ALAMEDA -- As a young player, Don Pries once met Branch Rickey, the man best known for signing Jackie Robinson and widely regarded as one of the most astute and respected executives in baseball history. Perhaps a bit of Rickey rubbed off on Pries during that encounter. Of course, Pries had ties to baseball while growing up in his native Alameda. Whatever the case, Pries enjoyed many more highlights and milestones in his career as a player, manager, scout (St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles), team executive and in helping launch the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau.
Pries -- now 86 and living in Irvine -- made an especially huge impact in Baltimore, first as a scout, then as director of player development and finally as assistant to the general manager. This summer, the Orioles paid tribute to Pries when they inducted him into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.
"That was quite a special happening for me to be addressed at Camden Yards with 35,000 people and my sons and grandsons with me," said Pries, who served the Orioles from 1968-74. "It was a miracle day for us all."
At the induction ceremony -- which took place Aug. 2 before a game with the Seattle Mariners -- the Orioles presented Hall of Fame green jackets with a special Orioles logo on the left pocket to both Pries and fellow inductee Roberto Alomar (already a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York).
For sure, getting inducted into any hall of fame is a major honor. But to those who know Pries from his Alameda days (where he was known as "Ducky," a grammar school nickname that Pries never was fond of), he already was a hall of famer in the greater game of life.
"Mr. Pries is like the definition of a gentleman," said horse-racing expert Sam Spear, a native Alamedan who grew up near Pries. "He is a classy, classy individual."
Despite an age difference of more than two decades, Spear -- a 1966 St. Joseph High School graduate -- became quite close to Pries, who graduated from Alameda High School in 1945.
"He lived around the corner from me," Spear said. "He was scouting for the Cardinals when I became friends with him. We talked baseball, and he gave bats and balls to me and my friends."
In all, Pries has spent 68 years in professional baseball. At Alameda High, Pries played baseball and basketball. And each of these teams enjoyed much success in 1944, Pries's junior year. Teammates from both squads went on to bigger things, too. Stu Inman eventually became the basketball executive best known for helping build the 1977 NBA champion Portland Trail Blazers. Bob Wuesthoff later became head baseball coach at Long Beach State. For Pries and his friends, Alameda High was a training ground and launchpad.
"We had a baseball coach, Chet Millett, who had been an Army lieutenant," Pries said. "If he didn't think that we took infield properly, he would be hitting balls to us in the dark. He was a tough bird but a good, good, guy."
The "good guy" reputation also applied to Pries, whose talents and affable manner rubbed off on teammates and opponents alike.
"I first met Don Pries in '43 when I was a freshman (at Oakland's McClymonds) High School," said Alameda resident Lil Arnerich, himself a former professional baseball player who played for the Oakland Oaks. "I went on to play with him on a team called the Buckhorn Club -- he was a first baseman on the Buckhorn Club and at Alameda High. He's a very wonderful person, truly a gentleman. He's just a very affable guy; you couldn't help liking him. He's a very good after-dinner speaker. Very knowledgeable about baseball."
Signed by Cleveland upon graduating from high school, Pries had his encounter with Branch Rickey six years later.
"It was 1951 at spring training (with the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers) in Riverside," Pries said. "I went to pick up my bat, and Branch Rickey was sitting right behind. He said, 'Don Pries, Batavia (of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League), 1945, .315'; he remembered my name and my batting average six years later. A brilliant man."