Hometown Report

At 77, Giants great Orlando Cepeda still enjoys spotlight

Orlando Cepeda acknowledges a standing ovation by fans at the River Cats’ season opener.
Orlando Cepeda acknowledges a standing ovation by fans at the River Cats’ season opener. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Orlando Cepeda still elicits quite a reaction.

The Hall of Famer, who played his first eight-plus seasons for the Giants, was moved by the long standing ovation before he threw the first pitch at the River Cats’ season opener Thursday.

The “Baby Bull,” 77, doesn’t get around as well as he once did, but he said it never gets old waving to an appreciative audience.

“Great crowd, great place,” Cepeda said. “Can’t beat it.”

Cepeda, the National League Rookie of the Year in 1958 when he batted .312 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs, played 17 major-league seasons. For his career, he hit .297 with 379 home runs and 1,365 RBIs.

▪ It’s hard to beat Leon Lee’s charm and insight when talking to him or listening to him on River Cats broadcasts on ESPN 1320 alongside longtime play-by-play voice Johnny Doskow.

Lee, 62, a slugger still revered in Japan after playing there professionally for 10 years, hobbles a bit, and he’s sure to use the railing while navigating down stairs. It’s not just football wear and tear from his Grant High School running back days in the late 1960s that ails him.

“It’s my knee,” Lee said. “It’s more from when I was working baseball in Korea in 2001 and had to pound down 10 flights of stairs during a hotel fire, yelling to everyone, ‘Stay away from the elevators!’ carrying a lady who needed help. Hotel fires. Bad deal.”

▪ Lee, who cherished Japanese culture, shared stories with River Cats first baseman John Bowker (Rio Americano) during batting practice Thursday.

Bowker played the last three seasons in Japan in the Nippon Professional League, mostly with the Yomiuri Giants. Bowker said he enjoyed the experience while embracing a new diet and playing discipline.

One thing he didn’t do, he said, was drive. Motorists drive on the left side of the road in Japan, and the driver’s seat and steering wheel are on the right side of cars.

“You don’t want to drive over there,” Bowker said. “You cross a street and have to get used to which way the traffic is going. I took the train or public transit.”

▪ Nine days after watching daughter Gigi Garcia, The Bee’s Player of the Year, lead McClatchy to the CIF State Division I basketball championship at Cal, Aaron Garcia had his own milestone moment. Garcia earned his first victory as a head coach at any level, guiding the Las Vegas Outlaws over three-time defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona 70-53. Las Vegas, a new Arena Football League team, is 1-1. Garcia, The Bee’s Football Player of the Year in 1987, passed for 62,180 yards and 1,336 touchdowns in 19 AFL seasons.

▪ Charlie Sumner is best known for his stint as defensive coordinator for the Raiders, during which they won Super Bowls XV and XVIII, though he concluded his career as an assistant with the Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football in 1991 and ’92. Sumner, who died this week at 84, never coached after 1992, despite offers. He vacationed in Hawaii “and never came back,” his son Colin Sumner told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group.

▪ The Optimist All-Star basketball games for graduating seniors are set for Saturday at Center, the girls at 4 p.m. and the boys at 6 p.m. The games benefit youth programs and projects through the Evening Optimist Club.

The boys North team includes guards Isaiah Bailey of Jesuit, Noah Blackwell of Woodcreek, Bret Lynch of Mesa Verde and Mister Harriel of Antelope (who also played in the Optimist football game). The biggest player for the North is ErikScheive, a 6-foot-10 center from Marysville. The South roster includes forwards Marquese Chriss of Pleasant Grove and DeAndre Stallings of Liberty Ranch and guards Jordan Roberson of Cordova and Eric Toles and Jaaron Stallworth of Cosumnes Oaks.

The girls North team includes guards Lily Hagerty of Valley Christian and Cameo Warren of Antelope and forwards Lauren Heyn and Hannah Jordan of Del Oro. The South roster includes guard-forwards Erika Bean and Jordyn Bell of Bradshaw Christian, forward Emma Stenz of Davis, guards Isamar Conde of Oak Ridge and Kim Schmelz of Pleasant Grove and Lauren Nubla, Destiney Lee and Alex Washington of McClatchy.

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.