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From Ashes to Diamonds, Leaving Tragedy Behind

Capuchino High's Tim Gretter lived houses away from the devastation of the San Bruno pipe explosion. These days, he's got more important things on his mind. Like baseball.

For most of the day, it was a day not so unlike many other fall days in northern California. Two and a half miles from San Bruno, out at the airport, the National Weather Service would record the high on September 9, 2010 as 74 degrees.

“I was at a football dinner because it was a Thursday, and that next day we were supposed to play South City in a football game,” says Tim Gretter. “It was our first football game of the year.”

Shortly after 6 p.m. that night, the earth exploded in San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood. A PG&E gas pipeline that ran under the usually quiet neighborhood ruptured, sending gigantic plumes of flame into the sky, ultimately killing eight people.

“It was the worst night I’ve ever been through,” continues Gretter. “The explosion happened, and it took me a while to get a hold of my family. I panicked because the phones were down, and I couldn’t get a hold of my parents or my brother. They were all at home.”

Home was the Crestmoor neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood, and a home, in which Tim Gretter grew up.

“I remember it was like 2 a.m., I was so stressed out. My aunt and uncle live right down the block, so we were all in the same boat.”

Eight months later, Gretter, a junior at , shakes off thoughts of the horrendous night as he leads his Mustang baseball team Wednesday afternoon against the Carmel Padres in a first-round Central Coast Section Division III playoff game.

Capuchino coach Matt Wilson has known Gretter since T-ball. “Timmy’s really having a breakout year. He’s really stepped up into any role I gave him.”

Gretter’s cumulative regular-season statistics (league and non-league) are phenomenal. Playing in 26 games, Gretter:

  • Led all PAL Ocean players in runs scored, 39, some 12 runs ahead of his nearest competitor.
  • Led PAL Ocean players in RBI’s with 31, nine ahead of his nearest foe.
  • Led PAL Ocean players in hits, with 45.
  • Led PAL Ocean players in triples, with five.
  • Was second among PAL Ocean players in batting average, hitting .489. The leader, teammate Alex Cordova, hit .490. Gretter had 92 at-bats, Cordova 49.
  • Was second among PAL Ocean players in on-base percentage at .588.
  • Was second among PAL Ocean players in slugging percentage at .739.

Gretter became a starter on the baseball team last year as a sophomore and immediately made an impression; he earned All-PAL Ocean first-team honors.

Wilson continues: “You can tell him to do something, and he does it, no questions asked. You come to a lot of kids these days, and they have an excuse: ‘Yeah, but I was doing this, or I was doing that.’ Not Tim. He’s a great personality, he’s fun to be around.  Everyone on the team wants to be around him.”

Gretter’s home in the Crestmoor neighborhood had damage. “There was some melting on the windows in front, and the roof, and there was some smoke damage,” he says. “But the smoke damage was gone within the first week, so nothing really bad happened.”

Other homes in the neighborhood were not so lucky. A quick walk around the neighborhood eight months after the incident shows homes boarded up, abandoned, and an empty field where homes once stood.

“It’s still a little shaky when you look up the street and you see the houses,” says Gretter. “I kind of wish I was there that day so I would’ve known the whole family was OK and there wasn’t a panic.”

Coach Wilson gives a different perspective. “The houses up and down the block and next door to him were damaged, demolished. And his house was damaged. At the same time, he didn’t let it bother him. He was worried, of course, like anybody would. He was the guy that if anyone needed anything in that neighborhood, he’d be the first to step up. His whole family is a credit to that; he has a great family.”

That role as a leader continues as the co-captain of Capuchino’s baseball team, a team that now enters the CCS playoffs with a 15-10-1 record, 11-3 in league play.

“He wants to win and he competes,” says Wilson. “He’s going to come out, every day, and give it 100 percent. He rallies the team, he’s a team leader, he’s the kind of kid that you can have a conversation with like an adult, and he really responds.”

How does 17-year-old Tim Gretter respond? “I’ve just been playing baseball so long. It’s like a man’s game. When you fail seven out of 10 times in baseball, you’re still hitting .300, a success, so it teaches you that failure is not such a bad thing. You just need to bounce back; you’re only as good as your next play.”

I ask Matt Wilson what his team would be like with nine Tim Gretters in his starting lineup.

Says Wilson: “I will never complain about any of the kids on my team – they all give 100 percent -- but who wouldn’t take nine Tim Gretters on their team? I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t take nine Tim Gretters.”

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