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  • Charlotte (N.C.) Observer file

    Drungo Hazewood had a scholarship offer from USC to play tailback but signed with the Baltimore Orioles instead.

  • Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Local legend Hazewood dies at 53

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2013 - 8:36 pm

First, there was the name and origin. Drungo Hazewood.

And there was the body. A chiseled 6-foot-3, 210-pound athlete at Sacramento High School in 1977 with enough talent to be offered a scholarship to play tailback at USC and be a first-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles.

And the legacy. Nothing delighted Hazewood more later in life than his seven children and 10 grandkids. He served as something of a giggling jungle gym right up until his final hours.

The name, the physique and the legacy make for one of the most compelling figures and stories to come out of the tight-knit community of Oak Park.

Hazewood died Sunday morning in his South Sacramento home after a long battle with cancer, surrounded by family. He was 53.

"Drungo was the strongest man I've ever known, and I don't understand how he could have gone through what he went through – the surgeries, the chemo, the pain – and yet, he still smiled and still enjoyed life to the end," said Hazewood's wife, Lagette. "The nurses, the doctors, the staff at UC Davis loved his spirit. We all did."

Hazewood was a playground legend in Oak Park in the early 1970s when he chased every kid's dream of making it to the big leagues.

"We all looked up to Drungo as kids," said Dion James, a first-round pick by the Brewers in 1980. "It's so sad to hear this. You'd never believe that the great, strong Drungo Hazewood could ever be ill. He was special, and he had that great name."

After giving birth to the second-youngest of 10 children, Catherine Hazewood left it up to the baby's siblings to name him. The winner of a foot race to the hospital would get to name the baby. Aubrey won, naming his baby brother after a friend's last name.

Dave Hotell, the late Sac High football coach, once said of his highly recruited prospect: "Drungo's one of the very best athletes we've seen around here – ever."

Hazewood signed a letter of intent to play for USC but was surprised when the Orioles drafted him 19th overall days after he graduated high school. Hazewood signed for $50,000, a staggering sum for a 17-year-old who grew up with modest means.

"People were shocked around here that he was even drafted at all," said Mark McDermott, a Sacramento baseball historian. "What the Orioles saw in Drungo was this picture-perfect baseball specimen, but it was impossible to live up to those expectations."

Hazewood played parts of seven minor-league seasons, a fan favorite for his towering home runs and charm. Hazewood clubbed 97 career home runs, though he couldn't figure out breaking pitches. He hit .583 in spring training for the Orioles in 1980, but there wasn't a roster spot available for a club coming off a World Series appearance, prompting manager Earl Weaver to joke: "I've never cut a guy hitting that high before, but he was making the rest of us look bad with that average."

Hazewood's major-league career lasted all of six games, late in the 1980 season. He went hitless in five at-bats, striking out four times.

In 1981 with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Hazewood competed in the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning marathon. One of his Red Wings teammates was Cal Ripken Jr. That contest, won 3-2 by the Pawtucket Red Sox, was chronicled in the best-seller "Bottom of the 33rd," released in 2011.

By 1983, Hazewood was out of baseball. Reports that he bowed out with ill will consumed him for decades. They were not accurate, his wife said. Hazewood got into the trucking business and helped raise his family with Lagette, now retired from the California Youth Authority.

"I've known Drungo since he was 11 years old, and he was my best friend," Lagette said. "I knew him as a boy, as a teenager, as a man and in his declining years, so I know him well. I read the book 'Bottom of the 33rd,' and I was angry that the author didn't capture the Drungo I know. He wasn't bitter about baseball. He wasn't angry that it didn't work out. He had a dream to play major-league baseball, and he got his chance. He did his best. He was disappointed, yes, but he was very happy becoming a husband, a father and then a grandfather."

Lagette paused to compose herself and continued, "Family was his life, and there were grandkids crawling all over him the evening before he died, holding his hand, saying, 'Papa, look at this.' He was a man of very simple wants and needs, and he died with a smile, and at peace with who he is."

Services are pending.

Follow on Joe Davidson @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his "Extra Point" every Wednesday on ESPN1320.net

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