In baseball, a catcher’s protective gear exists for good reasons. Even in the era before fastballs at speeds of 95-105 mph, catching was the most hazardous position in baseball.
That didn’t bother Lou Bartolo.
San Luis Obispo Blues founder, Sandy Leguina, recalled when his team was playing in Fresno on a particularly hot night.
“As the game wore on, Bartolo started taking off his protective gear to keep cool,” Leguina said. “By the end of the game, all he had was his glove and his mask. It was nothing for him to catch without a chest protector.”
In his youth, Bartolo had played for the New York Yankees’ Triple-A farm club, the Newark Bears. The Bears’ “second-string catcher” was a player named Yogi Bera.
Bartolo, like many on the Blues team, worked for the San Luis Garbage Co.
Even there he achieved a pinnacle of fame. When challenged to a contest as who could lift the heaviest aluminum garbage container filled with concrete chunks weighing 145 pounds per cubic foot, Lou told his coworkers, “Load the damned thing up!” which they did. He reached down, took an iron grip on one of the handles and gave a mighty grunt.
The container didn’t move an inch, but Lou ripped the handle off the garbage container. His astonished colleagues reckoned Lou had muscles that didn’t yet have anatomical names. Leguina said, “The Blues were a family team.” They were more than just a baseball team. They reflected the spirit of San Luis Obispo.
Sandy and Joe Navone founded the Little League Association of San Luis Obispo in 1953. Together they spent countless hours contacting service and fraternal organizations to support Little League.
Little League thrived, but by the 1980s, health and other issues forced Leguina, Joe Navone and other Blues founding members into retirement. For a while, it looked like the Blues might be consigned to memory.
The Blues came back after several major struggles. In 2012, Adam Stowe took over as general manager. Stowe has recruited local and national Division I college baseball players for the Blues after their school season has ended and until the beginning of fall academic terms.
San Luis Obispo High School graduate Marcos Murillo is among these players. He played on the USA Team in Australia in his junior year. Marcos played for Cuesta College and is now a junior criminal justice major playing for the University of Campbellsville in Kentucky. He played for the Blues this past summer and is returning to play infield and pitch again this year. He has played baseball ever since he was 4.
When he was at Hawthorne Elementary School, he devoured every baseball book he could get his hands on.
He says, “The Blues have unforgettable fans, so I always look forward to our strong fan base. The Blues staff does a really good job of involving all of the SLO community. Other teams we play against have maybe 50-60 people attending a game, but there’s an easy 1,000 fans at almost every Blues home game.”
This past season, a delightful children’s book, The Story of Bluebelle, was written by Stowe’s parents, Marianne and Keith Stowe, and his daughter, Quinzi. Illustrated by Santa Maria artist Charlotte Atterbury, it’s given to kids attending Blues games. It’s about the Blues mascot, Bluebelle, who, Marianne writes, “embodies a unique character. But she comes to be appreciated for who she is and what she can contribute. That is what we hope for in all our players and participants, acceptance, tolerance and appreciation on the community stage of San Luis Obispo.”
Bluebelle, descended from Paul Bunyan’s ox, “Babe,” is a different sort dairy animal who is a perfect fit for the diverse, one-time dairy center that is modern San Luis Obispo.
The home season for the Blues began Friday. We hope that you’ll treat yourself to a Blues game at Sinsheimer Stadium.
At 1 p.m. Monday, the Blues conclude a series against the Santa Maria Packers. Murillo will be playing in front of students and their families from Hawthorne.
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Correction: In last Sunday's column, the name of major league baseball player Gus Zernial was misspelled.