Here is the official account of my baseball background. While I was not the best player that ever lived, I truly believe I made the best out of what I had and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and left it all our there on the fields I played on. This is my story, these are my roots. If you are going to do something in life, do it with FIRE and PASSION and to the best of your ability!
Steve Vondran baseball story (download PDF).
1988 FSU FLASHBACK: Click on the picture above to watch Attorney Steve’s most memorable at-bat of all time. Here is the setup, we had our backs up against the wall. We had to beat USC two times on the final day to go to the college world series – or else we go home, in front our our home town fans (approximately 5,000 at Beiden Field in Fresno, California. We were up against their top pitchers too boot and Rodney Pete was at third base and Bret Boone was at second base. USC pitching sensation Randy Powers was on the hill. He threw a curveball for ball one. He then came back at me with another curveball, trying to catch me looking for the fastball. He hung the pitch and I jumped all over it.
When you work your butt off in search of greatness day in an day out, at some point preparation will meets opportunity and this is when the opportunity to have a magic moment arises, just waiting to be seized – GREATNESS.
The best way to try to hit a homerun is to NOT try to hit a homerun.
The ball took off like a rocket and I hit it our near Cedar Ave in left field over a series of parked motorhomes with people standing to watch the game. I’m guessing it was about a 500-foot homerun.
You need to keep in mind this homerun was the second part of back-to-back with our #7 hitter Steve Pearse (an All American). While I was in the dugout basking in glow of my dinger, Jeff Mott (our #9 hitted) followed me and hit the first or second pitch over the fence in center field. Guess what, probably the ONLY time in College Baseball History that a 7, 8, and 9 hitter went back-to-back-to-back in a championship game (much less caught on ESPN video). That was par for the court on the way our amazing journey with the 1988 bulldogs went that year. When we hit these three round-trippers. we knew the College World Series was our destiny, and we knew we were going to to Omaha, Nebraska.
NOTE: Some clients ask me “what goes through your mind in a moment like that when you are up at the plate in a tense moment with everything on the line?” My answer is NOTHING. You don’t think about anything other than GETTING A GOOD PITCH TO HIT AND UNLEASHING YOUR CUT. You hear no crowd, you feel no pressure, it’s just you comfortable at the plate and a guy bearing down on you on the hill. You are confident and just banking on the fact and relying on literally thousands upon thousands of hours of intense and focused training and just living in the moment giving it all you’ve got. Trusting in yourself.
These are a few of my baseball cards. I still have random people send me cards to sign (again, not that I was Barry Bonds or anything) but there are still a good number of people out there who collect baseball cards and I am always happy to autograph and return them.
My Main Main Marsoobian: This guy is one of my true amigos. He helped me so much with the fundamentals of baseball and is a great friend. He was the sparkplug that made our 1988 bulldog baseball team go. Love Love Love this great man!!
I get a fair amount of questions from clients and potential clients who ask me about my “baseball playing days.” I always wish I had the time to share the key moments and memories, but I never seem to have enough time to fully explain all the great times I had. This blog attempts to capture of few snapshots of my glory days. There were so many great baseball players from all over the world, but we all had one thing in common – we all yearned to be big league baseball players. When you get people from, all walks of life together, all sharing the same common goal, amazing things can happen and you know you are in for fierce competition, but also for some good times and sharing of stories and experiences with new friends. This blog post is designed to share a little of my background as it relates to my baseball career, which was one of the most amazing times in my life.
MY HOMIES: Jon Fuller, Steve Vondran, Eugene “Motorboat Jones” and Kevin Riggs in Cedar Rapids!
The friendships, memories, smell of fresh cut grass, cheap hotels, chalking of the field, filling of the stands by our great fans, the controversial calls by the umpires, close games going extra innings, walk off homeruns, etc., are some of the things you never forget, and things that you really miss when your time is done. These things never really get out of your blood, you feel it every day even years later (which is why so many baseball players I have stayed in contact with over the years get back into coaching at one level or another, either full or part time). They all know the same thing – that baseball is the greatest sport in the world and we have an obligation to give back when and were we can. While my story is not the story of Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, I hope you enjoy my walk down memory lane nonetheless.
