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Stars come out to pay tribute to late Fregosi

Friends, family, colleagues celebrate life of longtime baseball fixture

Stars come out to pay tribute to late Fregosi

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- They gathered to remember a baseball man, a guy who had spent 53 years in the game. And for so much more. They dropped what they were doing and traveled to Bright House Field from far and wide to remember Jim Fregosi as a friend and a colleague and a mentor. He built the relationships. And they came.

Emotions ran high. There were tears of laughter and tears of loss. Dave Hollins -- third baseman for the unlikely 1993 Phillies team that Fregosi took all the way to the World Series, now a Phils scout -- captured the crosscurrent of emotions.

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"He was more than just a colleague or a manager. When you look at what he did in his career, you won't find any scouts with his resume," Hollins said. "That's the reason there are so many scouts here. He had that kind of personality and charisma. He was the guy everybody called when they had an issue or a problem or needed advice. I was very close to him, and it had nothing to do with what we do for a living.

"His son Jimmy told me a few weeks ago that his dad would be ticked off at us if we were hanging our heads and moping around. He'd kick us in the butt and say, 'It's time to get to work.' That's the way he was. Hearing that from Junior helped me put it in perspective. It doesn't take away the loss."

Fregosi's wife, Joni, and their children Nikki, Robby and Lexi were introduced along with son Jim Jr. and his wife, Mary, his daughter Jennifer and four grandchildren. Robby threw out the first pitch to 1993 second baseman Mickey Morandini.

Fregosi passed away on Feb. 14 after suffering a stroke on a cruise. He was 71. The timing of Wednesday's pregame memorial celebration was symbolic. Fregosi managed the Phillies for six years. He had been a special assistant for the Braves for the last 13 years. Philadelphia and Atlanta played each other and co-hosted the event.

Braves president John Schuerholz said a few words on behalf of his organization.

"We're here to celebrate his life in a joyful manner because his family, his friends in baseball and his love for the game of baseball drove this man through his life," Schuerholz said. "And his love of people. Jim loved life, but cared more about all of ours. He filled many rooms with his presence, but many more with his love. He taught me how to listen.

"I really had no choice when I was with Jim," he said, drawing a laugh.

Phillies president Dave Montgomery was next at the podium.

"Jim Fregosi loved the game of baseball and loved his association with everyone in the game," Montgomery said. "In turn, those of us in the game loved him and formed lifelong friendships with him. It never mattered how long it had been since you had played with him, he had managed you or you had worked with him. You were excited to see him. I believe Jim Fregosi was a baseball treasure, and we will always remember him as such."

Seat 1, Row 8, Section 111 in the scout's section was left vacant except for Fregosi's straw hat.

"He was one of those guys you could count on to do almost anything," said Braves general manager Frank Wren. "All of us in the front office affectionately called him 'The Godfather,' because he had that big personality which helped keep us all together. I would call him two or three times a week on my drive in in the morning and pick his brain about what we were doing, pick his brain about what he was seeing, bounce things off him all the time. It's a big, big loss."

Fregosi frequently talked about writing his autobiography. The title, he joked, would be "The Bases Were Loaded And So Was I."

Kent Tekulve was Fregosi's teammate on the 1977-78 Pirates. He later became the Phils' broadcaster when Fregosi left the booth in 1991 to replace Nick Leyva as manager.

"I don't know how many times we'd sit down after a day game in Chicago with a beverage or two. We'd talk about baseball for a while, and then all of a sudden we'd realize, 'Well, dinner is out. It's time to go to bed,'" Tekulve said. "He was just a very engaging person, a guy who dominated any room he was in. Just that great personality. The smile, the enthusiasm and the love of the game. Those are the things that really stand out."

Fewer than 20 scouts are at an average Phillies Grapefruit League game. Twice that many worked Wednesday's game, and more than four times that many showed up for the postgame party held on the half field behind the stadium. In all, some 300 people attended.

"Thousand more could be here if we could have the extended baseball family that Jim touched on such a personal basis," Schuerholz said.

The table in the Bright House Field lunch room where Fregosi held court before games has been taken out of service this spring. The chairs have been removed. On a black tablecloth sits a framed portrait of Fregosi and a single red rose.

"I don't mind admitting that my favorite thing to do in baseball as a Major League scout was to go to Spring Training in Clearwater," said Rockies scout Will George. "I'd get to the ballpark at 10 o'clock to see Fregosi and laugh for three hours until the game started."

Representatives of each of the 10 teams Fregosi was connected to were introduced wearing retro jerseys of those clubs: Lee Thomas (Angels), Roger McDowell (Mets), Pete Mackanin (Rangers), Tekulve (Pirates), Bobby Knoop (Angels), Terry Pendleton (Louisville Redbirds), Greg Walker (White Sox), Darren Daulton (Phils), Gary Hughes (Giants) and Gord Ash (Blue Jays).

"Jim had a magnetism about him," said former big league general manager Joe McDonald, now a scout for the Red Sox. "Guys would gather around him. He was the star of the room. He definitely knew it. And those of us in the scouting community are really going to miss that. There are only so many who can be that dynamic. And he was."

Former players such as John Kruk, Randy Ready, Robert Person and Dave Cash attended. Milt Thompson now works for Kansas City. The Royals flew him in from Arizona so he could be part of the day.

There was a moving video tribute backed by Frank Sinatra's "Winners," and a moment of silence.

Lee Elia is a Braves special assistant, a former Phillies manager and was Fregosi's constant offseason fishing companion.

"He was my buddy," Elia said. "He was my confidante. We'd talk baseball. Sometimes we'd get off track and he'd have that way of straightening me out."

Added Schuerholz: "He demonstrated every day that it's far better to be passionate than to be passive. He had very strong opinions, which he easily and comfortably and readily shared with all of us. When someone needed lifting up, Jim was there to lift them up. He was a dear, dear friend to me, and to many of us. And he left us with so many great memories we can cherish for the rest of our lives."

And then, finally, there was a baseball game. Which may have been the most fitting tribute of all to Fregosi.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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