All-Star Honor

Former coach Rudy Castro gets his field of dreams.

If it's one of Rudy Castro's days in the sun--to survey the Cholla High School diamond where he developed the Chargers baseball team 33 years ago--then why is he in the principal's office?

It's pouring rain. He's waiting on a reporter. And he and one of his first players, Jesse Lugo, have plenty of Cholla Alumni Foundation business to talk over with Principal Sam Giangardella.

Minutes later, the clouds have parted, and the sun is shining brightly, as if to usher Castro to the field that, after several balks and more than a few bobbles, the Tucson Unified School District board has named the Rudy A. Castro Baseball Field.

With Giangardella, a onetime University of Arizona linebacker, and Lugo, fit while he approaches 50, leading the way, the coach ignores his creaky and painful knees to stride out to check the mound, baselines and the infield.

Castro made countless similar walks out to the field when TUSD tapped him to teach and coach at Cholla, a westside showcase, in 1969.

"I loved every bit of it, every minute of it," Castro says.

For Cholla, taking barrio kids from Tucson High and Pueblo High, Castro was a real catch.

He had coached, prodded and pushed many of his new high school students and players in previous years at Roskruge Junior High. He knew their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles.

Castro, 74, is a son of Barrio Anita. He was rarely without a ball, glove, bat, basketball, football or anything else that had something to do with sports.

From Davis Elementary, he went to Roskruge and then to Tucson High. Anybody who went to a high school basketball championship game four or five years ago was reminded of the rare power of the Badger teams Castro played on. Programs showed the cool team photos from Tucson High's championships in 1948 and 1949.

"We never lost a game," Castro says, without boast.

Indeed, Bud Doolen's Badgers ran the table back to back--28-0 in 1948 and 23-0 for Castro's senior season. The team edged Phoenix Union 48-46 in the championship game Castro's junior year. He and the boys blasted in-city rival Amphi 49-26 the next year.

To put the achievement in perspective, only seven teams since 1949 have had perfect seasons in the Arizona's large school classification--including Tucson in 1962 and the fabulous 1978 Pueblo team that featured future NBA great Lafayette "Fat" Lever.

Sports is what it all was about. Castro and his pals at Roskruge had great things to look up to with Doolen's championship runs in 1942, 1943 and 1945.

In baseball, Tucson High won the state championship in Castro's junior year and finished second the next season.

One of Castro's great basketball teammates was Bill Kemmeries, who went on a successful coaching career and served as a teacher and administrator.

It was Castro who guaranteed Kemmeries, who died several years ago, would not be expelled--at least by the boys in the hood.

"Bill's dad was transferred here. He was a new kid," Castro says. "One day, I was out shooting some hoops, and he came over and was shooting. He could shoot. We got to talking. Then the guys from the neighborhood came by and said, 'Rudy, are you with us or with him?' I asked what they were talking about. They said, 'We're going to beat the gringo up.' I told them forget it, that this guy was a good player, and that he was going to be on our team."

Castro's step to the next level was detoured. He was part of the crush of young Tucson men who signed up with the Marine Corps Reserve. As the Korean War escalated, those buddies of Castro from Tucson's renowned E Company got shipped out for brutal combat.

Castro has mourned and speaks with utter frankness on how sports--baseball and basketball--spared him. He was among the many Marines offered a shot at playing ball. He tried out and landed a spot on the basketball and baseball teams while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

When he returned, he enrolled at the UA and played basketball from 1953 to 1956. His athletic career earned him places in the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame and the Southern Arizona Baseball Hall of Fame. He also is a member of the UA Hispanic Athletic Alumni Association.

Castro also earned his bachelor's degree and two master's degrees at the UA and embarked on his long TUSD career in 1956. He taught at Safford Junior High and Roskruge before moving to Cholla in 1969. He retired in 1988 after 10 years as an administrator of the early alternative programs at Tucson High.

It wasn't always idyllic. Castro's first wife, Mina, died, and Castro was a single parent of two for five years before he married Carol Durazo. They have been married for nearly 40 years.

Popular and always positive, Castro was tapped for a City Council appointment in 1968 by then-Mayor Jim Corbett, a Democrat.

"I told him that I don't know anything about politics and the City Council. And Jimmy said: 'Don't worry about it, just raise your hand and vote right.' "

Republican Ray Castillo knocked Castro, a Democrat, out of his Ward 1 seat. Castro recovered, defeating Castillo in a rematch, and he also served on the Pima Community College Board of Governors.

His work on the Pima County Sports Authority helped the city and county attract the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox for spring training here 10 and six years ago.

Castro and Lugo, instrumental as members of the Cholla Alumni Foundation in Cholla's renaissance under Giangardella, survey the new ceiling in the Sean Elliott Gymnasium. They check in on Castro's old room, where he taught scores of teens how to drive.

Lugo, a political and public policy consultant who has not won his own political races, carries lessons dispensed by Castro more than 30 years ago: No whining. No complaints. Learn and move on. And keep it clean.

If there was foul talk, Castro would approach the offending party and reach for the kid's mouth with a couple fingers.

"Give me the lips," he would say. "Give me the lips."