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Chance meeting in minors sparked longtime friendship

This is how a funny incident resulted in close friendship. It’s how two guys named Duke Sims and Bob Bailey came together as minor league baseball players in 1962. And 55 years later, the only thing that has changed is that instead of playing baseball, they play golf together several times a month.

During the in-between years — 17 for Bailey and 11 for Sims — the two chalked up some impressive statistics on Major League Baseball diamonds. In their heyday, they were two of the most feared hitters in baseball. Sims was a catcher. Bailey played third base, first base and left field.

Sims, who has lived in Sun City Summerlin for 20 years, will be remembered for crushing the last home run ever hit in the old Yankee Stadium in New York City’s South Bronx. He was a member of the Yankees at the time, one of five teams he played for in the majors.

Bailey lived in Summerlin for 18 years before moving to Lake Las Vegas a year ago. Baseball fans in Canada will remember him for hitting the most home runs and racking up the most hits of any player — American or Canadian — in Jarry Park Stadium as a member of the Montreal Expos for seven years. That was before the Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals.

“We got to be real friends while we were in the minor leagues,” Bailey recalled while relaxing after a round of golf with Sims and others at Highland Falls Golf Course in Sun City.

Both were rising stars in the International League at the time, one level below the majors. Sims was with the Jacksonville Suns, a Cleveland Indians farm club, and Bailey was with the Columbus Jets, a Pittsburgh Pirates farm club.

“It was 1962. The Columbus team came to play in Jacksonville, and Bailey, who was having a super season as a hitter, was only 19 at the time,” Sims recalled. “I was two years older. Anyway, we had a midnight curfew, meaning everyone had to be in his room by that time.

“I realized that I had broken the curfew. It was a little past midnight. You couldn’t go through the hotel lobby,” Sims continued, explaining that team managers and coaches usually hung out there, looking for curfew-violators.

Bailey explained he had no idea what a curfew even was.

“I went down to the beach because I had nothing else to do,” he said. “I was even too young to drink.” When Bailey realized he had broken curfew, he, too, hurried back to the hotel. For the same reasons as Sims, he avoided going through the lobby.

Both recalled sneaking in through a back door, which actually was the entrance to the hotel kitchen. “There was quite a bit of activity there with cooks and other people, and Bailey and I found ourselves face-to-face, while we were banging into pots and pans,” Sims remembered as both men laughed heartily.

“Until then, we only knew each other from having played against one another earlier that day. He said, ‘Hi Duke,’ and I said ‘Hi Bob,’ and that was the start of our friendship as we both beat the curfew.”

It was a phone call from Bailey in 1991 that brought Sims and his wife, Sonnie, to Las Vegas from his former home in Connecticut.

“My wife, Karen, and I had gotten into the time-share business here,” Bailey said. “By then, Duke and I had become very good friends, and I called to tell him that he could do well selling time-shares.”

Both retired soon afterward. Sims and Bailey turned to golf, and the friendship has flourished since.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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