Former Linfield Christian softball coach and athletic director Scott Raftery, pictured in 2005, took time away from coaching to watch his son, Justin, left, play high school baseball. Two years later, Raftery became a Southern Section assistant commission
The first time I met Scott Raftery was right after the first time I watched him coach his high school softball team at Linfield Christian.
I do not remember much about that day, other than it was in 1997. I don’t remember the score.
But I do remember the pregame warm-up. And I remember scratching my head trying to figure why high school softball players were playing in the trees and, in some cases, climbing them.
Soon after, the Lions defeated whatever team they were playing, and they went on to win a CIF Southern Section championship — their third of four section titles.
That could have pretty much summed up Raftery, a man who loved the lighter side of life — the laughter, the smiles, the personalities — and utilized them as his biggest attributes as a coach, and as a person.
Early Saturday morning, Raftery — the longtime Linfield Christian softball coach, athletic director and Southern Section official — died of cancer at the way-too-early age of 55, surrounded by his loving family.
Really, though, if you read the countless heartfelt messages posted on Facebook and shared around the Valley the last couple of days, you know that this man had half the state wanting to wrap its arms around him to say goodbye.
To know “Raf,” as many called him, was to know someone who understood life, friendships and high school sports.
He was one of the first people I met when I came to this newspaper about 16 years ago. And I was honored to call him a friend.
That won’t surprise anyone, of course. He was a friend to all, even us hardened media types. Among the Facebook tributes were messages from writers at many newspapers who have covered him and his teams, and I know he was respected by everyone who preceded me in this chair, good folks like Michael Donnelly, Tim Meehan, Joe Ardent, Gabe Lacques, and even as far back as Jim Gazzolo in the early 1990s.
I won’t pretend to have great, unheard stories about Raftery. Many of you, I’m sure, have more poignant tales. But there are a couple of things worth sharing that still make me smile.
I remember a Linfield Christian football game in 1997. In those days, the school didn’t have lights, so the Lions played Saturday afternoon home games. Those of you who remember can still smell the barbecue wafting over the field through the sunlight and crisp fall air.
I admit I was in a fantasy football league with Raftery and several other media members. I thought it would be cool to make a trade with him on the sideline, right as quarterback Joe Skovron drove the team down the field.
I don’t remember much about the trade except this: I wound up with Detroit Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell. He had one good season after he signed his free-agent deal, and 1997 wasn’t it.
Raftery went on to the fantasy championship game, I believe, and I didn’t win another game all year. No wonder he was smiling even more than usual.
Yet somehow, you respected the man enough that you didn’t care you just got smoked in a trade.
About a year later — and remember, this was before the Internet really shifted into high gear — I was in the office one night trying to track down area soccer standings.
This was no easy task with the old Christian League. Coaches weren’t flocking to the phones to report that Hamilton squeaked by Twin Pines. But one night, Raftery told me it was his job to keep those standings updated for the league.
So, for several weeks, he would take my call on Monday nights and help me update those standings. My favorite part was the great conversation that came with those calls.
The final week of the season, he gave me Linfield’s overall record in girls soccer, and the number of losses was far more than the week before. He explained that the team had forfeited a couple of matches.
I asked why. His response was, “Well, I screwed up.” And it turned out that some minor clerical mistake had cost the Lions a few nonleague wins.
He didn’t have to tell me that. It wasn’t like there would have been rioting at the corner of Pauba and Margarita had the soccer standings been incorrect in The Californian.
But he respected that accuracy was important, and he showed great integrity in that moment.
It’s easy to cherish that.
I last spoke to “Raf” at Vista Murrieta’s season-opening football game in August, weeks after he had celebrated finally seeing his beloved Los Angeles Kings hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
He looked like his usual jovial self — this disease struck him that fast. And as always, there was that great conversation.
I believe, like many others, that he has gone to a better place. But as human beings, we miss our friends when they move on.
So, in a selfish way, I really wish I could call him one more time and trade for a broken-down, over-the-hill Detroit Lions quarterback.
Landon Negri is sports editor of U-T The Californian. He can be reached at (951) 676-4315, ext. 2632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.