Baseball clinics

To set up a baseball clinic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project with Gene Frechette, contact him at 541-351-5133 or geneandbarb14@gmail.com (please wait until after Feb. 20 to contact him). Clinics must be within 85 miles of Redmond. You can also donate at Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, Kansas 66675.

Gene Frechette’s office in his Eagle Crest home is like a small museum of the last 70 years of American life.

There is his memorabilia from his more than half century in Major League Baseball, with items signed by former players like Lefty Gomez and Frechette’s longtime partner, Dusty Baker. Perhaps, the most impressive piece of memorabilia — a 1967 St. Louis Cardinals World Series ring — is on Frechette’s left ring finger.

He has photos from his days serving in the Air Force in the Korean War, as well as a model of the F-51 fighters that he helped land as a control tower operator.

He even has a photo signed by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan. The future gave him the photo, signed, “Gene, Great evening,” after an event Frechette, who was a teacher for 32 years in his day job, put together to help reward Sacramento youth.

Helping veterans

Now at 87, Frechette wants to bring his passions of teaching, helping veterans and baseball together. The longtime baseball scout is seeking Little League coaches and players to take part in free clinics he will put on, with suggested donations going to the Wounded Warrior Project.

The idea to help wounded veterans goes back to Frechette’s days as a tower chief in Pyongyang, when he would see trucks pass by full of body bags containing soldiers lost in battle.

“Picture 30 degrees below zero,” he said, choking up. “They’d take them out of there and pile them in the C-119 to take them back -— I don’t know where they took them.”

Along with helping veterans, Frechette wants to see young baseball players taught modern biomechanics techniques, which emphasize using the full body to throw the ball, and the pitcher releasing the ball with his hand as close to home plate as possible. Frechette’s age doesn’t slow him from demonstrating the technique by stretching out a pitching motion in his office.

“I think Little League should be teaching that, and they’re not,” Frechette said.

A life in baseball

Frechette’s time in organized baseball goes back to shortly after he returned from Korea. He grew up in northern Michigan and wanted to attend the best baseball college.

Frechette chose to play at Western Michigan University. He beams when showing off the ring he received as a member of the school’s 1955 team, which reached the final game of the College World Series.

Frechette tried out for the Detroit Tigers, but, at six-foot-two and 138 pounds, was considered too skinny to play in the major leagues.

“Red Rolfe, the general manager of the Tigers, said go home and put on at least 25 pounds and come back and see us,” Frechette recalled. “I couldn’t. I ate the fat off of ham and steak, I just ate everything. The doctor told me I’m one of those people who won’t be able to put on any weight until I’m older.”

Frechette took a job as a teacher and coach in St. Ignace, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While there, he became an unofficial scout for the area, helping out a major league scout.

But Frechette quickly tired of the weather. He said 14 of his team’s 24 games one season were either rained or snowed out. So he took his family and moved west to Sacramento.

Frechette began cold calling people in baseball and was able to get a position as an associate scout with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was only paid if one of his players was signed, when he’d get $2,000. He got another $5,000 if a player played at least 30 days with the big-league club.

“I didn’t want to be a full-time scout,” he said. “I wanted to help young guys become college ballplayers.”

After earning his World Series ring with the Cardinals, Frechette went to work in group sales for a few years for the closer-to-home Oakland A’s and controversial owner Charlie Finley. Frechette said he kind of liked Finley’s idea for using orange baseballs, but wasn’t so fond of some other ideas. Their relationship fizzled when Frechette raised the idea of putting on youth clinics.

“He said, ‘No, we’re not gonna do that, call the guy across the bay,” Frechette recalled Finley saying. “I said, ‘I don’t need you to tell me who to call.’ ”

Frechette did indeed call San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who had moved the team from New York in 1958. Frechette went on to serve as the Giants’ youth clinics director from 1974-85, putting on up to 24 clinics a year in Northern California with players like Don Landrum and Tito Fuentes.

Three decades of camps

It was during his time with the Giants that Frechette help start the Dusty Baker International Baseball Academy. While with the Cardinals, Frechette scouted Baker as a player at Del Campo High School near Sacramento.

The Cardinals passed on Baker, who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves, but Frechette later ran into him again at a banquet in Sacramento. Frechette suggested starting a baseball school together.

“I said, ‘How about I do the work and you provide the players and we’ll see what happens,’ ” Frechette recalled.

Starting in 1983, they ran the camp for more than three decades, with between 200 and 9-to-18 year olds coming for a week each year for three different age groups. Some came to Sacramento from as far away as Australia, Japan and Europe.

“When Dusty was managing the Giants, it went up a little each year,” Frechette said.

Among the players to attend the camp were future Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees star C.C. Sabathia.

Frechette recently retired from the camp, but keeps a bat signed by Baker mounted on his office wall.

“Gene, a man couldn’t have a better partner and friend,” Baker wrote.

Though Frechette said 2017 was his last year working with kids at the Dusty Baker camp, Bruce Carmichael, the camp’s current general manager, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see him back on the field.

“Baseballs is in his heart,” Carmichael said. “It showed in many ways all the years at the Dusty Baker camp...He has certain ways of teaching,and the kids just love it.”

Before giving up some off-field duties in recent years to focus on coaching kids, Frechette handled everything for the camp from hiring coaches to making schedules, Carmichael said.

“I bet he’s worked with 3,000 to 4,000 kids,” he said.

Frechette has also scouted part-time for other teams, including returning to the A’s and then helping the Milwaukee Brewers, for whom he still works as a “bird dog” scout. At one point, he suggested that a team sign Sabathia.

“They said, ‘We think C.C. is going to have a tendency to put on weight,’ ” Frechette said. “My answer to that was he’s throwing the ball faster than anybody with precision. I don’t give a damn if he’s throwing the ball between his legs — if he’s getting them out, you draft him.”

Frechette lived in Sisters for a few years in the 1990s and moved back to Central Oregon a few years ago. He sponsored two young Redmond players at the Dusty Baker camp in 2014 and now wants to extend his involvement in the community, while assisting veterans. He would like to have camps at National Guard armories to extend his reach to military families.

“I don’t want any money, I just want to help the kids along,” Frechette said.

Even after more than a half-century, Carmichael said people in baseball still listen to Frechette.

“He still has his eye out for high school kids and college kids,” he said. “If Gene Frechette says, ‘You better look out for this kid,’ they’ll do it.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com

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