There was a baseball game at Blair Field last Saturday night. Ray Griffin was there, of course. He was the institution in the straw hat and white beard who sat in the grandstand behind home plate.
A ubiquitous observer of amateur baseball, Griffin has been a fixture at the Long Beach ballpark for 30 years, part of a nightly little clump of regulars and major league scouts.
His love for the game is so intense that, at age 70, it has become his whole life.
Before him, beyond the backstop screen, lay the green expanse of the playing field, dappled gold in its outer reaches by an early-evening sun that had not yet descended below the grandstand roof.
Jokes About Natty Attire
"I'm preaching tonight," Griffin joked as the game between Moore League and Sunset League high school all-stars began before a crowd of a few hundred.
It was a line he was using to explain to his cronies why he was so nattily dressed.
Art Schurman, one of the cronies and a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers, said Griffin looked as if he had stepped from a "page of Esquire."
He wore a cream-colored sport coat, blue shirt, gold tie and tan slacks.
"Normally, I don't wear this," Griffin said, settling on his cushion for a long night. "I've been to a wedding reception."
Griffin, who bought his ticket for the senior citizen rate of $1, is a "bird dog" for the New York Yankees, scouting area high school and college players. He does not get paid, but considers what he does a hobby that is a reward in itself.
Vast Knowledge of Players
He often gives opinions on players to his friend, Don Lindberg, the Western scouting supervisor for the Yankees. "He knows every kid in Southern California who plays baseball," Lindberg said this week. "He's the greatest guy I know, I wouldn't trade my friendship with Ray for anything . . . he's delightful to sit around and chat with."
Griffin attends high school, junior college, college, American Legion and Connie Mack games.
"I'm here, all over (at other diamonds), nearly every day," he said. "I see probably 10 games a week. There's not many days when there's not a game, all year long."
Players recognize him. Coaches ask him for information.
Jack Graham, a former major leaguer who sat near Griffin, said: "His knowledge of players is better than anyone else's around."
John Herbold, coach at Cal State Los Angeles and another Blair regular, said: "You could make up a player and Ray would tell you he's 5-7, a switch-hitter and plays shortstop. He knows everybody, he's a walking computer. But he doesn't throw opinions at you. Some guys try to impress you with their knowledge."
Sours on Professional Game
Between innings, Spud O'Neil, the Lakewood High coach who was coaching the Moore League team, walked by the backstop. Griffin got up to greet him. O'Neil told him, "I like that tie."
Griffin said he used to go regularly to Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium but does not now. "The crowds are the biggest (reason)," he said. "And I just lost interest the way they play in the major leagues; they stand there and swing from their butts. And guys get multi-year contracts and dog it."
So it is at Blair--where the game is as pure as the air and where youngsters go all out in pursuit of dreams--where Griffin prefers to be.
"I like to see how far the kids progress," he said.
He remembered Tony Gwynn, formerly of Poly High and now with the San Diego Padres.
"Best kid hitter I've ever seen," Griffin said. He recalled a Poly-Compton game at Blair: "Rubio Malone, a left-hander, was pitching for Compton. All the kids hated to bat against him. His ball really moved. Tony hit four line drives against him. That was unbelievable."
A Hit to Right Field--Again
From behind thick glasses, Griffin watched as Lakewood High's Matt Nuez came to bat for the Moore Leaguers.
"This guy's been going to right field the last three or four games," Griffin said to Bob Macias, a Connie Mack team coach who sat next to him.
Nuez, a right-handed batter, hit a ground ball to the second baseman. "There he goes to right again; something's wrong with him," Griffin said.
Not all of Griffin's usual cronies were with him.
"Frenchy don't come too often," he said of Albert (Frenchy) Guesno, a longtime coach. "Emphysema. Smoking those unfiltered cigarettes. He hardly gets around. "And old Jess Reynolds has a bad leg."
Griffin, who lives in the Los Altos neighborhood of Long Beach, was in the front row. In the past he usually could be found higher up. "Sometimes I get a touch of gout in my ankle, so I sit down here instead of walking up the steps," he said.
Notes All in His Head
L.V. Powell of Poly was at the plate.
"He runs to first faster than just about anybody in Southern California," Griffin said.
Powell hit the ball and ran to first. Griffin opened his left hand to reveal a stop watch that read 4.06 seconds, and said, "That's extremely fast."
Griffin took no notes. "All up here," he said, pointing to his head.