February 24, 2024

The Rams were loading up the trucks to move to St. Louis in June of 1995, and The Times needed a reporter to hustle out to Anaheim Stadium to capture the team’s final moments in Orange County.

Chris Foster, who was covering high school sports for the Orange County edition of the paper, didn’t merely raise his hand. “He jumped,” former Times O.C. sports editor Keith Thursby said.

A typical scene-setting story, this wasn’t. With some digging, Foster discovered that stadium officials had twice turned away movers attempting to pilfer 63 cubicles — which cost $400 apiece — from the Rams locker room before changing the locks on the doors.

“It was classic Chris,” Thursby recalled. “Whatever you asked him to do, he did to the nth degree. I was getting hourly updates of what was happening. He could have filed 10 stories that day.”

Former Times sports reporter Chris Foster, right, stands beside his wife, Gay, and son, Mark, in Paris in 2021.

Former Times sports reporter Chris Foster, right, stands beside his wife, Gay, and son, Mark, in Paris in 2021.

(Courtesy of the Foster family)

Foster, who parlayed his work ethic, reporting and writing chops into a prolific 28-year career that produced some 7,500 articles for The Times, died Wednesday at his Cerritos home after a 16-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He turned 65 on Tuesday.

“He was the ultimate beat person, the ultimate backup, the ultimate teammate, the ultimate friend,” Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke said. “If he thought a writer had been wronged, he would loudly stick up for them. If he thought ethics had been breached, he would work to repair that breach.

“If he thought a source was avoiding answering an appropriate question, he would stand chin to chin with that source until accountability appeared and transparency occurred.”

A 1977 graduate of San Clemente High School, Foster attended Cal State Fullerton from 1981 to 1984. He spent eight years (1979-87) covering sports for the Fullerton News Tribune and Anaheim Bulletin before joining The Times as a high school sports reporter in 1987.

He started his Times career holding powerful coaches such as Mater Dei’s Bruce Rollinson and Gary McKnight to account and finished it in 2015 as the UCLA beat writer, bedeviling football coach Jim Mora and basketball coaches Ben Howland and Steve Alford.

In between, Foster covered virtually everything else, spending time as a UC Irvine beat writer, a backup Angels writer, and a hockey beat writer — he covered the Stanley Cup runs of the Ducks in 2007 and Kings in 2012.

“Chris was a tremendous teammate and an unmatched role model in regard to bulldog beat reporting,” Rams beat writer Gary Klein said. “He was molded from covering preps, junior colleges, colleges and the pros, and he approached all of those assignments like they were the most important to The Times.”

Case in point: At the height of the newspaper war between The Times O.C. edition and the Orange County Register, Foster covered UCI as intensely as anyone covered any beat.

“The two words I remember most about Chris: ‘Deep Zot.’ That was his nickname for his favorite source in the UCI athletic department,” Times columnist Bill Shaikin said. “I have no idea who Deep Zot was. But the fact that Chris had a Deep Zot should be an inspiration to us all.”

While known mostly for his tenacious reporting, Foster was a gifted storyteller who wrote with authority and clarity and had a knack for capturing the human condition.

Among his most notable pieces were a 2013 appreciation of Nick Pasquale, the 20-year-old UCLA football player who was killed after being struck by a vehicle in San Clemente; a 2008 profile of Jack Yoshihara, a Japanese American and sophomore reserve on Oregon State’s 1941 football team who was sent to an internment camp in Idaho; and a 1992 profile of former Angels pitcher/playboy Bo Belinsky, who found a new life of sobriety and serenity in Las Vegas.

“He was constantly coming up with great ideas — I mean, who would pitch a trip to Detroit to talk to Alex Johnson?” Thursby said, referring to the notoriously gruff former Angels batting champion. “He had that great combination of work ethic and storytelling, and every chance he got, he got better.”

Foster retired in 2015 alongside the late college sports columnist Chris Dufresne. As dedicated as he was to his work, Foster was more devoted to his family and friends.

He helped so many friends and colleagues move from one apartment or house to the next, always willing to do the heavy lifting, that he was nicknamed “the human hand truck.” Need a ride home from LAX at some odd hour? Foster was there.

He kept in contact with his favorite high school teacher. Among his regular hospital visitors in November was Mark Howmann, a lifelong friend since elementary school. Foster organized campfires in front of his house to build closer bonds between his neighbors.

“We went on regular walks, but they weren’t really walks,” said Gay Arakawa, his wife of 34 years, “because Chris would stop to talk to everybody.”

When I moved from the Angels beat to the Dodgers in 2002, former Times sports editor Bill Dwyre pegged Foster to cover the Angels. Foster thought the excessive travel of the baseball beat would put too much of a strain on his wife and son, Mark, who was 7 at the time.

It was probably the only time Foster turned down an assignment. He missed the chance to cover the Angels’ dramatic run to their only World Series title in 2002, but Foster didn’t care. He was always a “we” guy, not a “me” guy, which partially explains why, after his cancer diagnosis in August 2022, he told only family members and a few close friends about his illness.

“I think he just didn’t want people to feel sorry for him or treat him differently because he was sick,” Gay said. “At some point, he knew he had to tell some more people.”

When word began to circulate that Foster came home for hospice care on Dec. 1, “the line of folks rushing to see him was out the door,” Plaschke said. Plaschke was among those visitors last weekend.

“Bill started crying,” Gay said, “and Chris was trying to cheer Bill up.”

Typical Foster. Selfless. Compassionate. A loyal friend to the end.

Foster is survived by his wife, Gay, son Mark, sisters Candy Foster and Camilla Blea, nieces Carissa and Nicole Blea and nephew Josh Blea. Services are pending. Donations in his name can be made to the Chris Dufresne Sports Journalism Scholarship Fund at Cal State Fullerton and Special Olympics of Southern California.

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