MARION -- For Jack Fletcher, the news of Ray Fosse's passing on Wednesday hit hard. But it also brought back a ton of memories about the man who has been one of the best at America's pastime.
Fosse, 74, died Wednesday evening after a 16-year battle with cancer, according to his wife of 51 years, Carol.
"I had heard about Ray from the scouts before I got here (to Marion)," said Fletcher, who was hired as the assistant baseball coach for Marion High School during Fosse's senior year in 1964. "People would tell me how good a guy and player he was. I said, 'He can't be that good."
Fletcher admits he was wrong about that.
"When you meet him, he's exactly that," he said, "and one of the nicest persons you'd ever want to meet."
He was also one of the best, if not the best, athletes to come through Marion High School, according to coaches, teachers and teammates.
"He really put Marion on the map in terms of sports," said Greg Starrick, who remembers Fosse as a "great teammate" and "fierce competitor."
Starrick, who played baseball and basketball with Fosse, said it was "kind of cool" to be a sophomore baseball player and have major league scouts lining the fences at the games.
Both Starrick and Fletcher also described Fosse as "a fun guy."
"He did a lot of things you'd have to laugh about," said Fletcher. "He always had a smile on his face."
"He was a jokester and a prankster," said Starrick.
Both men also said that Fosse's success was deserved.
"He worked hard," said Fletcher. "To me, he was just what I'd want in an athlete. If you have to back and remember a guy you'd like to coach, it would be Ray Fosse."
Starrick echoed Fletcher's words.
"He was the hardest worker on the team," he said. "What he got he earned through hard work."
Starrick said his youthful summers were spent slipping the gym to play some basketball with Fosse or playing baseball in the city park that now bears Fosse's name.
In 1958, a young Ray Hancock returned to Marion after a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy.
"I was working for the Marion Daily Republican covering sports, and was the announcer at the park," said Hancock, who has followed Fosse's entire career and might well have the most complete collection of memorabilia in the U.S.
Hancock said Fosse attracted attention to Marion from all over the country, especially in the Colt World Series.
"He made a name for himself there," he said.
Former Mayor Anthony Rinella remembers Fosse as always making time for others.
"When I was a little boy, he used to mow our yard," he said. "It didn't matter what was in the way, he just mowed. When my dad would come home from work, he'd say, 'Did Ray run over anything today?'"
But the best part about have Fosse as the lawn boy, said Rinella, is that he would always make time to play catch.
"He was this big high school player and he would always play catch with the little guys. That meant so much to us."
Rinella said his later memories of Fosse were of how he loved to eat.
"During my early years at the fire station when his brother, Jimmy was a police officer, Ray would visit and they would always come down to the firehouse and eat."
Rinella said Ray had a favorite.
"He always wanted Charles Hyde's biscuits and gravy."
Rinella said Fosse was also a fan of friend rabbit.
"You'd think a big pro athlete like him would want to go to a fancy restaurant," said Rinella, "but he wanted to come to the station ... and boy could he eat. Ray and Jimmy would eat enough for three people."
Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said his father was one of the scouts chasing after Fosse.
"Dad was hoping he would play for Houston," said Alongi.
In fact, Fosse was a first-round draft pick, the 7th pick, and went to the Cleveland Indians. He spent two short seasons in the minor leagues before coming up to play for the club. Three years later, the Golden Glove catcher was an All-Star.
Rinella, like others, said he still harbors ill will against Pete Rose for what happened in the 1970 All-Star Game.
That game is one that many will never forget. With the score tied in the 12th inning, Pete Rose rounded third with the intention of scoring. Fosse took the throw from the outfield and would have tagged Rose out, but Rose dropped his shoulder and plowed into Fosse, who ended up suffering a separated shoulder.
That injury was one he never fully recovered from.
While he played 11 years in the majors, Fosse's shoulder continued to hinder him.
In what Rinella and Alongi both described as fate, Rose was eventually banned for betting on baseball while a player and manager. He was also convicted of income tax evasion and spent five months in the medium security prison camp at the United States Penitentiary in Marion.
In 1974, Marion invited Fosse to a "Marion is Proud -- Ray Fosse Day" celebration. There was a parade and Fosse was presented the key to the city by then Mayor Bob Butler. The park where he played as a child was named in his honor.
Best of all, his mom was presented with a new kitchen, including a double oven that would enable her to bake more pies.
"That's how she supported herself," said Hancock.
Hancock, Starrick, Rinella, and Fletcher all agree on one thing.
Fosse never forgot his roots and always stepped up to help, often without being asked.
"He used to send a huge box to SIU for their baseball fundraiser,' said Fletcher, noting that the coach asked for it for one year, and Fosse continued sending it for several years.
Hancock said Fosse returned to southern Illinois, coming to John A. Logan College as the guest for that teams baseball card show at least twice and he donated items other years.
"He was always humble," said Hancock. "He came from modest beginnings and he never forgot that."