By John Crumpacker
From now until the start of the 2016 West Coast Conference Basketball Championships, WCC columnist John Crumpacker will be profiling the WCC Hall of Honor Class of 2016. For Friday, Crumpacker examines three student-athletes that made an impact on campus before making "The Show". This is part four of five.
For three former baseball players about to be inducted into the West Coast Conference’s Hall of Honor, 13 is a lucky number.
After leaving school, Gonzaga’s Mike Redmond (1990-92), Portland’s Bill Krueger (1975-80) and Santa Clara’s Randy Winn (1992-95) all went on to play 13 years in the Major Leagues. Another common denominator is their belief that their schools were just what they needed at that point in their lives.
“I enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed the school,’’ said Winn, a Bay Area native who played for Tampa Bay, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and the New York Yankees and now works for the Giants and Comcast SportsNet as a baseball analyst. “I look back on it and Santa Clara was a good fit for me. Having a small school was good. After I got drafted and got back to school to finish, the smaller classes and getting to know your professors was definitely helpful. The atmosphere at Santa Clara worked out perfectly for me.’’
Winn and Krueger also played a little basketball at their schools. Winn was a redshirt on the 1992-93 Santa Clara team coached by Dick Davey that upset No. 2 seed Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Krueger received a basketball scholarship by Portland and was also recruited to play baseball for the Pilots as a first baseman and pitcher; on the hardcourt he averaged 5.3 points per game in 105 games.
“It was such a perfect place for me,’’ said Krueger, who played for the A’s, Dodgers, Brewers, Mariners (twice), Twins, Expos, Tigers and Padres in his Major League career. “It couldn’t have worked out better. I was not heavily recruited out of high school. It took the efforts of my high school coach (Nick Robertson) to really open the door for me in basketball. He could see I blossomed later in my high school career. He opened the door for Portland to see me and I got a full ride. That was my dream, to play Division I basketball.’’
Krueger has his mother to thank for kick-starting his baseball career at Portland. Joe Etzel was the baseball coach at Portland at that time as well as the athletic director. He had seen Krueger play baseball in high school and wanted him to do so for the Pilots.
“I enjoyed playing baseball but I was all-in on basketball,’’ Krueger said. “I ended up playing baseball but not right away. My mom loved baseball. She really gave me a hard time about not playing baseball. She told me, ‘If you don’t play baseball, don’t bother to come home with that empty stomach and bag of laundry.’ ‘’
After not playing baseball as a freshman, Krueger joined the team as a sophomore and hit .301 as a first baseman and occasional pitcher. He hit .286 for his college career and helped the 1980 Portland team win a school-record 36 games. The Oakland A’s signed Krueger as an undrafted free agent in 1981, the start of his 13-year career as a journeyman in the Majors.
As for Redmond, his dream was to play baseball, and he was able to do so for hometown Gonzaga before embarking on a successful career in the Majors with the Florida Marlins and Minnesota Twins as a catcher. He hit .287 in his career and is most proud of his fielding percentage of .996, second-highest in Major League history.
“Your dream was to play in the Major Leagues,’’ Redmond said. “As a kid growing up in Spokane, I wanted to go to college and play baseball. I was fortunate to get a scholarship to play baseball. I played with a lot of pride. I learned a lot of life lessons. I learned how to respect the game. Every time I stepped on the field, I felt the responsibility of representing Gonzaga.’’
In the Majors, Redmond’s most celebrated moment came in 2003 with the Marlins. The team was slumping at the time, so one day he showed up for batting practice wearing only battling gloves, socks and cleats.
“It’s been well documented,’’ Redmond said. “We were slumping. It was something to lighten the mood. It was all in the cage. It’d be tough to get away with it now. We ended up winning 10 or 11 in a row. I can’t take full credit for it but we did start playing better and fortunately we ended up winning the World Series.’’
After his playing career was over in 2010, Redmond transitioned to managing, starting with the minor league Lansing Lugnuts in ‘11 (“Once you’re there, you’ll always be a Lugnut’’) before being hired to manage the Marlins in 2012, a job that lasted until May 19 of last year, when he was fired with his team sitting at 16-22.
These days, the 44-year-old Redmond is enjoying being back in Spokane, spending time with his family and being a fulltime dad to his 13-year-old son.
“I got a few opportunities to get back in the game but it wasn’t something I wanted to do at the time,’’ he said. “I got a couple of more years on my contract with the Marlins. I get to coach my son’s 13-year-old travel team. I’m just hanging out with my family. Being able to be home and be a dad again is fun.’’
Life is good as well for Krueger and his family, wife Jo and daughter Chanel. It’s so good you can see for yourself by checking out a YouTube interview of the Krueger family and how Chanel overcame a diagnosis of autism at 3 to regain speech and go on to graduate from a WCC school, San Diego, and attend a former WCC member’s law school, Seattle University.
“We made up our minds we were going to work hard on this,’’ Krueger said. “She’s really a great recovery story. To have gone through that with my wife and daughter changes your perspective. As I look at my life the biggest success story is my family and my daughter Chanel.’’
Krueger these days works for the Northwest Center in Seattle, an organization that since 1965 has helped children and adults with developmental disabilities through education, rehabilitation and employment opportunities. Krueger is a passionate supporter of the Center’s work and mission.
“It’s not a compromise to hire somebody with disabilities,’’ he said. “They can be your best employees.’’
Winn, meanwhile, is an employee of both the Giants, as special assistant to the director of minor leagues, and Comcast Sports Net as a baseball analyst. Both jobs keep him connected to the game he loves, as well as keep him in the area in which he grew up. Winn met his wife-to-be at Santa Clara, although he and Blessings did not date at that time. They now have a daughter, 8, and a son, 6.
“When I was done playing … I took some time and got away from the game, which was important,’’ Winn said. “I got some clarity when I was done. I enjoy baseball, I enjoy being around baseball, I enjoy talking about baseball.’’
It’s a game that unites three of the newest members of the WCC’s Hall of Honor, all of whom had similar reactions to being selected.
“I was honored, surprised,’’ Winn said. “I didn’t know a whole lot about the WCC Hall of Honor. Coming from a guy who didn’t get a lot of fanfare as a high school or college athlete, it’s a big honor.’’
“I was excited,’’ Redmond said. “Anytime you get honored for your achievement on any field is exciting. I just wanted to play as long as I could. It’s satisfying knowing you were taught the right way, played the right way. It’s pretty cool.’’
“I was pretty surprised, to be honest with you,’’ Krueger said, “and then I was pretty excited about it. The school thought enough of me to do that. It’s a prestigious group of people. I was a two-sport athlete but I was never a dominant athlete in either sport. That’s why it caught me by surprise.’’
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.