As read the obituary for Tommy Lasorda, I couldn't help but remember one of the greatest days of my life some 20 years ago.
Big Brothers Big Sisters was planning its annual gourmet dinner and asked me to chair the event. I indicated I was simply too busy and declined. Shortly thereafter, through some coincidental relationships, it was arranged for Tommy Lasorda to come to Fort Wayne for the day and be the guest speaker.
As a Dodger fan since I was 6 years old, I jumped at the chance to be the chair and escort him around town for the day. I knew it would be an adventure, but it became much more.
Tommy had retired as a manager by 2001 but had volunteered to go to Japan and help get a minor league team started. He had returned from Japan the afternoon before, went to the Dodger game in the evening and caught the red-eye to Chicago with no sleep. Arriving at 10 a.m., Jerry Henry flew to Chicago and picked Lasorda up so he could be here for the day.
First there was pasta at Casa's with Jerry, (Big Brothers director) Josette Rider, me and a horde of reporters from the area. Next it was Bishop Dwenger, where he opened with: “I know what it is like to be young but you don't know what it is like to be old, so I suggest to listen to what I have to say.”
We were mobbed, with Lasorda signing everything from baseball bats to T-shirts before we escaped to our next stop at Canterbury School. After a short prepping on the way about the school, Lasorda opened with: “I understand many of you are privileged and are here because your parents can afford to pay the tuition. I have one question – when is the last time you said thank-you to them?”
I learned as I drove around town that Tommy had been with the Dodgers for 51 years and had 51 one-year contracts. He would always ask whether they still wanted him and whether he still wanted to be there – truly unique in these times.
At the banquet, we were showing a video of his Olympic championship and I noticed he was sound asleep in his chair. After a short introduction, he was wide awake and spent the next hour with one story after another. “My wife accused me of liking baseball better than her and my response was – but I like you better than basketball, football and hockey.”
The world is a better place because of Tommy Lasorda and we need more like him.
Don Steininger is founder of Steininger Development.