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Former major leaguer returns to Bellingham

Aug. 2, 2008

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -

CRAIG PARRISH, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Roger Repoz looks like he could still hit a baseball into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.

Repoz, who grew up in Bellingham who has lived in Fullerton, Calif., for nearly 30 years, prowled the outfield for the New York Yankees for a season in the mid-1960s.

Among his teammates were several players often mentioned as part of long list of Yankees legends: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Joe Pepitone, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer and Tony Kubek.

Repoz is in town visiting family for several days this week, and fans and friends are invited to an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3. The event will be held at the home of his sister, Linda Doering, at 1408 Toledo St.; Repoz will on hand (Sunday is his birthday, as it turns out) to sign memorabilia, share stories of his career in baseball and reminisce with old acquaintances.

On Friday, Aug. 1, Repoz relaxed on his sister's back porch with several family members and local radio broadcaster Dick Stark, with whom Repoz has been friends since they were teenagers.

"It's been two years, three years since I was here last," Repoz said. "We enjoy coming up here, enjoy the weather, the rain - it's 85 in California.

Regarding the 67-degree temperatures and partly cloudy skies, Repoz said "it's a change for me, but I like it. I hope it rains some more."

Repoz's journey to the top of the professional baseball world began when he played prep ball for Bellingham High School and college at Western Washington University. For the Vikings, he was the Most Valuable Player at the 1959 NAIA national tournament as Western advanced to the national quarterfinals. He was primarily a pitcher in his college days, but was outfielder in his pro career.

The left-hander was twice named to the all-Evergreen Conference team, and in 1960 he was drafted by the Yankees. He reached the big club for a week in 1964, then began a seven-year stretch in the majors in 1965.

And who did he see at 'work' each day? From his spot in center field, Mantle was to his right in left field, and Maris, who broke the single-season home run record just four years earlier, was in right field.

"Mantle, Maris, all the big boys," said Repoz, who added that those superstars were simply regular guys who enjoyed working and playing with friends. Repoz did say that being among the best to ever play had some perks.

"(I was) kind of low-key, because in that era, being a rookie, you didn't mess with the big boys anyway," Repoz said. "You carried their bags, and if they asked you to do something, you'd do it. If you were in the training room and they wanted to get in the training room and said 'get out, I'm coming in' - yeah. It was a camaraderie, where you really respected those guys - doesn't happen today."

Repoz got a big taste of big-city celebrity during a particularly heady stretch of June 1965, when he hit five home runs in 11 games. Upon returning to New York, a reporter asked him "How does it feel to be the next Mickey Mantle?"

Repoz couldn't help but laugh when sharing that story, and he admits he didn't have much of an answer other than the obvious - that there would most certainly never be a 'next' Mickey Mantle.

The Yankees traded Repoz to the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 (he was hitting .349 at the time) when New York needed to find a left-handed starting pitcher to step in for the ailing Ford. One year later, Repoz was traded to the California Angels, where he played for five years.

He followed that with a five-year stint in Japan, where he hit 120 home runs, including 36 in 1977, and earned a "Best Nine" award as being one of the top players in the 12-team league.

Repoz, who turns 68 on Sunday, Aug. 3, has worked for 26 years for Fabrica Fine Carpet & Rugs ("We make the best carpet in the world," he said). He said he wasn't interested in continuing in baseball after his playing days were over, and when the Fabrica president approached him about working for the company, he thought it'd be a good fit.

As for his time working the turf at one of sports' most hallowed venues, Repoz said he tried to appreciate his good fortune.

"It was a little intimidating," Repoz admits. "I couldn't believe I was there; I was just happy to be wearing the pinstripes."

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