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Friends, teammates remember Welch fondly

La Russa, Lasorda among mourners at pitcher's memorial

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The lights dimmed at the Grayhawk Golf Club Fairway House in Scottsdale, Ariz., and for a few moments, it was 1978 again.

The Dodgers were up against the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series, and rookie Bob Welch was on the mound to face Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson.

The crowd, numbering closer to 100 than to the thousands at Dodger Stadium on that night 35 years ago, reacted as if they were there, nonetheless.

Welch made Jackson look foolish with a first-pitch fastball, blowing it by the veteran. The second fastball nearly hit him.

As Jackson fouled off four of the next five pitches, the crowd at Dodger Stadium got louder, and the crowd in Scottsdale was restless. Unlike their counterparts from 1978, they knew what was coming.

Welch blew a fastball past Jackson, striking him out and ending Game 2 of what would end up as a losing effort for the Dodgers in the World Series.

But it wasn't on the field where Welch endeared himself to the people gathered to memorialize the 57-year-old pitcher, who died at his home Monday.

The Michigan native, who played 17 years in the Major Leagues and worked as a coach with the D-backs, A's and Arizona State University, made a name for himself off the field.

His memorial service Saturday wasn't filled with stories of his exploits on the baseball diamond, but the friendships he made around and off of it.

"He was a perfect teammate," his former manager Tony La Russa said. "He was as good of a competitor as we could have, plus he was very talented."

That was the focus at his memorial service: how good a teammate he was, whether it was in baseball or amateur hockey.

His friends and teammates regaled mourners with funny stories of long jogs, hunting trips and Welch's appetite.

One story, told by a former teammate, was about when Welch was scheduled to pitch Game 3 of the 1989 World Series against the Giants, and he suffered a groin injury while warming up.

As the story went, Welch prayed for help to avoid being scratched from the start. Moments later, an earthquake struck, postponing the game for 10 days.

La Russa, the A's manager, didn't mention Welch bringing on an earthquake, but did say that Welch hurt himself that day.

"He was going to warm up and see how his groin was," La Russa said. "Before he started to warm up, the earthquake hit."

The room was populated with Welch's former teammates and coaches, including former A's pitcher Dave Stewart, former A's first baseman Mark McGwire, Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Dusty Baker, La Russa and former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (who said the Welch-Jackson matchup was one of the best pitcher-hitter confrontations he had ever seen).

The number of people from the baseball world packed into a room to honor Welch seemed fitting given the amount of time he spent in the sport and the type of stories told about him.

"Nobody cared for his teammates more than Bob," La Russa said.

Adam Lichtenstein is an associate reporter for

Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks