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Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

San Quentin prison fields killer baseball team

May 4, 2002

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— Standing along the third-base line, their backs to the three-story cellblocks that also house California's death row, the bad boys of summer mouth the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner." They hold "SQ" logo caps over their chests.

Among them is big Tony Gonzales, the San Quentin Giants' ace pitcher, who can throw a 90-mph fastball and who once tried out for the minor leagues before trouble that he won't now discuss entered his life. Larry "Popeye" Faison, at 51 the oldest Giants player, is a veteran of eight seasons while he does time for second-degree murder. And reliever Andrew Zingler, a three-strikes offender with a wild John Rocker glint, can fire heat from the mound.

Mustachioed David Marshall, a utility infielder serving a first-degree murder sentence, shrugs his shoulders at claims of over-aggressive Giants pitching. "Hey, a brushback is a brushback, whether it's Kevin Brown or some prison inmate throwing the ball."

There's shortstop Eugene Carlisle, a compact man whom team coach and prison minister Kent Philpott calls "simply the best baseball player I have ever shared a field with." This is Carlisle's second stint with the Giants. In 1996, in his "rookie" year he won't say what landed him behind bars then he set a team home run record with 13 blasts in just half a season, with a natural swing that had Giants coaches telephoning minor league scouts.

But soon after Carlisle's parole, he returned to San Quentin on an involuntary-manslaughter conviction. Now 30, he believes he still has a major-league future, but teammates sadly shake their heads about his missed chances. "They don't send baseball scouts to San Quentin," one says. "Just U.S. marshals."

Giants third baseman Jesse Reed, serving time on a murder conviction, describes the feeling of changing from his prison blues into a real-life baseball uniform.

"There's nights in your cell when you dream about moments like this," he says. "We're not locked up when we're out here. No matter if you're a prisoner, a cop or some suburban husband, we all love this game like there's no tomorrow."

Adds Zingler: "Nobody will ever say they're having fun in prison. But these games are truly something positive in a negative world." He looks at his teammates. "I'm proud to play alongside these guys, no matter what crimes they've committed."

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