Once They Were Angels
by Robert Goldman
A Complete History of the Angels,
told through memories of the players who lived it

Jim Fregosi:

He seems to be everywhere, shouting encouragement and overseeing the four-diamond baseball complex with the quiet authority of a respected general. "Skeeter! What's the score on field four? Hud! Make sure everyone hits! Buck! Go check out field three, see if they got enough balls." His tone is firm but light, and conveys the sense of a man totally at ease and in his element.

It's been 44 years since Jim Fregosi donned his first Angel jersey, 26 years since he managed the club to its first divisional championship, and 12 years since his Phillies lost game seven of the 1993 World Series. Currently he's in charge of a fantasy camp, where adults go to get a taste for life as big leaguers. It doesn't matter to him that none of the 50 or so players he's in charge of are major leaguers. To him they're ballplayers, not just fantasy campers. "They're taking it serious," Fregosi says, "and dammit, so will I!"

Known around the fantasy camp as the "Commissioner," Fregosi, who serves as a special assignment scout for the Atlanta Braves during the season, is both commandant and counselor at the same time. His "field officers" include ex-Angels Bobby Knoop, Clyde Wright, Bob Rodgers, Roger Repoz and Rex Hudler, all of whom report to him. The mood of the camp is positive, with lots of jocular humor. On the surface, it appears as if the steely seriousness and occasional arrogance that have been Fregosi's calling cards are missing in action.

Fregosi is engaged in a friendly conversation with Brian Downing, a Fregosi favorite when he managed the Angels in the late seventies. Fregosi was in the middle of an interview with a young writer when Downing arrived in camp. When Fregosi saw his former star, he bolted from the cart in mid-sentence, leaving the poor writer holding his microphone in the wind. As the two converse about old times, Fregosi intermittently shouts an order or word of encouragement to a fantasy camper. After several minutes, the conversation subsides and Downing goes over to say hello to Bobby Grich, who is watching the action over on field two. Fregosi is momentarily alone and the young writer, hoping to complete the interview, makes his move. "Hey, Jim! When do you want to finish? Is now a good time?"

Fregosi turns like a lion on a deer and fixes the writer with a glare that could freeze a polar bear. He blares in a voice that has the same effect as a Dean Chance fastball to the ribs, "What? You think I got all day? You don't have enough? You're not gonna stir up a lot [of stuff,] are you?" The embarrassed writer briefly considers driving away to search for the nearest cliff to jump off of, but then bravely presses on. "Just a few more minutes, Jim. I can't have you in only for a few pages, you're important to the book." A few painful seconds pass, and Fregosi relents. After straightening his cap he thrusts his thumbs back in his waistband and marches back to the golf cart.

Seated again, he throws on his sunglasses and sits back behind the wheel like nothing has happened. "What," asks the writer gingerly, "was your biggest thrill?" Fregosi sighs, leans back in the seat and gets a faraway look in his eyes. "When we won our first divisional championship in '79. I'll never forget Gene's eyes when I saw him after the game…."