Upland American Little League – “where it began, I can’t begin to knowin” (sweet caroline).
DID HE GO? This is a shot probably from around 1978. My dad was up in the stands (the one standing) and the Great Coach Randy Holliday is at the fence waiting for some action. My socks are pulled up high for EXTRA POWER!
I grew up in San Antonio Texas. My dad was an accountant and my mom was the “team mom,” PTA mom and our MVP each and every year. I had a great childhood growing up with three brothers and a sister. Sports was a part of the family life. My parents actually didn’t want us in the house, they wanted us out doing things. They strategically bought a home down the street from the high school. We literally lived at the high school and played baseball and basketball literally every single day. If we were at home, we would all be playing “tape ball” in the backyard (of course I think this concerned my mom because a line drive back at the window where she was cooking became an alarming incident – luckily I managed to find ways to try to hit the ball OVER THE HOUSE so as to protect dear mommy)!!
My brother Dave was an amazing athlete, he had all the tools, while I only wish I had his tools. I recall he finished second place in the State “punt, pass, and kick” contest in Texas – (keep in mind he didn’t even play football). He could run, throw, and hit alot of homeruns as well. In fact, when I was a kid I looked up to him, he was the hero of most of the games and at some point I grew my own wings. He was the MVP of the baseline league in high school, the same year I hit .486 and became first-team ALL CIF (along with Robin Ventura).
Back to little league, when I was 12 years old, out of the blue, I starting hitting mammoth bombs in little league baseball. I don’t know where it came from, but I found myself physically taller than most of the other kids and I just showed up at the little league park (200 feet deep in left, center and right), and I started hitting bombs that people would talk about. I think I hit about 12 or 15 home-runs probably in about as many games.
From the age of 12 on, based on these successes, I began to take a greater interest in playing baseball and aside from my dual love for basketball, I determined to focus on that sport (which was smart because I am POSITIVE there was no big time college basketball in my future)!
Upland High School – coming into my own
In high school, as mentioned above, I earned ALL CIF honors my junior year (.522 batting average) and my senior year (.486 batting average). My coach was Mike Alonso. He was a great coach and when it came time to think about college, he told me he possibly had some contacts at Nebraska University. To me, that would have been fantastic and I was hoping he could help me get a tryout. However, it never materialized. Keep in mind, back then, I don’t recall there being anything called the “internet” and so aside from the local public library (where I could flip through old college catalogs) I didn’t know much about colleges, much less about how to get in, or where to go. I sat on my hands not really knowing what to do.
Actually, from high school, I had hoped to get drafted by a professional team, or noticed by a college team to get a full ride scholarship. But that didn’t happen. Not knowing what else to do, I enrolled at Chaffey College (called “the rock” after Alcatraz, meaning no one really gets out of there and does anything with their lives). What was I going to do? I seemed to have no other choices. Looking back, not getting drafted out of high school was probably a good thing, because at least I started working toward my College degree, which would later pave the way for me to get into a good law school. Funny how things work sometimes.
The Vondran Baseball Brothers
RARE COMBINATIONS: In 1984 we had three brothers who all made the varsity baseball team. Steve, Tom and Dave.
Junior year at the plate
Shot from American Legion ball
1984 ALL-CIF first team (Hit .522)
Nothing more exciting than a play at the plate!
1985 ALL-CIF first team (Hit .486)
Here was the 1985 ALL-CIF award. Robin Ventura is right below me.
Junior College Years – “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.” [Rolling Stones]
“The Rock” (Rancho Cucamonga, California) [click for Chaffey College Baseball homepage]
Now I have always worked from a young age, whether throwing my newspaper route or cleaning the local gas station or chiseling latex out of a latex truck, or working in a smoke filled factory line. I tried alot of different things to make money. I didn’t have a ton of savings from these jobs, so I decided the best thing to do was to go to the closest college that would allow me to tryout for the team. Growing up in Upland, California, this meant going to “the Rock” (other players joked that this was the JC “where dreams went to die”). That made no difference to me as I always believed it is up to each one of us to make our lives what it should be (“if it is meant to be it is up to me” was my saying).
