SCOTT SLANT: For me, Orlando’s passing was surreal


Monday Special…July 1, 2024.

I was at Orlando Cepeda’s assisted living apartment last Wednesday afternoon. The beloved 86-year-old Baseball Hall of Famer passed away Friday evening. Here’s the story.

In the early 1960s, a bunch of us little San Francisco Giants fans ran around together in a Bay Area suburb, Orinda. There were my brothers, Mark and Doug, and me—and our neighbors, Paul, Tim, Mark and Charlie, among others. When we weren’t playing baseball in driveways or fields, we often hung out at a small lake near our homes, building forts and engaging in mudball fights. We lived an idyllic “Sandlot”-type existence.

We named the places around the lake, and one of them was “Cape Orlando,” in honor of one of our Giants heroes, Orlando Cepeda. He led the National League with 46 home runs and 142 RBI in 1961, and we were all about it. There was not a more fearsome slugging trio than Cepeda, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.

Fast forward to last August. I got a call from Charlie, whom I hadn’t talked to in years. “I’ve got a story for you,” he said. Charlie sits with the former football coach at our high school, Bran Yaich, for an hour once a week. A medical aid named Louie comes in after him. One day Louie happened to mention that he also sits with Orlando Cepeda at another facility in the area. So Charlie proceeded to tell him the story of the young Giants fans in Orinda and “Cape Orlando” at the lake.

Louie told the story to Cepeda. Orlando thought it was so cool that he had Louie take an autographed Hall of Fame program and baseball to Charlie, and he texted me photos of them. Weeks later, Louie told Charlie, “I could probably get you in to see Orlando.” It would be up to his wife, Nydia “Elba” Fernandez Cepeda. Elba then heard the story and gave Louie her phone number to pass on to us.

I called Elba last November, and she said she thought Orlando would really enjoy meeting us. She asked when Charlie and I could come by. I explained that I live in Boise, Idaho, and we’d have to plan ahead. She asked us to keep in touch. Around Thanksgiving, Orlando and Elba traveled to his native Puerto Rico. Then Christmas came, and then January. Orlando had a surgical procedure and was moved to another care center for rehab. The trail kind of went cold after that. I was periodically in contact with Charlie, and there was nothing new on the Orlando Cepeda front.

And then it was June. Bob Behler, Voice of the Broncos, is the biggest Giants fan I know. We always talked about going to a game together, and it turned out he and his wife Theresa were going to San Francisco last week to see a couple Giants-Cubs games. I was welcome to tag along, so I made my reservations. Then I called Charlie and told him I’d be down there. If it worked out to see Orlando, great. If it didn’t, then maybe some other time.

Last Tuesday night, Charlie called. He had talked to Elba, and yes, we could come by to visit Orlando on Wednesday. She warned that he had been moved home and was now in hospice care, and he may not be able to communicate with us. But if he was, it would lift his spirits. Bob, Theresa and I landed Wednesday morning, and I took BART out to Contra Costa County. Charlie picked me up at the station, and we headed to the assisted living apartment in Concord where Orlando and Elba live.

Elba greeted us at the apartment and took Charlie and me into Orlando’s room. There would be no conversation on this day. Orlando was clearly struggling. Elba told him in Spanish that we were there, but he was barely able to acknowledge her. We spent about an hour visiting with Elba, a warm and charming lady. It was heart-grabbing when she said the death of Willie Mays was crushing for Orlando. It had been eight days at that point, and his health had taken a difficult turn.

On the walls of the couple’s living room were photos and mementos from Orlando’s career. I had wondered if Cepeda and Mays remained close through the years. We had our answer. A number of photos featured the pair in their playing days with the Giants. While taking a photo of Orlando that day would have been inappropriate, I asked Elba if I could snap photos of some of the mementos. “Absolutely,” she said. When Charlie and I left, we told her it was an honor to see Orlando—and an honor to meet her and visit with her.

Bob, Theresa and I went to Wednesday night’s game at Oracle Park, and we were on the Muni headed to Thursday afternoon’s game when Charlie called. Elba had called him and told him that Orlando’s doctors said there could be no more visitors, as Orlando was entering his final hours. It was head-spinning for Charlie and me.  

The Muni dropped us off outside the leftfield gate at Oracle Park, where Orlando’s statue stands. I texted the photo to Charlie and Elba. Fans passed by, not knowing that another legendary Giant was about to pass away. Cepeda’s death was announced during the sixth inning of Friday night’s Giants-Dodgers game. His statue is now draped in flowers and tributes, just like Willie’s.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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