GJ’s Mr. JUCO dies
By ERIK LINCOLN The Daily Sentinel
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Longtime Grand Junction civic leader and businessman Sam Suplizio died Friday at his home in Pawleys Island, S.C., of heart failure. He was 74.
Suplizio, a Major League Baseball coach, was instrumental in bringing the annual Alpine Bank Junior College World Series to Grand Junction and was a key player in bringing Major League Baseball to Colorado.
Suplizio’s family said services will be held in Pawleys Island and in Grand Junction.
Former New York Yankees infielder Bobby Richardson was Suplizio’s friend for 52 years.
The two met in the 1950s when Suplizio was an outfielder for the Yankees and was penciled in to replace Mickey Mantle.
However, Suplizio suffered a compound fracture to his right wrist at age 24 that never completely healed.
“That literally ended his career,” Richardson said. “He hated it because his dream was to play centerfield for the Yankees.”
Suplizio came to Grand Junction in 1958 and went to work for Home Loan and Investment Co. in Grand Junction, a firm he headed when he retired in 1998, and sold the business to Jamie Hamilton.
Hamilton, the current president and CEO of Home Loan and Mesa State College’s athletic director, said Suplizio taught him to find a balance between doing what he loves and his business career.
Hamilton first met Suplizio at a baseball clinic as a senior at Regis High School in 1974. The two later crossed paths when Hamilton was playing baseball for Mesa College in the late 1970s.
Suplizio promised to help Hamilton find a spot on the Angels, and even when Hamilton wasn’t drafted, Suplizio called his friends on the team and got Hamilton a place in the Angels’ infield.
“Sam was the guy who gave me the opportunity to play professional baseball,” Hamilton said.
Later, Suplizio helped Hamilton follow a path similar to his by helping him to coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Mesa State College while Hamilton was also working at Home Loan.
“He wanted to stay close to the game and his business,” Hamilton said. “Success allowed him to do that.”
Suplizio, while running a business in Grand Junction, also found time to coach for the California Angels, Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and, most recently, the Seattle Mariners.
Richardson said Suplizio was well thought of as a coach, particularly at mentoring outfielders.
“He probably has more friends in baseball than anybody I know,” Richardson said.
Suplizio’s connections with baseball helped the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series thrive. It was through his efforts that the tournament was able to draw keynote speakers to the JUCO banquet.
Major League Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig; former managers Bobby Valentine, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Davey Johnson, Joe Torre and Buck Showalter; Yankees owner George Steinbrenner; and former major league stars Paul Molitor, Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson are among the baseball dignitaries who have given the keynote address at the pre-tournament banquet.
“If he couldn’t get them, he knew people who could,” said Mesa County Commissioner and Suplizio friend Tillie Bishop.
Suplizio, along with Jay Tolman, D.S. “Dyke” Dykstra and Dale Hollingsworth, helped to bring the tournament to Grand Junction in 1959.
With Suplizio’s baseball background, Dykstra, who was the tournament chairman during its first nine years in Grand Junction, put Suplizio in charge of tournament play and the groundskeeping.
“I depended on Sam quite a bit for his baseball knowledge and the people he knew,” said Dykstra, the sole member of the four who is still living.
Suplizio served as chairman of the tournament for 33 years.
Carter Elliott and his wife, Lena, met Suplizio when they moved to the city in 1958.
Suplizio was the Elliotts’ insurance man, and they got to know each other through attending the same church, Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Elliott and Suplizio coached the boys basketball team at St. Joseph’s and played basketball on the “Fifth Street Basketball Team.”
“We were terrible,” Elliott said.
Elliott said Suplizio was the kind of man who always left a good impression on people and was friends with everyone. He was also the kind of person who would help his friends with problems.
“You have to consider yourself very fortunate to have a person like that come into your life,” Elliott said. “Sam was a good man.”
Richardson, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hall of Champions, said Suplizio had a spiritual dimension to him. Suplizio and his wife, Caroline, were very giving.
The Suplizios helped with fundraising for the Baseball Assistance Team, which gives financial assistance to major and minor league baseball players who have fallen on hard times.
In addition to his wife, Suplizio is survived by two sons and two daughters.
Sentinel reporter Kent Mincer also contributed to this report.
Erik Lincoln can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.