The coach at Chaffey was Mr. Howard Lowder. He was a tough ex-military guy who didn’t have much of a sense of humor, respectfully of course. At the time I went to Chaffey I think the fees to go to school were just a couple hundred dollars. It wasn’t tough to get classes back then, (this was before the “education boom” seemed to take place) and I took general AA classes. School was largely uneventful, but I enjoyed playing both baseball and basketball and lifting weights. I would spend most of the day up at Chaffey, taking the bus up early in the morning and back late at night. This was my life. The rock was about 30 minutes from our family home. While on the bus I would meet lots of people, talk, and listen to music while I dreamed about baseball and basically, about how I was going to “break out” of the rock. I remember vividly listening to the song “Band of the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings over and over and the line “stuck inside these four walls….stuck inside for ever, ………if I ever get out of here” was burned into my psyche. Later when I learned the guitar, this was the first song I taught myself to play. Most people do not understand the significance of this song, but it means a lot to me when I play it.
But dreaming about escaping was about all I could do as Coach Lowder didn’t see fit to play me much (I think I got 27 at-bats that year). As fast as i got to the Rock I was ready to leave. The other players were right and the reputation of the rock was well earned. Needless to say, I did not get drafted my first year in junior college, which is something I was again hoping would happen. However, I got my studies done and moved on to another year in college.
Mt. Sac [Click here to go to MtSac baseball page)
Team photo at Mt. Sac 1987 – some of my best buds were Doug Twitty, Casey Clements, Jeff Cerneka, Rick Davis, John Paboojian, Steve Dye, Jamie Davenport.
The other junior college that was nearby my house was Mount San Antonio College (“Mt Sac”). After a lackluster experience at Chaffey, I decided to transfer to Mt. Sac and see if I could make a difference here. The coach was Mr. Art Mazmanian. A good coach who also coached a professional team during offseason (Baltimore Orioles I believe). I made the team, and found a spot in the lineup playing third base. Best player on the team was probably Rick Davis, pitcher, who made it to AAA ball, might have got a sniff in the big leagues. I don’t recall my stats specifically (I think I cracked .300 batting average and near team lead for doubles and RBI’s as was usual for me), but by the end of the year the result was the same – I didn’t get noticed by any professional baseball scouts and did not get drafted. What more college???
As the season neared to a close, I had a conversation with Coach Maz about where I go from SAC. He said “I can get you into a wide variety of Division II Schools, just let me know.” Northwestern was one he mentioned. While I was very appreciative, I was at a fork in the road. Either go for what I wanted (Division I) or settle for Division 2 (not that going to Northwestern is “settling” in most peoples minds). I had my mind set that I had to either go big or go home. Find out once and for all if I had the right stuff or not. If not, fine, I would figure out the next part of my life. I told Art “thank you for thinking of me and for be willing to stick your neck out for me, but I have to play Division I, if I am not good enough, then so be it.” He encouraged me to go for it, and so I did.
Again, this was in 1986 still before (at least to my understanding of the world) I knew about anything called the internet (no, I didn’t have a cell phone), but being a little older and wiser, I realized nothing was going to land on my lap and I had to go out and try to get what I wanted. So I did. I starting writing letters and making phone calls to every Division I school in the country. I told the coaches about my stats, awards and my passion and that I wanted to play third base. I even drew pictures of a guy hitting a homerun (some doodling I had perfected while doodling during the boring classes). In short, I left nothing on the table and was determined to have someone give me a chance to tryout.
Fresno State University – “well the rain exploded with a mighty crash” (Band on the Run). Living the Dream.
This has to be one of the top ten college baseball teams of all time. 1988 Fresno State Bulldogs. Won 32 straight games in 1998. Appeared in College World Series.
