“Hey kid, did you see the game yesterday?” A simple question – and that was all it took.
Summer of ‘85. Oakland, California. Just a few months shy of my 12th birthday. My parents allowed me to travel by myself from Reno to stay with our family friends that had season tickets for my favorite baseball team, the Oakland A’s. I could not have been any more proud of myself, out in the world, wearing my big boy pants, tasting a new freedom I had never known before.
I convinced my parents’ friends to take me to the ballpark early to get autographs. Walking down the steep steps toward the field, I could see the players warming up, joking and laughing with each other. The guys I worshiped and watched on TV were there right in front of me. “No way…” I thought, “they are real!”
Hordes of kids huddled at the edge of the field, shouting, pushing, and fighting to get to the front. Every now and then some lucky kid would get to have that chance encounter with a player they idolized. With pen in hand, their little arms stretched out as far as they could reach, a player would sign their name and move to the next kid, not stopping, not interacting.
I noticed one man, a little bit older, sitting alone on the bullpen bench down the left field line. I knew that guy – he used to play for my Dad’s favorite team, the Dodgers. “That’s Dusty Baker!” I thought. He was nearing the end of his career and probably not as popular with the kids as some of the team’s new stars. I walked over to him cautiously, “Mr. Baker, can I have your autograph please?”
“Sure kid.” He replied like a man who had done this a million times before. Unable to speak, I handed him my beat-up old notepad and a ballpoint pen. He signed the page. “Thank you,” I mumbled nervously, and began to walk away.
What happened next is something I will never forget. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he knew I was a true fan, decked out in team colors down to my green-and-gold striped socks. Maybe he appreciated that I broke from the crowd surrounding the new players to find the elder statesman. Whatever the reason, he proceeded to spark a conversation.
“Hey kid, did you see the game yesterday?”
Stunned and wondering in disbelief – did Dusty Baker just ask me a question?
Nervously I replied: “Yes I did. I was here for the game.”
“Good one huh?” We spoke about the different plays and the final score.
Then he asked me if I played baseball and gave me some tips. He wondered how I knew who he was and I told him my Dad was a Dodger fan. We talked about the game that was about to be played that day. He spoke to me like I was a real person! We probably only talked for a few minutes, but it felt as though time had stopped completely. I said goodbye and then floated up to my seat – I swear my feet never touched the stairs.
At that time, Dusty Baker was probably about the same age I am now. I couldn’t have appreciated the deeper meaning back then, but now I can reflect and understand the magnitude of what transpired. Dusty Baker had an impact. Instead of dismissing me, he took a few moments from his day to give me a memory for a lifetime.
As we grow older it is important that we understand the effect we have on young people. As parents, teachers, managers, or just as the most experienced person in the group, we all have the opportunity to have an impact on someone’s life. How do we do it? Here’s what I learned from Dusty Baker:
- Ask. Although sharing your story is valuable, it is also important to ask what someone wants to learn. Find out what your mentee is interested in, where they are struggling, or how they are feeling.
- Listen. It can be tremendously frustrating to be dismissed by your elders. By just giving someone the opportunity to talk you empower them and build confidence.
- Give. Your advice and mentorship requires a selfless attitude. Give just to give, don’t expect anything in return.
There is a big difference between having a big name and having a big impact. From what I can tell, Dusty Baker seems to understand this. After his career ended, he went on to be a big-league manager, and has been named Manager Of The Year three separate times. He is currently the manager for the Cincinnati Reds. He is a Board Member for the “Positive Coaching Alliance,” an organization that promotes character-building in youth sports.
In recent months, Mr. Baker was hospitalized due to an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. After being released from the hospital, he joined his team on the field for the playoffs. Here’s to your good health Mr. Baker. Thank you for that brief moment in time. You certainly had an impact.