Jeff Jardine: One of Modesto’s ‘nice guys’ gone at 82

07/21/2014 6:56 PM

07/21/2014 10:09 PM

From the emails and voice mails:

‘AS NICE A GUY ... ’ – In 1991, I wrote a series of sports stories titled “One-Shot Wonders,” profiling area residents who enjoyed brief moments of glory in their all-too-short professional careers.

Among them was Bill Koski, who starred at Modesto High in 1950 and, at age 19, pitched in 13 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951. His numbers were what you’d expect from a very young pitcher relying primarily on his blazing fastball: 0-1, with a 6.67 ERA, 28 walks and six strikeouts in 27 innings. He started 1952 back in the minors, but his stuff impressed Pirates’ owner Branch Rickey so much that Rickey tried to recall Koski to the big club that August. Just a few hours after receiving the telegram from Rickey, his mom sent along another – this one telling him he’d been drafted into the Army and needed to report for duty on Aug. 21.

A few months later, he shipped out to Korea, and never achieved his projected success in big-league baseball.

Koski died at 82 in a Modesto hospital 12 days ago, less than a year after the passing of his beloved wife of 60 years, Nancy.

His brother, Jack Koski, recalls that while they were in high school and the teams courted Koski in the days before the baseball draft, scout Floyd “Babe” Herman really wanted Bill’s name on a Pirates contract. So Herman asked one of the team’s co-owners to intervene.

“He had Bing Crosby call our dad,” Jack Koski said.

Herman feared that Crosby’s buddy, Cleveland Indians co-owner Bob Hope, might also make a call. He didn’t. Bill Koski signed with Pittsburgh.

Once, on a train trip in the big leagues, Bill ate a T-bone steak for dinner. Later that night, he got hungry and ate another. So a sports writer along on the trip challenged him to eat a third steak. He did, and his teammates nicknamed him “T-Bone.”

Years later, when Jack looked up Bill’s entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia, he found the listing complete with the nickname: William John Koski ( T-Bone). When I wrote the piece on Bill in 1991, the Baseball Encyclopedia had omitted him from the book entirely that year. The publisher corrected it for the 1992 edition, but his record still doesn’t reflect his three no-decision appearances after he returned from Korea in 1954.

Those games were his last in the majors. He eventually returned to Modesto and became supervisor of drafting in Stanislaus County’s Public Works Department until his retirement in the 1990s. He also spent a decade as the pitching coach at California State University, Stanislaus.

“It’s amazing how many people Bill influenced,” said Bob Heath, a former Modesto High teammate and lifelong friend. “He was as nice a guy as I’ve ever known.”

Agreed.

THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP – Dan Petersen and Stan Holtz began teaching together at Manteca High in the early 1960s, and again later at Modesto Junior College.

Petersen is a watercolor artist who paints California landscapes. Holtz went on to teach art at Ceres High and as an adjunct drawing instructor at MJC, but his specialty is ceramics. The longtime friends will display their works – Petersen’s since he retired from MJC in 2003 and Holtz’s most recent pieces – during a show Aug. 19 through Sept. 20 at the Mistlin Central California Art Association Gallery in downtown Modesto. Petersen also will teach a workshop at the gallery from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday of the exhibit.

Contact the Mistlin Gallery at (209) 529-3369 for more information.

UPPING THE ANTE – A few weeks ago, members of Turlock High’s soccer team began selling tickets for their annual fundraising drive-through dinner Aug. 12 at Las Casuelas Mexican restaurant in Turlock. Each year, the benefit generates about $2,000 that helps pay for transportation costs to weekend tournaments and other games.

But during the last week of June, vandals broke into the team’s storage container and made off with all of the team’s gear: roughly 40 soccer balls, nets, bags, frames and other stuff.

“About $5,000 worth,” Coach Doug Sperry said. “They cut our lock off.”

They also slashed the tires on a small trailer used to transport the gear to games, he said. A high insurance deductible means the team must raise money to replace the stolen items, Sperry said.

Realistically, the dinner can’t generate anything close to the amount needed. So Sperry’s wife, Carol, created a donation page on gofundme.com. With a goal (no pun intended) of $5,000, the site has generated $300 through Monday afternoon.

HOUSEBOATING – In my column Sunday on the impact of the drought on local tourism, I wrote that house boating has stopped on New Melones and Lake Don Pedro reservoirs. House boating continues on Lake Don Pedro, but not on New Melones.

AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – Bret Malley, 29, formerly of Sonora, is the author of “ Adobe Master Class: Advanced Compositing in Photoshop,” which is available on Amazon.com. Malley teaches at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore.

And former Stanislaus County Supervisor Nick Blom’s book, “Going Dutch in America,” is in its second printing and available for $20. Call Els Blom at (209) 505-5567 for more information.

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