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Game not the same after loss of Merv Harris

By the San Mateo County Times

SAN MATEO — Somewhere, Merv Harris was smiling.

It was that kind of a day at College of San Mateo on Thursday. Warm, and clear with a hint of drama in the air. San Mateo and Cabrillo were locked in a 5-5 Coast Conference baseball contest. Henry Wrigley, a freshman from Burlingame High, was at the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. There were two strikes.

Wrigley then deposited the next pitch beyond the fence in left field, a line drive that left no doubt. The walk-off home run gave the Bulldogs a 6-5 victory, and Wrigley was mobbed at the plate as a handful of fans celebrated behind the backstop. But one familiar face was missing.

Longtime reporter Merv Harris [pictured], who had covered the local sports scene seemingly since the invention of newsprint, was conspicuous in his absence. Harris, who had covered the Bulldogs for the San Francisco Examiner and San Mateo County Times since the 1970s, passed away at a South San Francisco hospital on Monday of complications from diabetes and other ailments.

“That was a game that Merv would have loved,” said CSM assistant Lenny Vagt, a friend of Harris’ for more than 20 years. “A walk-off homer, he would have been really excited. He loved Wrigley. He was always talking about him.”

That was the thing about Merv. He was beloved and respected by the coaches and players he covered because his style resonated with them. They sensed his passion. Merv loved a good ballgame, but he also always kept the big picture close to his heart: People are moreimportant than things.

“We all feel that we lost a part of our family,” San Mateo coach Doug Williams said. “Merv called me on Sunday from the hospital, explaining why he wasn’t at our game the previous day. He was upbeat and real positive, expecting to come back soon. That’s what I’ll remember most about him, his enthusiasm. San Mateo County owes him a big thank you.”

Merv was a familiar presence to Wrigley as well, going back to his high school career at Burlingame.

“It’s really weird not having him around,” Wrigley said. “I didn’t know him that well, but I saw him a lot, and he’d always smile and wave and be happy to see us. He flat out loved being here. I was shocked when he passed.”

CSM football coach Larry Owens met Harris when Owens was coaching at Woodside High in the early 1980s.

“His passing is not going to really sink for some until it’s time for their sport to roll around,” Owens said. “Fall will get here, and kids are going to really miss him. You know, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on some things. But he did his job professionally, and he enjoyed doing it. We can all learn a lesson from that.”

CSM’s baseball team is reflecting on that now.

“You know, my grandfather passed away suddenly, kind of out of the blue,” Wrigley said. “In a way that makes it easier to deal with. He led a good, prosperous life, and you take comfort in that.”

Williams would agree.

“When Henry hit that homer, I know Merv was smiling, looking down,” Williams said. “We’re certainly going to miss him.”

-One day in March, following a game at CSM, Merv was backing up his car in the parking lot and ran into the car behind him — which happened to belong to one of the umpires. The umpire in question arrived just in time to see the collision, and began inspecting the damage (a bent license plate). Merv, not realizing he had hit the vehicle (he’s the type of person who would have stopped if he had), sped off. The umpire, seeing me a few yards away, called out frantically: “Hey, who was that guy? Did you see that?”

As a former youth baseball coach, I had always dreamed of this opportunity. And so I got to say what I’d always wanted to say to an umpire: “Nope. Didn’t see a thing.”

-Coaches, administrators, players, friends and readers are encouraged to share their stories, memories and thoughts of Merv Harris for future publication. Contact the County Times by e-mail at rchandler@sanmateocountytimes.com, or by phone at (650) 348-4348.

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