Spring marks the opening of the Major League Baseball season, with high school and college seasons already underway.
One of the legends of local baseball history was Scoop Nunes, longtime general manager of the semipro Santa Maria Indians. They often played in the same league as the rival San Luis Obispo Blues.
The San Luis Obispo High School graduate was a guiding force for the Indians for 47 of their 60 years of existence.
MLB stars Jim Lonborg, Robin Ventura and Ozzie Smith all wore an Indians uniform.
The team was a Central Coast institution and a place for players to develop, though the team shared an unfortunate tradition with the Major League Cleveland Indians: criticism over an insensitive logo showing a buffoonish mascot.
When Clarence Joseph “Scoop” Nunes died on Nov. 28, 2003, Santa Maria Times sports editor Elliott Stern wrote that 400 attended the December funeral Mass at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Santa Maria.
Indians CEO Kevin Haughian wrote the Santa Maria Sun in 2008 thanking fans and calling the Indians the longest running semipro baseball team in California.
The team was sold and moved to Templeton after the 2008 season.
The North County Indians continued until at least 2014, the last listing I found online.
Many longtime local baseball fans have been affiliated with the Indians, as seen in the following story.
The March 18, 1980, Dennis Steers' Telegram-Tribune story spelled his name Nunez, but more current references spell his name Nunes and the story is standardized to that spelling.
Scoop beats Indians’ drum
Scoop Nunes looks the part of a semipro baseball general manager with his dusty cap, ever-present cigar clenched between his teeth and a wide grin. He’s always ready to talk about his team, the Santa Maria Indians.
And some people claim when “Scoop” Nunes bleeds, he bleeds Indian red.
Nunes operates equipment for Caltrans during the day, but at night — and every weekend — he operates as the Indians’ Mr. Everything. For the 55-year-old San Luis Obispo native, semipro baseball has been a passion for 35 years. The Indians are his “boys.”
“It’s his entire life. He does everything for the Indians except manage the team,” current skipper Steve McFarland said from his San Luis Obispo sporting goods shop. “He does everything for his players. He even maintains the field and sweeps out the dugouts.”
“He’s a terrific fundraiser and in a nutshell, he’ll do anything for the team,” player-coach Robin Baggett added. “He just lives and breathes Indians.”
Starting his involvement in semipro baseball as a player in 1950 with the Cayucos Giants, Nunes moved to the Santa Maria club seven years later. After 22 years of devoted service, he was awarded “Sportsman of the Year” honors by the National Baseball Congress in 1979 — the first time the award was given to a non-player.
“I just love the game and helping out these kids,” Nunes said simply. “I make sure we go first cabin all the way. Sure, I’ve had offers to be a bird dog (scout) for the big leagues, but that takes too much time. I’m very happy here in Santa Maria.”
Nunes’ efforts have not gone unrewarded. The Indians have had only one losing season (1973) during his tenure. Last season, Santa Maria was defeated for the state title by the San Luis Blues, but finished second in the nation after entering as an independent in the National Baseball Congress’ championships in Wichita, Kan.
In the 19-year history of the now defunct Central Coast League, the Indians captured the title 12 times.
The club joined the NBC in 1978, finishing 17th in the national tourney.
Nunes recruits heavily in San Luis Obispo County, luring many ballplayers with his numerous contacts in Santa Maria businesses. McFarland, Baggett and assistant coaches Dan Marple and Bruce Freeberg are all San Luis Obispo residents while the team is loaded with Cal Poly and Cuesta players.
“I’d say half my team is from San Luis Obispo,” he said. “I’m really indebted to the support I get from up there. I try to get all my players jobs, and I usually have more jobs than I do players.”
Born in San Luis Obispo, Nunes graduated from San Luis Obispo High School in 1943. He attended Cal Poly “for about four days” before being drafted into the army at the tail end of World War II.
Now Nunes confines his battles to the player recruiting war. Constantly watching baseball, Nunes scours California for talent.
He’s even taken vacation time to travel to other states in search of a live fastball or a sweet, compact swing.
Toronto Blue Jays coach Jimmy Williams and AAA first baseman Dick Beall of the Cincinnati Reds are two former Indians making it in the major leagues.
“We’ve done pretty well. Ten of our 21 players last year are now playing professionally,” Nunes said proudly.
Twenty-three years in semipro baseball would remove the less dedicated, but Nunes still manages Bill Veeck enthusiasm.
“It’s been my life, but of course my family comes first,” he said. I enjoy being my own boss, and all I do is get the players and then give my manager a free hand to do the rest.”