The Napa Valley wasn’t as romantic when I grew up as it is these days. We were a happy family but working in the orchards and fields was hard, monotonous work. Back then I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, although I was pretty sure it didn’t involve picking fruit.
In the Army I listened to a lot of guys talk about what they didn’t have to do that day, and how they got out of it to go play pool or go to the movies. Their post-Army plans weren’t very exciting either; mostly they wanted to do more of nothing, get a trailer and go fishing. To me that sounded like zero plus zero equals zero. “I haven’t done anything so I can do nothing the rest of my life.” Well, I didn’t want to do that either.
After the army, I found out my dad had a job lined up for me at Mare Island shipyard where he was a supervisor. That didn’t appeal to me at all. Not because I was too good for that kind of work but because, as I told my dad, “I know something you don’t.” A few days later, when we were speaking again, I explained. I had seen a guy on the Ed Sullivan doing tricks with a yo-yo. He was the Duncan Yo-Yo champ. And I was better than he was. It was my “light bulb” moment, when I realized two vitally important things: that I wanted to be the best at something, and that I could. And what irony – I don’t even know the name of the person who completely changed my life.
I started college soon after that and began my lifelong love affair with baseball, and more importantly with teaching. It has never mattered to me that I wasn’t an All- Star player. What matters is that every day I have the honor of showing young people life’s possibilities, letting them know that the first step in living your dream is to picture yourself doing just that. Because thanks to a total stranger spinning a yo-yo on a 10” black and white television, that’s exactly what I did.