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Baseball to become Reno’s major sport?
by Harry Spencer
Feb 29, 2008 | 1686 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In recent years the “Biggest Little City’s” major claim to fame from an athletic standpoint has been the emergence of the University of Nevada, Reno’s basketball team as a major power in the Far West.

This year’s team notwithstanding, the Silver and Blue, which was long best noted for some strong football teams, has still looked impressive at times when it takes to the hardwood.

As of last week however, with the groundbreaking of the new baseball stadium in downtown Reno for a AAA team affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks, it looks as if the major sports stories datelined from our town will have to do with what happens on the diamond starting in spring of next year.

While some localites may bemoan the fact that the new Reno team (as yet unnamed) is not affiliated with the nearby San Francisco Giants or the Oakland A’s, inside sources have confirmed that the Diamondbacks have one of the finest farm systems in the majors and that both the Giants and A’s farm systems are not near the top of the heap. If this be true then fans here may have the opportunity to see some real budding stars of major league caliber cavorting on the Reno field. For old timers it will bring back memories of when Maury Wills ran the bases for the Silver Sox, a Reno team at Moana ballpark that was affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Memorable Tahoe events

Author Robert Frohlich recently penned an article for the Tahoe Magazine entitled, “You’re a Local If You Remember ...” in which he capsulized some 22 memorable events that occured at or near the famed “Lake in the Sky.”

Four of those events triggered memories for the writer. The first was the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr., in December 1963. Frank, Jr. was snatched from his motel room at South Shore where he was appearing at Harrah’s Tahoe. The Reno connection to the case occurred when then District Attorney Bill Raggio called Mapes Hotel manager Walter Ramage to request housing for Frank, Sr. and his entourage, who had flown up from L.A. but were unable to get to Tahoe over snowbound U.S. Highway 50. For three days the senior Sinatra was ensconced at the Mapes, along with FBI agents, as contacts were made with the kidnappers and the ransom money scrabbled together from the Reno hotels and casinos.

The second of Frohlich’s yarns was about the ill-fated Kings Castle at Incline under its original owner, Nate Jacobson. Upon opening in 1970, this writer was involved in the production of the National Snowmobile Championships for Nate and later the Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis tournament for the Hyatt. The third yarn was about the 1980 Harvey’s Hotel bombing when good friend Lee Frankovich was on the scene, and the fourth story was about the short-lived Tahoe Air that you could fly out of the South Shore airport for $9.99 to San Jose or Los Angeles in 1999. Unfortunately it only lasted that one summer.

Celebrity corner

Recent news of Fidel Castro’s step down as ruler of Cuba triggered a memory for localite Burt Bonaldi of The Gaylords singing/comedy group. The incident occurred in the famed showroom of the Latin Quarter nightclub in New York City in 1963.

At the time, The Gaylords were accompanied on the bill in the Latin Quarter by another act, Rowan and Martin (later famous on TV for the “Laugh-In” show). During the Rowan and Martin closing skit — a signature piece in which Rowan played a Laurence Olivier-like character making his first Las Vegas nightclub appearance and Martin played a ringside conventioneer sauced on Pabst Blue Ribbon beer — Rowan turns to the heckling Martin and said repeatedly “You’re drunk!” Martin retorts by pointing to someone in the real ringside audience and stating, “I’m not drunk - he’s the drunkard!” Unfortunately, on that particular night Martin pointed out a table full of Arabs in their traditional garb. It so angered the customers that they went to the owner of the Latin Quarter, Lou Walters (father of TV personality Barbara Walters) and demanded that Martin give them an official apology. After much arm twisting, Martin acquiesced and apologized.

A few nights later The Gaylords were on stage and in their closing skit Bonaldi is facing a firing squad of Cubans for some disrespect that he had shown Fidel Castro. As he continuted to belabor the Cuban leader with some unsavory comments that can’t be printed here, he unknowingly irritated a table full of Cubans that had come to see the show. Backstage, Dan Rowan approached Bonaldi and noted, “You’re probably going to have to apologize to those Cubans because I saw them make a beeline for Lou Walters after you left the stage. You’ll probably get the same treatment that Dick (Martin) got the other night with the Arabs.”

Bonaldi hastened out front to catch up with the owner and when he got hold of Lou he noted he hadn’t meant to insult any customers. Lou grabbed him by the arm and marched him over to the table occupied by the Castro lovers. The pint-sized Walters then rolled up his sleeves and personally “bounced” the Cubans out of the club. Such was the anti-Castro feeling in the United States at the time.

Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.
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