Did I have a premonition that our lives would somehow intersect?
I remember him first in 1957 as a pitcher for my favorite baseball team, the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. That was the year before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and stole my heart.
Though we ended up knowing of one another for more than 30 years, I'm not sure we ever spoke. I may have said, "Hey, coach," when I encountered him in the football press box at Orange Coast College.
Given half a chance, we might have become good friends. But we were like the Montagues and Capulets. Allegiances separated us. It's sad, really, because we had much in common.
We enthusiastically gave our loyalties to rival schools: he to Golden West College in Huntington Beach, me to OCC. We were of different clans, different cultures and different civilizations. He was a Rustler; I a Pirate. And, more than anything else, we each wanted to beat the other.
He was Don Rowe, a former Major League Baseball pitcher and coach — and a Golden West football, baseball and tennis coach. A 6-foot, 180-pound southpaw pitcher, he played 14 years in the minor leagues and reached the majors in 1963 with the New York Mets.
He set a Major League record for throwing the most innings — 54 2/3 — without a win, loss or save. In '63, the only year he played in the Bigs, Hank Aaron hit his 299th career home run off Don. He loved to tell that story.
The first batter that Don faced in the Big Leagues was Hall of Famer Stan Musial. He walked him.
Perhaps only one player in baseball at the time was better than Musial — Ted Williams. In 1957, as a pitcher for the Hollywood Stars, Don struck out Williams in an exhibition game.
But Don was a great — and I mean GREAT! — defensive coordinator for 25 seasons of football at GWC. His defenses routinely ranked among the elite in junior college football.
He was an easy target for us Coasters to dislike. He was intense and vocal on the sidelines, in the dugout and in the press box. He was the fiercest of competitors!
You could snub Don Rowe, but you couldn't ignore him.
I was an OCC administrator and sports information director. I lived and breathed Pirate athletics. And losing to Golden West — in anything — was as gut wrenching as it got for me. Though I loved it when we beat GWC, I learned that the highs from beating the Rustlers could never match the lows from losing.
I remember once ripping all the buttons off my Reyn Spooner shirt when we lost a particularly tough baseball game in Huntington Beach. I fussed and fumed all the way home, then had to invent an improbable alibi to mollify my wife.
Looking back, I think Don and I could have been pals. He loved to tell sports tales; I loved to listen to them. Loyalty was our middle name. We hated to lose. We loved reading military history. We were Type-A personalities. Well — true to his PCL baseball credentials — he was more like Type-AAA!
Rowe was ultimately diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He died of pneumonia and Parkinson's at Hoag Hospital in October of 2005, at age 69.
At the time, I didn't know Parkinson's disease from periodontal disease. Seven months after his death, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. I suddenly felt a bond.
Rowe's courageous battle with Parkinson's has taken on a new dimension for me. I find myself wishing I'd spoken to him while he was still with us.
Late in his illness, Rowe required a walker. Though a fighter, the unremitting battle began to wear on him. A reporter quoted him as saying to his wife, Marilyn: "You and the doctors can just take this Parkinson's and get rid of it! I don't want it any more."
I hear ya, bro!
I regret never having known Don Rowe.
JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.