ALAMEDA -- Athletes and their spouses often find themselves thrust into the celebrity spotlight. This is especially true in today's culture.
But Frances Raimondi -- the widow of Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame catcher Billy Raimondi -- was of a different generation. Even at that, she likely would not have fit the celebrity mold. Still, Raimondi -- a longtime Alameda resident who died Feb. 2 -- was a superstar in her own right to her family and friends and warmly recalled by the many whose paths she crossed in her 97 years.
"She never liked the limelight or anything like that," said Raimondi's daughter, June Ogden. "She was a simple little housewife, but a wonderful mother and grandmother."
Born in Oakland as the third of four daughters to Sicilian immigrant parents Giuseppe and Maria Palermo on Dec. 20, 1915, Frances Barbara Palermo embraced her parents' customs and values. She held a variety of jobs during the Depression, having worked at such places as Cardinet Candy Co., the Star Theater and the Owl Drug Store in downtown Oakland. Moreover, she maintained a strong devotion to family and friends throughout her life.
"My aunt was more of a homebody; she cooked and loved to have people over to her house," said Barbara Sidari, Raimondi's niece. "She was very close to her family, but liked people (in general). My aunt was always helping somebody. She especially liked to help older people."
There were other facets to Raimondi's life, too. Baseball became one of them. In Raimondi's younger years, the Pacific Coast League -- represented in the East Bay by the Oakland Oaks -- was the highest level of baseball available to West Coast fans. Some even considered it a third major league. And just as Italian Americans developed thriving close-knit communities up and down the coast, they also became an emerging presence on PCL rosters.
One of those players was Billy Raimondi, the Oaks' young catcher who Frances met in 1936 through a mutual friend, Harry "Cookie" Lavagetto, a former teammate of Billy's. Billy and Frances married a year later, beginning a shared journey that lasted 73 years until Billy's death at 97 in 2010.
Life as a baseball wife -- Billy Raimondi played until age 40 in 1953 -- had its challenges, especially after two daughters and a son came into the picture. But being part of a baseball family also had its perks.
"We'd go (on road trips) to Sacramento (home of the PCL's Solons)," Ogden said. "I also remember when we rented another player's house and stayed for a month in Southern California. But we mostly had our families in Alameda and Oakland. And basically, my mother would just stay home and hold down the fort."
Years later, Frances Raimondi maintained a baseball connection by accompanying her husband to PCL Historical Society reunions.
In addition to Ogden and her husband, Jim, Frances Raimondi is survived by daughter Judy Harris, son William Raimondi and daughter-in-law Cathy. She also leaves behind sister-in-law Lorraine Dahl, eight grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. In keeping with her low-key ways, Frances Raimondi's services were private. Her burial service at Oakland's St. Mary's Cemetery took place before a small gathering on Valentine's Day.
"My mother didn't like to be the center of attention," Ogden said. "In a way, I thought she was the perfect baseball wife -- just plain ordinary folks."
Frances Raimondi perhaps was one of those ordinary folks, a non-celebrity born to a generation that lived through the Depression and two world wars. And one who will forever remain connected to unique eras in baseball and East Bay Italian American history.