Local gallery highlights history of former Orioles pitcher

Posted at 6:48 PM, Feb 18, 2023

Gene Francis Gallery is a local art gallery in San Luis Obispo that has highlighted the history of wars and sports for over 20 years.

"Everything in here, I've used as props for my paintings," said Owner Gene Francis. "It is kind of a history lesson."

The gallery is used as his inspiration for his paintings.

"It's an experience that hopefully you walk away with," said Francis. "Not necessarily all about art, but about San Luis Obispo and about history in America."

Francis says he is primarily inspired by his uncle, Chuck Estrada.

"What I admire about Uncle Chuck is his honesty and integrity," said Francis.

Francis and Estrada both have called the Central Coast their home throughout their lives.

"I was born here, Uncle Chuck was born here, my grandpa was born here, and my great grandfather came here on Spanish Land Grant," said Francis.

Estrada grew up in Santa Margarita and went to Atascadero High School before pitching in the MLB.

"I was lucky enough to get a chance to play, which I had no clue what it took to play in the big leagues," said Estrada. "We didn't have professional baseball out here."

"You grow up with an icon in your family and he's always telling great stories," said Francis.

"I was lucky enough to stay in baseball for 40 years," said Estrada.

Within the gallery, Francis has held onto keepsakes of Estrada's days with the Baltimore Orioles.

"It is a reminder every time I come in here and I glance up of how lucky I really was to make it to the big leagues because there were only eight teams in each league when I played," said Estrada.

Numerous items within the gallery pay tribute to Estrada, including his old uniforms.

"In spring training, if you made the team, you got to a uniform fit to a tee," said Estrada.

The gallery has allowed the 85-year-old Estrada to take time to reflect on his MLB journey.

Estrada finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1960.

During a game on September 4th of that season., Estrada managed to strike out Mickey Mantle three times.

"It's crazy now that I look back on it," said Estrada.

"The climb is better than the pinnacle," said Francis.

Estrada spent five years on the Orioles roster before finishing his career with the Cubs and Mets.

He went on to work as a pitching coach at the major and minor league levels with the Angels, Rangers, Padres, Indians, Rockies, and Athletics.