Marcos Bretón

Opinion: Nick Peters’ words painted pictures of baseball games

Nick Peters, shown here at a 1999 Giants game, covered the team for 47 seasons. He died Monday at 75.
Nick Peters, shown here at a 1999 Giants game, covered the team for 47 seasons. He died Monday at 75. Bee file photo

Among the men who dedicate their lives to baseball, the true measure of respect is earned over long seasons and long careers.

By this measure, Nick Peters – the National Baseball Hall of Fame writer who died Monday at 75 – was extraordinary. Through his longevity of 47 seasons on the Giants beat, from 1961 to 2007, Peters was a living link to the earliest days of the Giants in San Francisco. Peters was among the last of a generation of baseball scribes who used words to paint pictures of the games from those years – when frontline baseball writers were the eyes and ears for fans.

When you were a Giants fan in Peters’ day, you walked to the corner store to buy a copy of the Sporting News – “The Bible of Baseball” – for which Peters freelanced for years.

There, in his trademark spare prose, you learned in greater detail what had happened in games that mostly weren’t on television and definitely weren’t disseminated instantly – as games are today.

“I read Nick as a kid,” said John Shea, a superlative baseball writer for many years with the San Francisco Chronicle. “Nick was that era’s Giants ‘blogger’ with the Sporting News.” With the Berkeley Gazette, Oakland Tribune and – from 1988 to 2007 with The Sacramento Bee – Peters faithfully chronicled the ups, and mostly downs, of the Giants.

When Peters first began filing his Giants dispatches, the tools of his trade were the manual typewriter and the rotary telephone. African Americans were still being beaten on the streets of the American south at the height of the Civil Rights era. Latin American ballplayers were barred from speaking Spanish in the Giants clubhouse. America was roiled by Vietnam and civil unrest.

Peters was shaped by the era. A product of San Francisco down to his bones, he loved the music of the streets and smoky clubs – the places where American jazz and blues were played.

Peters was always among the first writers to file his stories and then he was gone from the press box – to a jazz club, a blues club or a restaurant that served fine food.

His dad had been a hard-working Greek immigrant whom had Anglicized the family name but passed an Old World ethic onto Peters, known as the “The Greek” by everyone in baseball.

That ethic drove Peters to keep writing like a machine, all winter long. He loved college basketball and would often peel away from spring training in Phoenix to cover a college game in Tucson, Ariz. He was a walking historian of Northern California high school basketball.

It was as if he had a motor in him that never eased up a gear. Late in his career, Peters helped cover the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens – his ancestral homeland – and it became a highlight of his life.

When he wasn’t working, Peters was traveling the world with his beloved wife Lise – the love of his life for his final 42 years.

Those who knew him were wounded by the sight of him in his final years, as a rare neurological disease called cortical basal ganglionic degeneration kept him bedridden and unable to communicate in his vibrant, direct way.

But on the walls of his Elk Grove home are large images of a consequential man. A favorite is one of Peters, long ago in Greece. His beard had not yet turned gray. He was tanned, shirtless and radiated a picture of a man who loved life. “Nick lived many lives,” Shea said. Peters was a baseball scribe, husband, father, grandfather, world traveler, raconteur, connoisseur and collector of memorabilia. His Elk Grove home is like a Northern California sports museum.

When plying his trade, Peters eschewed the pack mentality of sportswriters and thought for himself – often seeking the players overlooked by other scribes.

Soon, the other writers were following him to his favorite haunts. He would talk them into ditching dreary plane rides and bumping from city to city by car – the proper way to be in the moment and to fully experience the ride of his life.

By the time Peters was nearing the end of his career, sports media was changing by the minute – but he didn’t. In his acceptance speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, when he was honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for career achievement, Peters proudly joked he never tweeted and never blogged.

Those of us who knew him were proud that Peters had lived to see his enshrinement because the Spink Award is often given posthumously. We were gratified that Peters lived long enough to see the Giants win a World Series, then another and then another.

That never happened while Peters was on the beat. The closest he came was 2002, when the Giants were mere outs from winning it all before historically blowing a big lead against the Anaheim Angels.

I sat next to “The Greek” in that series and remember other scribes sidling up to him, patting him on the back and telling him they were happy he was finally chronicling a title.

Peters would have none of it: “The game isn’t over,” he snapped more than once. And he was right. The Giants blew the game and the series. When I told him how much it had pained me to re-write my column on deadline as a Giants triumph turned to dust, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “That’s the name of the game, my boy.”

Then he filed his story and headed out into the night with other scribes in tow. I’ll never forget it – or him.

Rest in peace, Greek.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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