Local Legend Joe Rochioli Spectacular Prune Packer Debut
By: Spencer Martin, HHS Intern, February 1st, 2018
On a scorching night in Healdsburg that almost reached 100 degrees, the Prune Packers faced off against the San Francisco Fire Department in a Friday night game at Recreation Park. The date was May 30, 1952 and Healdsburg would end up with a blow out win of 18-6, but that might not have happened without Joe Rochioli’s heroics. Joe Rochioli had just finished high school and immediately joined the Prune Packers as a 3rd baseman and pitcher. He finally got his opportunity to prove himself when he was put in at 3rd base in the 3rd inning.
Joe Rochioli went on to be inducted in the Healdsburg High School Hall of Fame. And after high school, he played baseball on Cal Poly’s making the first string team all 4 years. He ended his baseball career after playing 2 years for the Army in Denver, Colorado. He got inducted in the Healdsburg Hall of Fame by making All League in Football for offense and defense in 1950 and 1951, winning Kiwanis Blanket Award for Outstanding Player of the Year, and for winning the Greyhound Trophy for Outstanding Athlete of the Year.
The count was 3 and 2, the Packers were trailing 0-3 with the bases loaded and Rochioli at the plate in his first career Prune Packer at bat. There were about 300 fans on the edge of their seats with no idea what they were about to witness. Rochioli got a fastball which he turned on and clobbered over the left field wall to give the Packers a 4-3 lead which they never lost and continued to build on for the remainder of the game. The Packers hit their way to 18 runs, lead by Joe Rochioli, Duane Herman, and Gus Suhr. This was a another turning point for Joe and it got him noticed and helped jumpstart a great college career.
Prune Packers & Clarence Ruonavaara Put On A Show
By: Nick Zichichi, HHS Intern, February 1st, 2018
It was a fairly cool summer day, August 28, 1951 as almost 3000 Prune Packer fans flooded Rec Park to see the surging Prune Packers play the San Francisco Seals. Little did they know they’d be in for a treat with a historic pregame show. Dolph Camilli, legendary ex-Dodger, and now current manager for the Packers had challenged former Yankee and now Seals manager, Lefty O’Doul, to a hitting contest. It is said that some of Camilli’s booming hits went far past University Street and kids on the street had fun chasing down the baseballs. With the help of local legend Clarence Ruonavaara, Camilli went on to oust O’doul with a score of 6 to 5 in the friendly competition. The crowd was buzzing with excitement before the game had even begun and it was proving to be a perfect night for baseball.
It was an honor to see Clarence Ruonavaara, a member of the Healdsburg High Hall of Fame and former Cal Bears pitcher. He was an accomplished baseball and basketball player at the high school level and was able to make it to the Division 1 level after attending the Santa Rosa Junior College. This was not his first time pitching at Rec Park however, as he had played for your very own Prune Packers in the past. Even after his college fame, he stayed involved in the community with the Healdsburg Kiwanis Club and the Salvation Army.
The first pitch was thrown and the two teams began what would become one of the most historic games in Healdsburg baseball history. The Packers were able to get on the board early as the Packer’s shortstop, Ament, was able to score on an error out in left field. The Seals fired back in the 5th with 2 runs and were able to collect another in the 6th. Things were not looking good for the Packers as they were not able to earn any runs during the 7th and faced a 3 run deficit. It was up to Packer’s slugger Johnny McClelland now with bases loaded in the 8th. Everyone in Rec Park was on their toes and awaited the next pitch. Before they could blink, McClelland had hit a rocket out to left field bringing in 3 runs. This had given the Packer’s a 4-3 lead and the crowd was in a frenzy. Closer, Dick Camilli, Dolph’s son, was now tasked with fending off the bad guys after coming in to replace Lee Walker in the 7th. Camilli went on to pitch one of his best performances of the year and maybe his career as the Seals couldn’t sniff the ball as the Packers were able to seal the win.
Prune Packer Phenom Keith Walker
By: Spencer Martin, HHS Intern, Feb. 2, 2018
Keith Walker, former Healdsburg Prune Packer, was a Healdsburg High School Hall of Famer. He played Varsity Basketball for 3 years and Varsity Baseball for 4 years. He was the Sophomore Class President, Student Body President his Senior Year, Key Club President Senior Year, Art Club President Junior Year, and Student Council member all 4 years of high school.
He had a break out 1951 season as a Healdsburg Prune Packer, leading the team in at-bats, runs, hits, and had a .395 batting average. On August 23rd, Sunday night, in 1951, the Prune Packers staged a 9th inning comeback in one of the last games of the season. The comeback was made possible by Keith Walker, who went 3-5 including two home runs. The second homer is said to be one of the longest-traveling balls ever hit in Recreation Park. Keith’s first hit was a triple in the 4th which sparked a 4-run rally that started the Packers scoring for the game.
Not only was Keith Walker a Prune Packers star, he was also a great Healdsburg High basketball player and received a full scholarship to play basketball for the University of San Francisco and graduated from USF with a Degree in Business Administration.
Prune Packer Luminaries &
Rec Park Lights
By: Nick Zichichi, HHS Intern, Feb. 2, 2018
The Healdsburg Lighting Committee was formed to install and construct a lighting system for Rec Park back in 1948. The lights would be installed for use by local baseball and Healdsburg High School teams. The Committee did everything in their power to keep Rec. Park open and supporting local athletics. They raised funds through the concession stand at the Park and even helped the Prune Packers sponsor a dance in 1957 at the historic Villa Chanticleer to help with funding. The Committee was able to meet several times a year and actively worked to support the Park for over 2 decades.
Three notable members of the Committee were Smith “Smitty” Robinson, Art McCaffrey, and of course former Prune Packer, Francis Passalacqua. Passalacqua is noted for his accomplishments in baseball as well as the community as he brought minor league baseball to Healdsburg and was a leader for the Committee. He also went on to coach the first CYO baseball team in Healdsburg and helped found Healdsburg’s St. John the Baptist School. Smith Robinson was equally impressive in the sports world as he was in the community. He served on the Lighting Committee as well as promoting Healdsburg’s agriculture and new businesses here in town.
Healdsburg High School’s gym is named after Smith Robinson and his legacy lives on. Last but not least is Art McCaffrey, who the high school’s football field is named after. McCaffrey is credited for proposing and forming the Lighting Committee as well as participating in the Kiwanis and Key Clubs here in Healdsburg. All three would go on to be inducted into Healdsburg High’s Hall of Fame for their numerous achievements in the sports world and the community.
The Healdsburg Lighting Committee installed the lights with funding from the local community. The installation of the Rec. Park lights cost $21,000 and with the help of a close-knit Healdsburg community and a love for baseball, the Lighting Committee sold bonds and raised the money. By 1956, the Committee has already decreased the debt to $9,000. The Committee continued to actively pay back the bonds until their responsibility was passed onto Healdsburg’s Rec Department in 1971. The tradition of baseball at Rec Park that began in 1921 was continued by these luminaries and continues today.