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A Departed Duke Fan

Joe asked if we would post this about his uncle, who passed recently, and we're happy to do so.

I just wanted to say a little something about my uncle, Rod Dedeaux, who passed away yesterday at the age of 91. After my grandfather died when I was 8, he became my surrogate grandfather and a great influence in my life.

Rod, or Pere-Pere as we called him, coached USC (California, not Carolina) baseball for 45 years. He won a record 11 national titles, including 5 in a row in the 70's. He coached one less than 60 future major leaguers, including Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn, Roy Smalley, Randy Johnson, Mark McGwire, and Tom Seaver. For decades, most of the PAC-10 and other title-contending programs' baseball coaches were his prodigies. He had more wins than any other coach in history until the Texas coach passed him in '94. I don't know if this still holds, but he used to have the best winning percentage of any coach in a major program. He coached USA baseball to gold medals in the 80's. He led the charge to GET baseball in the Olympics. He also taught the Japanese to play (he joked that he taught them too well). He was a good friend of the Japanese prince, now emperor, and used to play golf with him. Rod was awarded the Fourth Order of the Rising Sun, the highest rank of honorary Samurai a non-Japanese can earn. He has been called the John Wooden of college baseball.

When he'd get ejected from games, he'd put on a dress and a red wig, sit in the stands right behind home plate, and heckle the umps for the rest of the game.

When I was two, they tell me I held up a USC baseball game when I wouldn't give the third baseman his glove back. When Rod yelled at Sparky Anderson to ask him what the hold-up was and what was going on with his player, Sparky told him, "Your nephew's got his glove!" He responded, "Well, get it back from him!" and Sparky replied, "I'm not taking it from him. YOU take it from him!"

He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 30's under Casey Stengel. Casey tried to hire him several times to coach the Yankees. In later years, the Dodgers made bids for him, but he loved USC too much to leave. Rod and Casey were such good friends, he offered the eulogy at both Casey's and his wife's funerals, which my grandmother wrote. At her eulogy, joking about how Casey always complained about his wife's tardiness, he finished with "I can almost hear him up there in heaven asking Edna what took her so long."

At the beginning of his coaching career, he bought a truck for $500 and started odd delivery jobs, a business he grew into shipping and distribution giant Dart Trucking. Once he made it big in trucking, he started working for USC for peanuts, wanting more money for his assistants and the school. For the last couple of decades of his coaching career, his salary was a well-publicized $1 a year.

He was the coach for "A League of Their Own". He wasn't in the movie, he was the guy who held a huge camp and actually taught the girls to play the game. Though Geena Davis had never played before, she picked it up REALLY fast, and he once told me that she was one of the most natural athletes he'd ever coached, which is saying something considering some of the guys he coached. He also told me that say what you will about her, but Madonna was the hardest worker he'd EVER coached.

When I attended Duke, which greatly disappointed him, as he wanted me to be a Trojan, he started watching Duke basketball. He became a great fan of Coach K over the last ten years or so, often watching or discussing games with me when he had the time in his busy schedule. When USC played Duke in the tourney a few years ago, he was there. He was very proud that his Trojans weren't blown off the court by the mighty Blue Devils. I loved watching football with him and showing him the things that I noticed as a former player. Even more, I loved watching baseball games with him. He'd point out the most miniscule things that I never even noticed, yet would lead to huge shifts in the game.

More importantly than all his accomplishments, though, he was the best guy you'll ever meet. He always had a kind word, a joke, or a smile for everyone. He made it a point to listen to what people said to him, to make them feel important, too. He called me Tiger, as he did many people. He went out of his way to make people feel good. I loved him dearly, as many did, and the world is a little less happy of a place without him. But I'm sure that heaven is an even brighter, more fun place.

Trojan by birth, Hokie by marriage, Blue Devil by the grace of God.