Larger than Life. An El Paso legend and icon.
A man with a very big heart who wasn't afraid to speak his mind.
There was no lack of description of Paul Strelzin, former educator, KROD-AM and KRHO-AM radio host and sports announcer who earned the nickname "The Mouth" for his antics as an announcer for the El Paso Diablos.
Strelzin, a Brooklyn native, died in his sleep on Friday. He was 75.
The cause of his death was not immediately known, said his daughter Sandra Strelzin-Lewis.
"He had such a large booming voice that was so intimidating," said radio host Steve Kaplowitz. "And yet, if you peel back the layers, he was like a big teddy bear. He was a real lovable guy, and he was a guy that always wanted people to respect him for the job he did. But more than anything else, he lived for his wife and three daughters, and, later on, his grandchildren."
He really enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren and had done so the day before his death, said his son-in-law Tommy Lewis.
"He was seen the day before last with his family and his grandchildren at a sporting event," Lewis said.
"That's the way he wanted to live. He loved sports and loved his family and loved El Paso."
Strelzin-Lewis said her father had suffered from heart problems several years ago and had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
"That's the ironic thing -- he was always so giving," Strelzin Lewis said. "He had such a big heart. He was an incredible cheerleader. He loved us all very, very much and was our biggest proponent."
Strelzin came to El Paso in 1967 and began teaching in the El Paso Independent School District. He was a teacher and a coach at Hillside Elementary School, according to El Paso Times archives.
He later became principal at Bowie High School from 1992 to 1997.
About a year after arriving in El Paso, he got his first sports announcing job handling public address at the University of Texas at El Paso track meets. In 1969, he became the Miners' football and basketball announcer.
He also announced for the Diablos, where he was nicknamed "The Mouth" for his controversial comments.
Jim Paul, acting executive director of Hospice El Paso and former owner of the Double-A Diablos Team, described Strelzin as a spoiled genius child.
Paul said the two of them worked together to revolutionize public address announcements during the games in a way that would charge up the crowd and sometimes anger the opposing team.
Paul said he would try to moderate what Strelzin said by simply sitting behind him 75 percent of the game.
"We were called the PT Branum and Bailey of baseball. There was some things that he would still pull, and I would have to pop him on the head like he was a child," Paul said laughing. "When he was at UTEP, they never understood how to moderate him. They didn't understand that you had to sit behind him. But when I would pop him, he would turn around and pout just like a child."
Because Paul never knew what was up Strelzin's sleeve, he would rarely leave town. But on the one occasion he left to take his wife to Las Vegas for her birthday, Strelzin was kicked out of a game.
During a 1988 game against the Diablos and the Jackson Mets, El Paso Diablos runner Joe Mitchell was called out on a close play at home during the fifth inning according to El Paso Times archives.
Strelzin did not agree with the call, and he played "Three Blind Mice" at Dudley Field, which angered the umpires who ordered him to stop it. Strelzin did, Paul said, but then went on to play Linda Ronstadt's "When Will I Be Loved?" The opening lines of the song are, "I've been cheated, been mistreated."
"I was so mad," Paul said chuckling. "I couldn't leave town one minute without him getting in trouble. I leave, and sure enough, he becomes the one to be thrown out of the game and escorted by police. And he was so proud of himself. It made the national news and his dad read it in The New York Times."
Over the course of Strelzin's time announcing for the Diablos, Paul said he fired Strelzin four different times on four different occasions for over stepping his boundaries.
"Sometimes he would quit because he said it wasn't working out," Paul said. "But he would always come back. He had such a big heart though, and he cared for everybody."
He was also an announcer for the El Paso Buzzards hockey team and at the El Paso Patriots soccer team games, where he energized the crowds.
"I used to protect him from the hockey players," said Mando "The Monster" Medina. "He would sit in the penalty player box there and he would talk smack to the opposing players. It was funny. But one thing to remember is that he had a love for the city of El Paso, and he had so much passion and love."
Strelzin began hosting "Back Talk," on KROD-AM in 1999, and his controversial comments resulted in backlash from his employers and a lawsuit from lawyer Theresa Caballero in 2003. Caballero claimed Strelzin made slanderous comments about her. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2004 after the parties reached a settlement. The terms of the settlement were not made public.
He quit the radio show in 2009.
However, Strelzin seemed to always keep his name in the headlines.
"Paul was never afraid or shied away from confrontation," Kaplowitz said. "He was a great influence as a public address announcer. He made the games bigger than life, and he always knew how to get the fans involved in the games."
Carlos Martinez, father of 18-year-old Carly Martinez, the New Mexico State University student who disappeared on Jan 15, 1998, said Strelzin was instrumental in spreading the word about his daughter to the community.
Carly Martinez's body was found in March 1998. Her body was found west of Las Cruces. She had been stabbed 30 times.
Carlos Martinez described Strelzin as a wonderful person.
"When Carly disappeared, he called me right away and said, 'Tell us how we can help you in looking for Carly and finding her,' " Carlos Martinez said. "He had met Carly and her brother -- the twins when they were at Burges High School. Then when Carly was found, he kept up with the trial and kept in touch. He said he wanted to let the public know how the family was doing. He didn't have to reach out to us, but he did."
On and off the air, Strelzin's influence went beyond sports and into the political and social realms.
In 2008 and 2009, the retired Bowie High School principal was hired as a consultant to boost morale at El Paso school district campuses. Strelzin was paid a total of $23,200 for working 58 days to encourage student, teacher and staff morale and implement parent involvement at Austin and Bowie high schools, according to district administrators. Both campuses were facing possible state takeover for not meeting federal accountability standards for the past six years.
Though his antics might have caused him some backlash, his support for education and sports earned him support from his fans and former students and colleagues.
In 2009, Strelzin was inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame, and recently there was a movement to bring him back to be the announcer at the UTEP games, Kaplowitz said.
"He wanted to come back," Kaplowitz said. "But the university at the time didn't feel the same way."
Bob Stull, athletic director for the University of Texas at El Paso, said Strelzin was "one of a kind" and "larger than life."
"Paul was truly an El Paso icon," Stull said in a written statement to the El Paso Times. "When I was here as football coach in the '80s, he was our public address announcer for football and basketball and quite the showman. UTEP had one of the greatest home field and home court advantages in the nation during that time, and Paul was a big part of it. He did a tremendous job getting the fans fired up and into the game. e We are sorry to learn of his passing, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Strelzin family."
Although Strelzin loved sports and the community, the pride of his life was his wife, Darlene, and his three daughters Sara, Laura and Sandra.
Jon Teicher, assistant athletic director and director of broadcasting at UTEP and longtime radio voice of the El Paso Diablos, recalled sitting in the booth next to Paul Strelzin for hours.
"Strelz was a guy who made an impact," Teicher said. "He was as responsible as anyone for the success of the Diablos franchise. He was probably ahead of his time in showmanship as a public address announcer. We spent many a night together, hour after hour at Dudley Field.
Laughing, Teicher added, "He was so popular. My booth was next to his at Dudley Field and I was trying to see the game to announce it on radio. People would literally line up -- right in front of me -- to get to talk to him. He was that popular."
Funeral arrangements for Strelzin are pending.
Paula Monarez Diaz and Bill Knight contributed to this report.
(c)2013 El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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