RICHMOND -- Much of Redell "Dell" Randle's 80 years were consumed with a game played on a dirt and grass diamond.
Long after his days as part of a celebrated prep team at El Cerrito High School, Randle sought diamonds rather than playing on them and imparted his wisdom to boys growing up in a challenging environment.
"This was a man of profound drive and vision," said the Rev. Albert Featherstone. "A man who devoted his life to finding those diamonds in the rough."
About 200 people, including former pupils ranging from schoolyard stars to former National League Most Valuable Player Willie McGee, filled North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday to say goodbye to a man who coached and counseled thousands of young area ballplayers over the years.
Randle died at his home in Atchison Village on Dec. 26 after a long illness. He was surrounded by family, his daughter Rosalind Randle said.
"He never gave up," she said.
Along with song and dance performances, a procession of speakers said Randle stood out for his unswerving dedication to helping young men reach their potential on the baseball diamond -- and in life. Redell was particularly committed to helping provide opportunities for African-American ballplayers, whose numbers in college and big league baseball have declined since the 1980s.
"All of our lives are better for having known Redell," said Marvin Webb, a former John F. Kennedy High School baseball star and eighth-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.
Born in Alexandria, La., Randle relocated with his family to Richmond when he was a child.
He was a member of the El Cerrito High School championship team of 1951, a team that has since been inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
Randle later served in the U.S. Army and worked at Oakland Naval Base.
But he never strayed far from the game he loved or the young people who played it.
"I met Redell in 1969," said former El Cerrito High coach Larry Quirico. "He was scouting for the Boston Red Sox at the time, and he was just the nicest guy ... he took the time to look at and meet every kid."
The worship hall Tuesday was flecked with homages to Randle's life -- Red Sox jerseys and hats, a 3-foot diameter baseball made of red and white flower petals that hung over Randle's casket.
In addition to his work scouting Bay Area players for the Red Sox and the California Angels, Randle coached dozens of community youth baseball teams in Richmond, North Richmond and Oakland from the 1970s to the 1990s. He pitched batting practice and hit infield the same way -- hard -- to force the youngsters to improve and meet challenges. He was also a tinkerer and inventor, fashioning baseball training aids out of scrap metals and household items.
McGee, who would move on from the rugged streets of Richmond and the diamond of Harry Ells High School to stardom with the St. Louis Cardinals and three other teams, said Tuesday that Randle was a mentor whose lessons he will never forget.
"He was a no-nonsense guy," McGee said. "He always insisted that we deal with people respectfully, and he always told us that no matter what happened we had to 'keep our cool.'"
McGee, whose own father, Dean, worked with Randle at the naval yards, said Randle reminded him in his later years to appreciate his good fortune.
"He was proud of me, sure," McGee said. "But he was bothered by the players who didn't make it even though they had just as much or more talent. He wanted to help them all."
Randle's wife, Florence, died in 2008, his daughter said. He is survived by four daughters and three sons.