“Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them.” Tommy Lasorda
I have had the privilege of meeting some great baseball players and managers over my lifetime beginning back in 1970 when my dad would take us to see the Angels at Anaheim Stadium. One manager who I think is a class act is Dodger’s great and hall of fame manager Tommy Lasorda. Despite the fact that he “bleeds Dodger Blue” and is forever associated with mortal rival of my Giants, I have always liked him. It really began when the Abbess of the Abby Normal and I moved to the San Fernando Valley to attend California State University at Northridge in 1980.
Money was tight so we did not get to see many games while in school. Television for us was the old 13 inch black and white TV’s, until Judy’s dad had her come home to pick up a new 13 inch color TV that he had bought for her dorm room. Neither of us had cable but the Dodgers and Angels were frequently on either local or national stations so I did get my baseball fix. In doing so I got to watch a great manager in action. He always seemed to have some nugget of practical down to earth wisdom that made sense, especially in leadership and dealing with people. He still has a knack for it and he is gracious when you meet him. He is a very real person who has despite his “Dodgerism” managed to find a soft spot in my heart. I can relate to him, he speaks in my kind of language and a lot of his leadership and managerial philosophy and approach to people are similar to mine. Of course this is something that has taken me a long time to figure out having played around with various approaches throughout my life. Lasorda is simply himself; he is a regular guy who is comfortable with himself. I think that is one of the big things that has made a difference in my life. I am finally comfortable with whom I am and want to be the best at being me and doing what I do, whatever that may be. One of the keys for me is to I just have to good at being me and who I am within my calling and vocation as a Priest, chaplain and writer.
I remember back in 2003 as I was waiting for a Jacksonville Suns game to begin, the Suns at the time being the Southern League AA affiliate of the Dodgers. Mr. Lasorda walked right in front of me as he came off of the field. I looked up from whatever I was doing and realized that I had seen a legend. I was awestruck, a man who I held in such esteem walks right by me. I had always wanted his autograph but even now I am hesitant to just walk up to someone and ask as I try to respect their space. At Harbor Park I have gotten to meet some of the players charting the games and some of the scouts and collect some autographs always being respectful of them and letting them know if it is for the Baseball Shrine in my kitchen and dining room or if I am having signed for someone else, usually sick kids in the hospital that I work at. So I sat and kind of brooded, according to the Abbess I am quite good at brooding even before I came back from Iraq. I guess I brood well so I sat in my seat wanting to go up and ask him to sign the baseball that I had, but not feeling like I should. About that time an usher that I knew came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mr. Lasorda will sign your ball for you.” I looked at him funny and said “Really?” He said yes and with that I went over to where Mr. Lasorda was sitting and said “Mr. Lasorda I was going to college in Los Angeles when you managed the Dodgers to the Worlds Series win over the Yankees. I would be honored if you would sign this ball. He looked up at me, took the ball, signed it and then shook my hand. I felt like a kid again, but then when don’t I feel like a kid at a ball game?
The ball is now in a case displayed with other signed baseballs and memorabilia in my dining room. It is a connection to a classy man who always managed to inspire me. He was also true to his word: “ALWAYS give an autograph when somebody asks you.”
Tonight at Harbor Park I saw the Tides win a vital game against the Gwinnett Braves and in the process paid off the 1967 signed Willie Mays baseball card that Marty the Card Dealer had for me and had the baseball that I carry every day at work signed by Tides pitcher Chris Waters who was charting the game. Elliott the Usher and his lovely bride Robin celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary tonight, neither look old enough to have that much time in service in their marriage. If they were not from Massachusetts but Appalachia I might think that their parents had married them off when they were 10. Congratulations to these wonderful folks and many more.