I remember the phone call like it was five minutes ago.
The year was 2011, and the contact was Bill Moorad, who served as the business manager of the Modesto Relays for 55 years.
"I just closed the books for good on the Relays," Moorad said. His voice, a growling bass, sank to a new low. "It's over."
To be correct, the Relays Modesto's signature sports event for 67 years was history long before Moorad dotted all the financial i's. The last track meet at Modesto Junior College Stadium was held in 2008, and a forgettable sequel was staged at Sacramento's Hughes Stadium two years later.
Save Mart Supermarkets, the loyal sponsor for a decade, no longer could cover for dwindling crowds and growing apathy. The grocery giant walked away.
But the call from Moorad was the ultimate confirmation. If it came from him, how dare you question it? His word was as dependable as sunrise.
I thought of that day last weekend during the memorial service for Moorad, who died March 18 at 86. The church was filled with family and friends who no doubt felt the same as yours truly here was a man of great intelligence and substance.
Moorad's bio spanned the local sports scene: He was a tackle for the Hughson High and MJC football teams and would have continued at Illinois if not for an injury. He was one of the founders of the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club and a behind-the-scenes hero of the Relays.
His time at the SOS and the Relays influenced his son Jeff, whose childhood was seasoned by up-close visits with stars such as Willie Mays. Top-tier sports celebrities spoke regularly at the SOS during those years.
Jay Silvester, whose discus throw in 1968 accounted for one of the 32 Relays world records, once gave Jeff his shoes. Mays became his idol.
Later, Jeff and partner Leigh Steinberg revolutionized the sports agent business by negotiating contracts worth about $3 billion for clients from Troy Aikman to Manny Ramirez.
Then Jeff switched front-office seats and became a minority owner for the Diamondbacks and the Padres.
Which means he stretched those schoolboy memories to the max.
But Jeff, whenever he needed the most critical counsel over the years, turned to his parents, Bill and Saralee.
"The first call," Jeff said at the service, "always was to him."
What better tribute from son to father?
Whenever Jeff called home, he heard the familiar "Where you been?" from Bill. I also received his "Where you been?" over the years. Whenever I had a question about the Relays or Jeff's business updates, I turned to Bill.
He was straight, no-nonsense and never impolite. Talking sports often superseded the questions at hand. But he never led me down a wrong path.
More relevant, Jeff can say the same thing.
Dick Hagerty, a Bee community columnist since 2006, also recognized Bill's personal touch. The columnist lived in Concord until he visited Modesto at the behest of Moorad, who invited him to the 1965 Relays. Moorad soon found employment for Hagerty, who worked the Relays from all angles for many years.
"The mantra for all athletes at the Relays was 'Where's Moorad?' because they knew who was writing their checks. He got me my job as the field announcer," Hagerty recalled. "Bill was a hugely important man and a class act. He was the real deal."
Moorad's passing once again reminds us of time's passage. One by one, the people who molded and sustained Modesto sports are leaving us. Tom Mellis, another SOS and Relays pioneer, died in 1990. Tom Moore, the Relays' lifeblood, died on the eve of the 2002 meet. There are no pinch-hitters for high-school icons such as Chuck Hughes, Dan Gonsalves and others.
That said, the loss of Moorad cuts close to the heart. One can't guess how many times he steered Moore and company out of financial strife. The Relays probably lasted longer than expected in part through Moorad's understated guidance.
Replacing the event is hard. Replacing the man is impossible.