By JAY PARIS
It was his go-to line when seeing anyone in the Petco Park press box.
“It’s about time you got here,” Jerry Coleman said, one hand reaching for his coffee while the other had a needle at the ready.
It’s the anniversary of The Colonel’s death, a stunning jolt of news on Jan. 5, 2014 that still seems unbelievable.
That his loss was followed five months later by the passing of Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, only added to San Diego’s heartache.
But knowing The Colonel — was there anyone in San Diego that didn’t? — he wouldn’t want today to be somber.
Instead he would encourage everyone to smile, take a walk and keep counting the days until the Padres depart for spring training.
There’s a buzz regarding the new-look Padres and too bad the guy who was never happier than when sporting a buzz cut for the Marine Corps isn’t around to enjoy it.
One thing about Coleman is he saw a lot of shoddy Padres baseball in his 42 years.
That included 1980 when he ditched the radio booth for the dugout,
“I managed great,” Coleman would say. “But boy did they play bad.”
But as the revamped Padres get near to playing again, how odd that The Colonel won’t be around.
Few things were more hilarious than The Colonel working spring training games, with minor-leaguers wearing the same numbers and many he had no clue about.
But there was never a mystery that it would be a good broadcast.
Regardless of the players — some donning digits better suited for NFL linemen — The Colonel would make it must-listen to radio.
Of course that was in the spring, summer and fall. No matter the day, the city or the rival, The Colonel always had something to say in his own unique manner.
“Hey Jer, what’d you do today?” radio partner Ted Leitner would ask and that was enough.
The Colonel would soon be yapping about taking his dog Gus for a stroll, getting lost seeking yogurt in a strange town or giving an old Yankees story new life.
“I roomed with Mickey Mantle one year,” he said. “Or better put, I roomed with his suitcase.”
Rim shot, please, and oh to see that mischievous grin again, the one that came with a twinkle in both eyes.
I miss The Colonel, a two-time war hero, and I’m not alone.
I have his picture on my desk, one of him holding an old-school microphone with Jack Murphy Stadium — before Qualcomm came aboard — in the background.
Today The Colonel’s memories are in the forefront and I hope many pay their respects at his stunning statue outside of Petco Park.
It’s right inside the East Village Gate, but when reminiscing about The Colonel, I think of the Pearly Gates.
Can you imagine when the 89-year-old Colonel appeared last year, looking dapper but with his broken syntax and all.
There’s little doubt what St. Peter said to The Colonel.
“It’s about time you got here.”
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