As far as I can recall, only one coach showed any level of enthusiasm about my Division 1 baseball desires – coach Bob Bennett at Fresno State University. Bob said “Goldangit Vondran come on up and you can tryout as a walk-0n, I’ll give you a shot.” I am not joking when I tell you that is all I needed to hear. There was no scholarship offer keep in mind, just a chance to be somebody. I packed up that night and headed to Fresno (with nothing more than a plastic garbage bag with some shirts, jeans, cleats, glove and bat, toiletries and that’s about it). As luck would have it, (or fate who knows), I was fortunate enough to meet up with a friend from the Chaffey College baseball team – Mr. Jeff Anderson, and I learned he was also going up to Fresno to try out for the team. This allowed us to move in together as roomates, and the place was actually very very nice, not your typical dorm room or anything. When you get bold I think sometimes things find a way to work itself out. We had a blast two scrappers from the 909 trying to live out our dreams at Fresno State, a Division 1 baseball school.
Beiden Field in Fresno, California
HERE IS WHAT I SAW WHEN I TURNED THE CORNER AND SAW BEDEN FIELD FOR THE FIRST TIME. I used to run the football stadium stairs like a mad man, doing anything I could to pick up speed.
Being a couple months early before the tryouts actually started, I decided to hit the gym and work out as hard as I possibly could so that there was no looking back. I did bench, squats, curls, and often ran the football stadium stairs (yes, insert the Rocky soundtrack here), anything I could do to try to get an edge and improve my chances. I met an amazing girlfriend at Fresno, and if you can picture this – there were times when she would throw me “soft toss” late into the night while the headlights on her red metro shined on the fence. There is always a secret hero and inspiration behind every success story that deserves credit beyond measure and which can never be repaid. Beth was a true friend to me, and I loved her very much.
HAWAII DINGER SETUP: In launch mode in Hawaii. It was hard to hit a ball out of this stadium, but this was the picture of the at-bat where I did hit one out to left-center against a strong wind coming in.
By the time the official tryouts started I was ready to go. I remember waling into a room full of hopefuls (probably about 200 or so) and I was thinking “wow, this is going to be a challenge.” Coach Bennett broke down all the hopeful prospects into four teams:
a. The Bulldogs – which was all the returning starters (literally guaranteed to make the team). These guys were all solid accomplished players and well seasoned. If you wanted any chance at playing in a game, these were the guys to beat out. My favorite was Lance Shebelut, probably the best hitter I have ever had the pleasure to watch. Rarely could you fool him with a pitch or get him to chase a bad pitch, and when he hit the ball, he LIT IT UP. He hit 32 homeruns that year becoming an All American.
b. The Reddogs – second team, (those who were expected to be the top contenders who would challenge the Bulldogs);
c. The Bluedogs – the third level team with decent prospects, high school locals, and JUCO (junior college transfers like me). I started on this team with my buddy Jeff Anderson. If you were on this team, you were basically a nobody with a slim to chance to do anything. At least that is how I perceived the situation.
d. The Guard-dogs – basically the lowest level (to be put on this list was basically a gentle suggestion that you are probably wasting your time and better suited to go out for the debate team or to focus on studies as opposed to athletics). Looking back, sometimes that is a blessing and not a curse for many people.
At any rate, I knew I had some work to do. I battled my butt off for a spot at either first or third base. I hit 15 or 16 homeruns that winter-league, and not to brag, but I hit some serious long-balls. The warm weather in Fresno definitely helped out, but physically I was peaking as well. After a long dinger off one of the light towers in left field, Coach Bob walked up to me in the hallway and said “Goldangit Vondran, why didn’t you tell me you could hit like that.” I said “Coach, if I would have told you that you would never have believed me anyway.” We shared a smile. Bob was in my opinion the best coach I ever played for. He simply didn’t like to lose. As a hitter, I also learned early on, that you would never get him out of his coaching chair unless you hit a homerun. It was the only time he would come congratulate you as a hitter. I suppose he was a lot like Earl Weaver – fan of the three run homerun!!
FRIENDSHIPS: “The three Amigos” as they called us (and legend Tommy Goodwin, now first base coach for the New York Mets, in the background). Mike Hill, Steve Vondran and Bryan Marsoobian. Hill and Marsoobian both made great impacts on my life, and who I would become as a person. These are two of the greatest guys I know.
Moving on up to the Eastside!
