Gary Seefried was one of the better athletes to come out of Seattle in the 1960s, but one of his best friends said that mattered less to Seefried as he got older.

“He was one heck of a guy,” said Steve Olsen, a friend of Seefried’s since grade school and boys basketball teammate of his at Ballard High School. “He was a great friend and such a positive and happy person. I think that was the most important thing in his life. That was bigger than the athletics to him, because that was how he led his life for the last 40 years. He was a very kind person, unbelievable.”

Seefried died Dec. 3 from complications of COVID-19, which he contracted shortly after moving from the Seattle area to Post Falls, Idaho. He was 75.

After a few weeks in a hospital in Spokane, Seefried was in a rehab facility and was getting prepared to go home.

“When I got the call Thursday, that was kind of a rough deal,” Olsen said. “It was really a shock, because I had talked to him Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when he was in the recovery center. He was supposed to be going home the following week if PT (physical therapy) worked out.”

Seefried is survived by Vicki, his wife of 52 years, and their two children, Shelly and Tate.

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Seefried, 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, became the first sophomore to play varsity basketball at Ballard High School, helping the team reach the state tournament in 1962. The next season he was the Metro League’s leading scorer at 17.6 points per game.

He was a two-time All-Metro League basketball player and was offered a basketball scholarship at Washington State. But he was All-Metro League in baseball three times, hitting over .400 in each of his three seasons, and he signed with the Boston Red Sox, receiving a $10,000 signing bonus, which was big in those days.

But his pro baseball career ended after two seasons at the Class A level.

“He always said if he could go back, he would have played basketball because the baseball thing didn’t work out very good,” Olsen said.

Seefried’s life easily could have ended at 22. He had ordered hamburgers at Zesto’s in Ballard, when someone who had lived down the block from him as a kid started brandishing a gun.

Fortunately for Seefried, Craig Anderson, a friend of Seefried’s since grade school and who was in his first year of dental school at UW, had spotted Seefried and stopped to talk with him.

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Anderson was taking classes in head and neck anatomy. That knowledge came in handy.

“He was very drunk and pointing that .44 revolver right at us,” Anderson said of the shooter. “We didn’t know what to do. And all of a sudden, ka-blam!”

“We hit the ground and I looked over to Gary and he was lying on his back and he had a hole on the right side of his neck about the size of my little finger, and all of sudden blood just started spurting out. I put the finger in the hole to try and stop the bleeding, but all that bleeding was going right down his throat because he was on his back and so he started choking on his own blood.”

So Anderson rolled Seefried on to his side so he was no longer choking, a move that is credited with saving his life. The bullet exited below Seefried’s left ear, breaking his jaw and taking part of his cheek. Anderson said after the bullet exited Seefried, it hit a steel post in front of the restaurant, then ricocheted through an open window before landing on the grill where Seefried’s hamburgers were being cooked.

Anderson didn’t think his friend would survive. But he did — for more than 50 years.

Seefried spent time in the Coast Guard after his baseball career fizzled, then started a company in California that supplied TV and taping equipment for major sporting events.

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He came back to the Northwest and for more than 20 years was the owner of Sluggers sports bars in Pioneer Square and Kirkland.

The hospitality business proved a good fit for Seefried, who loved interacting with people.

In 1995, John Seefried got a call from older cousin Gary, who was taking over as baseball coach at Eastside Catholic High School and wanted to know if John, who had played baseball at WSU before a stint in the minor leagues, wanted to join him.

For the next five years, Gary and John coached baseball together at Eastside Catholic, along with former major-league pitcher Eric Wilkins.

“We had a tremendous amount of success,” said John Seefried, who said Gary was more of an older brother than a cousin to him. “I don’t know what the record was, but it was something like 92-10. Gary had fire, believe me, but I was the fiery one and he was more soft-spoken. He had a different approach, and between us, it worked very well. Gary was more of a soft shoulder compared to me.

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t like Gary Seefried. Gary lit up a room. Why he was so successful in opening sports bars is not a mystery. Anybody who walked in became Gary’s friend and vice versa. He had a way with people. His smile, I can’t tell you how much it lit up a room. He was just an extremely likable guy.”