Just as Lemon Grove Patch has been brimming with news of the sensational run by our own Senior League All-Stars in the Senior League World Series, so too was the Lemon Grove Review of August 1996 awash in baseball news. Then, as now, the Great American Pastime won all hearts. But few have won more than our head coach, Andre Simpson, and his team of winners.
A look back at Lemon Grove, 16 years ago this week:
Olympics Lure Local Cops: Atlanta was determined not to be another Munich when the Centennial Summer Games came to town. The city called for 1,500 volunteer law enforcement officers from 90 nations to provide security for thousands of athletes and more than 3 million visitors. Heeding the call were local Sheriff's deputies Ed Aceves, Bobby Barrett, Raul Garcia, Steve Heck and Doug Oliver. It wasn't a dream job—long hours, hot days, poor planning and dense crowds made for a tough beat at the huge Fulton County Stadium, normally a baseball venue, and the newer Centennial Stadium.
Barrett was Command and Control Operations supervisor of a shift of 26 officers and a second shift of 35, plus some four dozen volunteers and 25 military. He had just two weeks to evaluate and assign his diverse team. Numerous technology breakdowns and language barriers led to communication problems and some officers from Third World nations with few resources had no technical skills. With the Atlanta Braves' season in full swing, Barrett didn't have access to the stadium until Aug. 16, giving him 24 hours to bring the command center up to speed.
Aceves escorted tennis stars from the players' tunnel through large crowds to the courts, a fairly nice beat if you discounted "crazies in the crowd."
Oliver said his only problems were with off-duty police officers who had to be instructed to lock their weapons in their vehicles as they couldn't bring them on the premises.
All of the officers responded countless times to the question, "Where were you when the bombs went off?" The answer was in their dorm rooms—Spartan cells with a lone pay phone per floor and no air-conditioning in the muggy Atlanta heat.
July 27, In the first of four such acts, Eric Rudolph exploded three pipe bombs in Centennial Stadium, killing two and injuring 111. Security guard Richard Jewell found the bomb pack and was later smeared in a botched FBI and media investigation. He was exonerated after filing several lawsuits. Rudolph was arrested in 2003 and is still serving four life terms without possibility of parole.
Our local officers termed their Olympic gig a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" that they wouldn't want to repeat.
Love of the Game: Veteran journalist Greg Eichelberger wrote an appealing portrait of Brian Priebe, who fulfilled a boyhood dream by leaving a successful accounting career to become the Monte Vista High School baseball coach.
In youth, Priebe had turned down a baseball scholarship at St. Joseph's in Indiana to play varsity baseball at the University of Missouri, a "Big Eight" school. He pitched on the NCCA Division One level and coached Little League. Approaching middle age and finding the siren song of balance sheets waxing shrill, he spoke with Mark Smelko, head coach at Monte Vista—and the rest is history. Smelko needed a pitching coach, the accounting world offered part-time work, and Priebe made it to home plate. He even became a writer for National Pony Express, Scholastic Coaches and other periodicals.
Baseball Musical on Mt. Helix: "Damn Yankees," the 1955 Broadway smash about cutthroat competition in major league baseball, came to Mt. Helix Amphitheater in a spirited production by Christian Community Theatre.
Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, the original stars of the musical, morphed into Jim Chovick and Kathy Schmidt, whose singing chops could be heard all over La Mesa. The Faustian comedy centered on the lowly Washington Senators, an underdog team trampled by the much-hated New York Yankees. The show was based on Douglass Wallop's book "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant."
Gambling a No Hitter: Your correspondent had an editorial in this issue of the Review, headlined "Odds are on the mob" on the proposal to build a 24/7 gambling casino in beautiful downtown Lemon Grove.
After investigating the Bell Garden Bicycle Club Casino, touted by casino advocates as a "major success story," we contacted Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif) and William Roth (R-Del.) whose senate subcommittee investigated gambling casinos. Result: exposure of Bell Garden as a haven for laundered drug money flowing from Florida, mob activity from here to Asia, and government officials who ended up in the slammer after making millions in the Bicycle Club operation. At one point Uncle Sam was a majority stakeholder after it seized 36.2 percent of the casino.
There was more to this convoluted story of payoffs and other skulduggery, but here's our closing statement: "Running a casino is not and never should be a 'government program.' The inescapable fact is that gambling walks hand-in-hand with corruption. The Bell Garden saga, redolent of wasted tax dollars, greed and appalling official involvement with underworld figures, is not one we want to repeat in our town or someone else's hometown."