After a strong performance in early tryouts, I moved from the Blue Dogs, up to the Red Dogs, and shortly before the season started, to the Bulldogs. Would you know, on opening day, with a packed house of four or five thousand fans, I started at third base and was hitting fourth in the lineup. I remember standing there at third base, looking around at all the fans, excited for opening night and thinking to myself “you did it.” I couldn’t reminisce for long as a shot down the third baseline immediately came my way. Game on. Here is an account of my walk on story from the local newspaper.
32 game win streak
Our team won 32 straight games that year (I believe still tied for NCAA record with Arizona State, but since I don’t follow stats you would have to confirm that). At one point we were ranked #1 in the Country for Division 1 teams. We hit over 120 homeruns as a team and broke a ton of hitting and pitching records. Three of the players were ultimately drafted in the first round IN THE SAME DRAFT (a feat I don’t know has ever been repeated), and we made it to the college world series in Omaha Nebraska. The three players were Steve Hosey, Tom Goodwin, and Eddie Zosky (“the rifleman”).
Click here to read the press coverage on Santa Clara busting up our win streak.
FSU 1988 Regionals
Opening game nail-biter with Minnesota Gophers – Game 1
Best double play in College baseball history to win it!
Fresno State Bulldogs needing a win in game 1 regionals at Beiden Field. The game was tight. Minnesota tasted the upset. However, the “rifleman” pulls this gem out of his toolbox (not using his rifle arm this time but rather his unbelievable range going back over second base and finesse with the backhand flip). WOW. I’m not sure I have ever witnessed a more amazing play. Zosky-to-Pearse-to-Shebelut. Dogs march on to college World Series!
Mid series – going deep to left off Washington State to propel dogs into final day.
It must have been a cold night no fans in the outfield. FSU fans were the BEST and one of the top attendance in the Country. Dogs win 7-6 and move into finals with U.S.C.
Hall of Famers Mike Burton and Lance Shebelut extending a hearty congratulation! Great guys!!
Some people ask me what it’s like to win 32 straight games. It is amazing, and it happens when everybody works hard and picks each-other up when someone drops the ball. It’s a game of TEAM and there is no “I” in team. The best teams I have played on have CHEMISTRY. Without chemistry, talent alone will not likely get you where you want to be. This is just something I noticed along the way, having played on multiple championship teams.
Final game USC – Back-to-back-to-back homeruns and clutch pitching take dogs all the way!
FSU had to beat USC twice on the final day. Here is a clip from the second and final game showing the homerun that broker it open paving the way to OMAHA and the College World Series. The game was highlighted and capped off by a gutsy pitching performance by Ken Baker that for many fans has gone down in Fresno State history.
Here is an account of the game from the L.A. Times.
While we were a heavy favorite to win it all, we lost to Stanford and Miami and were done in two. We had beat Stanford each time we met them that year, but an amazing pitcher shut us down. Here is a song the local radio station made for us HOMERHA (which features the call on the famous “back-to-back-to-back” homerun call against USC – mentioned at the top of this blog – to send us to Omaha). The sound quality isn’t the best, but with Jay Johnstone calling the shot it’s worth a listen.
SAY WHAT WILLIS? I guess I was meant to be a lawyer. Here I am pleading my case on a third strike call (to no avail – motion denied)! Never too early to hone your future skills I guess!!!
College World Series homerun!
In the second game of the College World Series, I hit a homerun against Miami on ESPN which hit off the scoreboard (which had my name displayed on it). It was my 16th homerun of the year and man I was on CLOUD 9 rounding the bases. I grew up watching the greats on ESPN and now it was my turn. All that hard work paid off. You can read about the homerun here. I am still trying to get a copy of the video to post on this website so if anyone has any ideas please let me know.
Click here to watch the homerun off Miami
This was probably the greatest year of my life as a baseball player, from not only a baseball standpoint, but also in all the amazing coaches, players and teammates I met, and in the great places we were able to travel to. Yes, I was also working on my studies, focusing on a kinisiology degree. I was not sure what I was going to do with that, but thought sports psychology might be something I would look into.
ANOTHER AWESOME DAY AT BEIDEN FIELD: Looks like a shot from my Junior year. The stands were always filled with fans. About four to five thousand per game. The media was sensational! I was SO LUCKY I ended up here.
