYING

Bairos had been regarded as the United States’ best cycling starter from a standing or stop position. He will lead off in the newly added sprint event, followed by longtime teammate and friend Marcelo Arrue, then by track veteran Jonas Carney.

“Nobody can go 200 meters from a stop position like Johnny can,” Redlands Bicycle Classic official Craig Kundig said. “That’s what he does, and he’s the best in the country. That’s why they have him leading off.”

There was no question in the minds of USCF officials that Bairos was the best man for the ride, so when the organization named the Olympic team in early July, it held open a spot for him until a deadline for submitting the roster.

“It was whether I was healthy enough to fill the spot,” he said.

And after passing the physical, it’s on to Sydney.

Bairos won a gold medal in the 1999 Pan American Games at Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada). He had three top-four finishes in World Cup competition and five top-10 finishes in national events.

“It’s usually dominated by the French, but the Spanish team has been giving them a tough time the last nine months,” he said. “There’s a big gap between them and everybody else.”

Bairos, who was an alternate in the match sprint and the Keirin (never seeing action in either), seemed clairvoyant.

The United States had hopes of contending for at least a bronze medal in team sprint. Bairos said France and Spain have the top two Olympic sprint teams in the world.

The race was on Sept. 17. He was on a team sprint lineup with USA’s Jonas Carney and Christian Arrue. Ripping off to a speed of 36 ½ miles an hour, the trio didn’t qualify off a 46-second clocking, last place in a field of 12.

A 45.701 clocking would’ve been enough to advance.

Bairos’ clairvoyance paid off: Eventually, France beat Great Britain for the gold medal.

EX-TERRIER COULD BE ON ROAD TO MAJOR COLLEGE HEAD COACHING SLOT

Keep your eyes on Louisiana State University. The Tigers’ win last weekend kind of underscored something taking place in Baton Rouge.

LSU, once the softball home of former Redlands East Valley softball stud Sahvanna Jaquish, is also the home of another local product.

David Aranda, whose brother, Mike, has long been a key basketball assistant coach at REV, always seemed to be injured during his playing days at Redlands. Longtime Terrier defensive coach Miguel Olmeda loved this guy during his prep days.

Technique. Attitude. Warrior mentality. All grade-A.

David Aranda is LSU’s high-achieving defensive coordinator.

DAVID ARANDA (photo by LSU)
David Aranda, a Redlands High School football player, once roomed with current Texas head coach Tom Herman at Cal Lutheran. These days, Aranda is defensive coordinator at Louisiana State University (photo by LSU).

When LSU fired a highly-regarded head coach Les Miles a couple years back, they kept Aranda. He’s paid dividends at whichever campus he’s been — Utah State, Hawaii, Southern Utah, Texas Tech, Wisconsin — in a typical life of a career college coach.

Aranda, meanwhile, might be among the hottest coaches in college football.

LSU’s head coach is Ed Orgeron, the same guy that slotted in as USC’s head man a few years back. In order to keep Aranda at LSU instead of going with Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M, he got a 4-year, $10 million deal (the highest among assistant coaches) to stay in Baton Rouge.

QB Joe Burrow transferred from Ohio State. LSU also picked up a strong placekicker, Cole Tracy, from NCAA Division 2 ranks.

TIGERS GETTING A-PLUS DEFENSE

Here’s what LSU has gotten ever since Aranda came down from Wisconsin in 2016:

On Sept. 1, LSU’s defense stood off No. 8 Miami, an offensive powder keg, 33-17, holding the ‘’Canes to 342 total yards, picking off two passes, including a 45-yard interception return for a TD, four QB sacks. It was 33-3 entering the final quarter.

In five seasons of Aranda-coached defenses, including three seasons at Wisconsin, his teams have been ninth twice, second, fifth and 12th overall in the nation for total defense.

There were a handful of 2017 NFL draft picks, including two first-rounders, plucked from Aranda’s LSU defense from 2016. Linebacker Duke Riley, who was spotted in last Thursday’s NFL opener for Atlanta, was one.

It might say something that when Aranda’s Wisconsin defense was second in the country in 2015, there wasn’t a single Badger taken in the following spring’s 7-round NFL draft.

Yes, there some underclassmen in ’15, but there were no superstar leaders — just a sound defensive system under Aranda’s watch.

All it takes is one quick glance at the Southeastern Conference. You’d note that it’s split into two divisions, Eastern and Western. The West includes No. 9 LSU, not to mention Top 10 teams Alabama and Auburn.

Talk about being in the fire pit of a red-hot fireplace inferno.

By the way, Fisher’s Texas A&M plays in that same division.

Lost for the season in that Miami win was a promising pass rusher, K’Lavon Chaisson. Aranda countered with a trio of replacements in last Saturday’s win over Southwestern Louisiana.

ESPN TALK CENTERS AROUND ARANDA

During ESPN’s televised coverage, announcers gave Aranda thumbs up.

“Highest paid coordinator in college football … sharp guy … he lit the room up … he’s got the air of a guy who could run a program. … just a joy to talk to.”

After Redlands, Aranda played at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The Kingsmen play in the same conference as the University of Redlands. In a sense, they got him from under the noses of the Bulldogs’ hierarchy. It’s more complex than that, of course, but he wore purple instead of maroon.

While at CLU, he roomed with a guy named Tom Herman. If you google Herman’s name, you might discover he’s head coach at Texas. That’s Univ. of Texas, the famed Longhorns of Earl Campbell, Darrell Royal, Vince Young, a ton of college football legends.

Wait a minute: Aranda and Herman in one dorm room?