La Verne Little League Delivers Tommy Lasorda in the Clutch

March 22, 2009
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Dodger great Tommy tosses the traditional first pitch to kick off La Verne Little League's opening-day ceremonies at Pelota Park as League Vice President Brian Shively looks on.

Dodger great Tommy tosses the traditional first pitch to kick off La Verne Little League's opening-day ceremonies at Pelota Park as League Vice President Brian Shively looks on.

What a week it’s been for La Verne. First, President Barack Obama flew out of La Verne’s Brackett Airport on Thursday, March 19, the 59th day of his presidency, and then on Saturday, March 21, former Los Angeles Dodger Manager and Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda addressed an opening day throng of Little Leaguers and their parents, along with coaches, league officials, sponsors and a host of dignitaries, including new Mayor Don Kendrick and councilmembers Steve Johnson, Robert Rodriguez, Donna Nasmyth and Robin Carder.

Had Lasorda’s appearance not been kept a secret, the crowd filling the bleachers and ringing the fences at Pelota Park might have been two or three times the size. Lasorda, who won two World Series championships in 1981 and 1988, four National League pennants and eight division titles in his 20 year career as the Dodgers Manager, is truly one of baseball’s great ambassadors, as well known for his colorful talk and speeches, as his managerial skills, which again were vividly on display in La Verne as he took the microphone.

“Somebody asked me if I believed in free speech,” said Lasorda, clearly loosening up the crowd. “Sure I do, Lasorda answered. “Well good, because you’re giving a free speech in La Verne.”

The biggest beneficiaries of the this “free speech,”  however, were the approximately 500 La Verne Little Leaguers, standing more or less at attention, wearing their bright, crisp uniforms still free of holes and grass stains at least for a few more hours.

“Where I came from in Norristown, Pa., we didn’t have no Little League, we didn’t have no Pony League, we had absolutely nothing,” Lasorda said, his voice raising with each pause. “We had a team, but we had no equipment.

“Look at what you have here: fields, parents, coaches, sponsors. You have all that. Take advantage of it. Play and have fun.”

Lasorda, who is celebrating his 60th year in the Dodger organization, was not implying, however, that La Verne kids would have it easy.

“Anything you get in life, you’ve got to pay the price,” Lasorda said. “And the price of success can only come through the avenue of hard work. In the eight years I managed in the minors, 72 players left me and went somewhere in the major leagues. You know why. I wasn’t any smarter than anyone else. I just outworked everybody else. And that’s what it’s going to take for you to reach your level.”

Despite his 81 years, Lasorda seemed as youthful and as energetic as ever. After his talk, he posed for pictures, signed autographs and shared why he still makes it to small-town events, such as a Little League opening day.

“Well, I hope I can inspire kids in some way so that when they grow up, they’ll realize what they have to do to be successful in life,” Lasorda said, leaving the third-base dugout toward a waiting car in the parking lot. “That’s all it amounts to. If I can get these youngsters to remember what I told them, then it was important for me to come here. But if they don’t, then I wasted my time and I wasted their time.”   

That La Verne could attract such a “big name” to the park abuzz for the remainder of the day. A full slate of games in all divisions got underway. Burgers were once again sizzling on the snack bar grill. Vendors set up their canopies beyond the outfield fences, hawking everything from blankets to new leather gloves, and out in the parking lot a shack truck from the Original Tommy’s, a Los Angeles burger and fries institution almost as famous as Lasorda himself, drew a line of customers that stretched all the way to Grace Miller Elementary School.

“Our whole goal is that kids learn life lessons — teamwork, responsibility, how to succeed, how to fail, how to work through those things and how to persevere in life,” said League President Jim Smith. “We want to make it a fun atmosphere for the kids and their families. The greatest thing about the league is the friendships you make. For me, it’s become a family, more than an organization or a league.”

Tommy Lasorda couldn’t have said it better.

For more information about La Verne Little League, visit To read fuller excerpts from Tommy Lasorda’s speech, see “Tommy Lasorda Still Talks a Good Game” in LaVerneOnline.



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