College World Series – The Agony of Defeat
The dugout got quiet as we were one out of way from going home from Omaha after a tough loss to Stanford and Miami. We faced tough pitching that held our big offense in check.
Beam me up scotty!
Yet even with all the hoopla, the year ended, and despite hitting some mammoth bombs (see the USC homerun video), I did not get so much as a sniff from any professional baseball scouts. As Eminem says in his song “lose yourself”: “Back to the lab again.”
It was at this time I had to do some deeper soul-searching. I still believed I had the talent, but not getting noticed while others were being drafted was tough. I decided to cut down on my swing, and try to hit for a higher average (I only hit .297 my junior year). I talked to coach Bennett and he made a career changing move for me – he put me behind the plate and converted me to catcher. I had caught quite a few games in American legion ball so I figured I could handle the position. I worked very hard that off-season and tried to learn the craft. I was no Johnny Bench at the end of the day, but I did okay.
TEAMMATES: Not sure why they were crowning ME – these guys were first rounders and amazing players (Steve Hosey and Tom Goodwin). Only guy we are missing is T-Fraz!
Cutting down my swing helped me jump my average from .297 as a junior to a league-leading .388 as a senior. I battled team Tommy Goodwin (LA Dodgers and New York Mets legend) for the league batting title, and we took it down to the wire. As I recall it literally came down to the final day. At this point, I now hit for average, and had a position to play. Net result – I WAS FINALLY DRAFTED IN THE 13TH ROUND OF THE 1989 DRAFT BY THE CINCINNATI REDS. Although I grew up a staunch Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I turned RED really quick!!
Summer Ball – Yes I was a Humboldt “Crab”
RIDE THE FERRIS WHEEL: Here is an article that appeared in the local newspaper after I signed on for the summer. I had a great time in Eureka, California. As the article notes, my best chance to make it was probably as a Catcher. If I have any regrets, its not sticking with that position. However, you also have to keep in mind that when I got to rookie ball in Billings Montana, I had a guy named Dan Wilson in my way. He was a first rounder, got big money and it was clear he was going to get most of the playing time. Dan played many years for the Seattle Mariners. While I up in Eureka, we worked during the day (teaching baseball camps, not really work I guess) and played. I Met a lot of great players, mostly from California D1 schools.
Here is a look at the top batting champions over the years. A couple big leaguers in there. Yours truly 1989.
San Diego State v. Fresno State 1989 – (Dinger to left on hanging curveball)
SITTIN BACK WAITING FOR THE CURVEBALL TO GET IN MY KILL ZONE! Here is a shot from a game televised on ESPN. It seems every time I was on TV I knocked one out of the park.
There was no better place to play than Beiden Field
Coach Ruppy and Captain Bob Bennett
Man I was blessed. I don’t recall Coach Ruppy or Captain Bob ever missing a single day of practice, or a game. They were always there with high energy teaching us the game, and challenging us to reach our full potential. Sometimes that meant a 6 a.m. “bring your jogging shoes boys” but these guys embody what every coach should strive for – commitment to the mission, creativity, and passion for excellence. Thank you for making us better players and better men.
Fresno State Baseball Wall of Fame video (thank you FSU for the amazing video)!!
INDUCTED: I eventually was nominated to the Fresno State Baseball Hall of Fame, Click on the picture above to watch my Fresno State Baseball Hall of Fame induction video. I joined alot of other great players, including many former major league players like Terry Pendleton and Mark Gardner and others described above.
Here was my plaque that hangs at the stadium (Beiden Field).
Cincinnati Reds – going pro!
Our 1989 team features THREE first round draft picks (I am not sure that has ever happened either before or since). These guys could play. Their talent levels helped me realize what the talent level was going to be in pro ball where competition becomes a bit more fierce.
A. Billings Rookie Ball
After inking my pro contract, I was shipped up to Billings Montana for rookie-ball. I hit .308 my first year. It was a good year, but adjusting to the wood bat had its share of challenges. While I was drafted as a catcher, when I hit pro ball there was an immediate hurdle in my way – Mr. Dan Wilson from Minnesota. Dan was a great guy and amazing catcher. He was a “bonus baby” first rounder, and it was clear I would not be playing in front of him. I went into the coaches office and said “I need a shot, I was a third baseman at Fresno State and I would like a chance at the hot corner, while still being willing to continue to catch bullpens and work with pitchers.” Luckily, the management agreed and third base become my spot, once again.
