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RIP Dave Garcia, one of the best baseball men

Long-time San Diegan coached for Padres from 1970-73
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

At a group lunch one day some years back, Dave Garcia was spinning stories to an audience that revered the man.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

At a group lunch one day some years back, Dave Garcia was spinning stories to an audience that revered the man.

Dave was quite the storyteller. And when the subject of windy conditions in baseball came up, Dave was more than ready.

"I'm managing in El Paso," he said. "Wind is blowing straight out. I don't know the force, but I got stung by a hot dog wrapper that appeared out of a sandstorm. Anyway, we scored 21 runs that day. And lost. And it wasn't close."

The great thing about Dave is that he had stories about the game's greats and players you've never heard of.

He could recall the deeds of members of our group like Tom Whelan and Bob Cluck because he scouted them four and five decades earlier when they played high-school ball and later for San Diego State. Then he'd blend in stories of the All-Stars he managed with the California Angels and Cleveland Indians.

Dave Garcia was a baseball man.

Even well into his 90s, he'd hold court at Petco Park ... sitting in "his seat" alongside the visiting dugout watching batting practice. As he sat there, coaches and players would visit with the man, who was a legend inside the game he loved. It was like having an audience with the Pope ... of baseball.

Dave passed away Tuesday at the age of 97. I'm told he went peacefully from natural causes -- a fitting end to a life so richly lived.

I first met Dave Garcia in 1962 when he was scouting for the San Francisco Giants and I was at Crawford High. The Eastern League at the time was the hotbed of prep baseball and Dave was a frequent visitor to games involving San Diego, Hoover and Crawford highs. He told stories even back then, holding court with other scouts, coaches and teenaged players.

At the time, Dave had been in professional baseball for almost 25 years and never held a Major League job. He was a Minor League player for almost 20 seasons, then a Minor League coach and manager who also scouted.

His first Major League job came with the Padres in 1970 -- after he did the Padres a major favor in 1969. The Padres held their first amateur drafts in 1969 (there were two annually at that time), and Dave managed the best of the inaugural class at Salt Lake City in the Pioneer League.

In 1970, Dave replaced Sparky Anderson as the Padres' third-base coach. He was nearly 50. And it was his first Major League job. He served the Padres for four seasons. Later he managed the Angels and Indians. He was still a coach with the Colorado Rockies from 2000-2002 working under Buddy Bell.

Dave wore a uniform until he was 82. And long after that, he'd share his knowledge as a consultant. He had the rare ability to distill knowledge and captivate audiences at all levels and age groups.

Dave Garcia was part of professional baseball for more than 65 years. He is one of four men to have spent parts of eight decades in the game. The other three are Vin Scully, Don Zimmer and Tommy Lasorda.

Born in 1920 in East St. Louis, Ill., Garcia called San Diego home for most of his life. His son played professional baseball. So did two of his grandsons. Greg is an infielder with the St. Louis Cardinals.

I've never known another "baseball man" quite like Dave Garcia. Never will.

• 2B Jose Pirela is 6-for-19 with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored in a five-game hitting streak. He has 12 doubles on the season, but no homers in 192 at-bats after hitting 10 in 312 at-bats last season.

• Speaking of homers, Franchy Cordero's 449-foot blast in Washington on Tuesday night was his seventh of the season, but his first since April 28. During the homerless run, however, Cordero raised his batting average 15 points while drawing 10 walks in 21 games.

• C Austin Hedges hit a game-winning, three-run homer Tuesday night in his second rehab game with Triple-A El Paso.

San Diego Padres