RICHMOND -- Jim Landis, who helped lead the Richmond Union High School baseball team to a tie with rival El Cerrito for the 1951 league championship, was back in his hometown April 25 to renew ties with the fellows he played with and against growing up at the annual reunion known as Newell's Sports Luncheon.
More than 200 men attended the event at the Salesian Boys & Girls Club, just a long outfield throw from where many of them attended high school.
Landis, now 80 and living in Napa, went on from RUHS to an 11-year major league career, winning five Gold Gloves as an outfielder with the Chicago White Sox and twice making the American League All-Star team.
He holds fond memories of his days playing on Richmond ball fields and acknowledged there is a special bond.
"Oh god, yeah," he said. "That's why I'm here. It was fun spending time with all your buddies. A lot of us guys ran around together."
Among those he chatted with was a former Oilers baseball teammate who had the misfortune of also being named Jim Landis and forever carries the nickname "Little Jim" as a result.
"Same year, same team," said the other Jim Landis, sporting a name tag with just his nickname on it. "That's exactly why I wear this. How would you like to grow up with all your buddies calling you 'Little Jim?' That's what happened to me my whole life."
The Orangeville resident added, "What the hell. I'm 80 years old, it doesn't matter."
The congenial gathering is focused on athletes who played for Richmond and El Cerrito when those were the only public high schools in the area.
"El Cerrito had just come into being," said Ron Kamb, a 1946 graduate of Richmond High and a standout prep pitcher who returned to play baseball on semipro teams after serving in the military, pitching for the championship El Cortez squad.
"It was a close-knit town. It was a small town until the war came," said Kamb, who went on to a teaching career and then served as principal of Richmond High. "A lot of guys went to elementary, junior high and high school together."
Ernie Broglio had a similar experience growing up in El Cerrito, where he was a member of the 1951 Gauchos team that tied with Richmond for the title.
"We all played together since junior high. It was a combined junior high and high school at El Cerrito then," said Broglio, who went on to play for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League before signing a major league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Broglio won 21 games for the Cardinals in 1960 and 18 games in 1963.
"I was playing varsity sports when I was going to junior high. It was always competitive between Richmond and El Cerrito. It was competitive with Berkeley, too."
Baseball was king of the sports world in those days, but the reunion includes other sports as well.
Among the attendees were Mike Farmer, who played in the NBA after excelling in basketball at Richmond High and the University of San Francisco, and Art Smrekar, a 1949 RUHS grad who went on to become a three-time gold medal water skier.
"I didn't even start until I was 35 years old," Smrekar said with a laugh. "Everybody else was quitting."
The reunion is organized by Jack Newell, whose father, Jack Newell Sr., owned a popular market in Richmond and sponsored merchant baseball teams.
"Everybody remembers we had a store at 23rd and Cutting," Newell said. "At one time or another, they were all at the store. Everybody started at Newell Markets," which at one time had a second location on 14th Street.
Bob Orcutt, a member of the 1951 Gauchos baseball team, recalled that the reunion idea took hold when he was playing golf with Newell and they were reliving the old days.
"He said, 'Why don't you get hold of the guys from El Cerrito, and I'll get hold of the guys from Richmond,'" Orcutt said.
From there, the event grew from a handful at the beginning to a couple of hundred people who filled the gymnasium last week.
"There was a lot of camaraderie between the kids in general," Orcutt said, acknowledging that the competitive side still runs deep.
"There was a very big rivalry between Richmond and El Cerrito," he said. "We still get up and holler at each other once in a while."