MY BUDDY GILLY: Getting ready for action at the hot corner – my best bud Chris Gill stands ready at second (best second baseman I ever played with). He taught me as much as I was ever going to learn about fielding.
Sports illustrated article
We had a Sports illustrated field writer come to Billings that year and hang out with us. He wrote an article about life in minor league ball and I got a few quotes in the magazine. I am still trying to obtain a copy of that to post online. Again, not to brag, but getting my name in a Sports illustrated edition was a pretty cool thing and I felt fortunate for that.
B. Charleston West Virginia
After rookie ball, I was sent to the A-ball team in Charleston West Virginia. Here, I also played third base next to shortstop Trevor Hoffman who was from University of Arizona. Hoffman will shortly be a MLB hall of famer – and WHAT AN ARM HE HAD LET ME TELL YOU!
We had a great time in Charleston, and our pitching staff was virtually unstoppable. We won the league championship that year and had a BLAST on and off the field. For those who don’t know, Trevor was later moved to the mound and became (for a short while) Major League Baseballs all time save leader. Truly an impressive feat. I hit .269 this year, slipping from the previous year but still managed to knock in about 47 runs. I had a ton of fun each and every day!
South Atlantic League Championship
RIDE SALLY RIDE!
My third year I played in the “high-A” league in Cedar Rapids, but not before going through my spring training ordeal.
DUGOUT SHOT: HERE IS A SHOT OF ME IN CEDAR RAPIDS – PROBABLY AROUND 1991
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME: Cedar Rapids Reds field. High “A” baseball.
Pulling up limp!
I had started spring training on the AA Reds team, and was expecting to make the AA Chattanooga squad when something unfortunate happened. During the offseason between my second and third years I was working like a maniac to try to pick up running speed (my biggest weakness as a player). I hit the squat rack, ran stadium stairs until I felt like puking, worked on a sprints with specially designed high-heel training shoes, everything I could think of. I did not want to leave any stone unturned. However, I must have overdone it. When I got to spring training my third year, and while trying to make the AA squad, near the end of spring training I PULLED MY HAMSTRING. This was just a week or two before final cuts and assignments were going to be made. I was devastated. My chances at AA ball were down the drain. Keep in mind I had NEVER pulled any muscle before and was pretty much injury free my whole career.
They sent me over to the training room where there was hardly anyone there. There was, however one guy there riding the bike – Eric Davis – (note that he was one of my favorite hitters growing up as a kid). I pulled up next to him and introduced myself and rode the bike gently next to him. We talked (about what I cannot recall) but I learned he was a really great guy on top of being one of the best power hitters in the game.
So I basically just showed up every morning and hung out in the training room, stretching, doing light leg work, icing, whirlpool and just basically trying to get back out on the field as fast as I could. Around this time cuts and assignments were being made and players were being shipped to their respective cities to start the season. I remember thinking to myself DRATS, how could this happen…..all this work I have done and for what.” I thought back to Chaffey College and my dreams of breaking out and just sunk my head in my arms. But sometimes, all is not lost.
GREAT DAY FOR A DOUBLE EHADER: A shot of Cedar Rapids baseball stadium from left field.
My “cup of coffee” story (Reds v. Pittsburg Pirates)
Well life is funny, and I suppose fate sometimes gets the best of things and directs you were you are supposed to be. As I was coming off my leg injury and missing my bus to Chattanooga, I was still pumping away on the exercise bike trying to rehab my leg when someone (I don’t know who it was) walked up to me and said: “Vondran, we need a third baseman against Pirates tomorrow are you available.” I said “Pirates?” He said “yeah, big league game you interested.” I jumped up gave him a hug and said: “heck yeah I am interested what time does the bus leave?“
The following day was one of those days I will never forget. I hopped on the bus filled with major leaguers, and I just quietly looked for a seat on the bus. This was not the bus to Chaffey College, this was the bus to the Pirates spring training camp. I only saw one seat toward the back and asked the gentleman if I could sit there. He said “sure kid have a seat.” I thought the player was Tommy Herr (but it’s been a while), another great player (former all star). We talked for about 1/2 hour as we proceeded to the park.
When we got to the clubhouse, there was a buzz around the room, it was getting toward the end of spring training and you could feel it in the air. I remember they had a table full of sunflower seeds and chewing tobacco. The clubhouse guy said “help yourself.” I grabbed a pack of sunflower seeds and headed out the the field.
I was on the lineup card batting 8th. I wish I would have grabbed that lineup card looking back. My first at-bat was against lefty Neal Heaton (an all-star the year before). He hung a curve and I lined it to left for a single. I didn’t score a run, and the next inning when I took the field at third base, Ken Griffey Senior ran behind me and said “welcome to the big league kids.” I smiled at him and said “thanks Grif” and I remember looking up into clear blue sky and basically just getting lost in the moment. But I had to snap back to reality.
The next batter up was Bobby Bonilla (another switch hitting all-star). He was hitting right handed on this occasion. Bonilla ripped a bullet down the third base line which hooked over the third base bag taking me deep into foul territory. I had no time to think, only to react and the next thing I felt was the ball sticking in my glove and I wielded around and fired one across the diamond catching Bonilla by just a hair.
The third base coach then looked at me and said “you aren’t going to be around the minors long with plays like that kid.” I said “let’s hope you are right.“
My next time up I lined one to the second baseman Jose Lind (another all star) who had to lay out doing a full on dive to rob me of a hit. In baseball, as in life, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I nailed it but they got me out. I had one or two more at-bats, fly out and a walk I think, but that was basically a summary of the game. I had my day in the sun and my cup of coffee, and you know what, it tasted pretty damn good! I rode back on the bus back to Plant City, Florida were our camp was. I think I slept better that night than any other night of my life.
Here is a link to the press coverage of the game. As you can see ,I also scored a run!
Get your hacks in!
HITTING PHILOSOPHY: My batting philosophy was simple – get a good pitch to hit and swing hard & quick because you just might hit it!
Final thoughts about my big league game!
My “cup of coffee” and day in the sun was memorable for sure. Of course, it was only a spring training game, but for me it was a moment I will always savor. When I got back on the bus, on the of the players invited me to sit next to him, and he pulled a mini-cooler out from under the seat. He cracked open an ice cold Coors light and we drank it and talked, while we drove back to our base camp as the sun was coming down. While I would have loved to have made it further on the field, sometimes I think when you work your ass off for a dream, to quote the song you might not: “always get what you want, but you just might find you get what you need.” I got what I needed. I made it on to a playing field most people only dream of. From finding it a challenge to get into a division 1 to school, to making to the highest level possible was a great achievement for me, and it made me realize that when you set you mind to something, yes, dreams can come true.
Sent back to High-A ball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
A little local press. Bottom right of the article mentions my homerun off Tim Worrell!
At the end of spring training, my hamstring finally healed, I was shipped out to the High-A team in Cedar Rapids. It was super cold there and I struggled at the plate. I would finish the season in Charleston, winning the championship as noted above.
Tip #1 – You never win the arguments in baseball, might as well just go back to the dugout!
CEDAR RAPIDS FOLLY – WHO HAS THE BAD BREATH IS THAT ME OR YOU? Yep. doing it again. This ball was outside and un-hittable no question. The umpire saw it differently. Motion denied again.
Lessons learned – how I apply my sports background to my legal practice
LET IT RIDE! Local beer crowd looking on as I try to smash a hanging curveball.
When it came to baseball, I never held back and I poured my heart and soul into the game I loved. Passion doesn’t end however, it can and should be re-channeled. For me, this involved going back to my studies, and becoming the student and scholar I always wanted to become, but which was difficult since I focused so much time on athletics. It’s one reason I believe athletes should be paid something for their time. We pour everything we have into making our teams great which the schools financially capitalize on.
Eventually, I enrolled in law school at Whittier Law School, and earned a certification in intellectual property studies, and passed the California bar exam on my first attempt (another feat I doubt most people thought I was capable of). I later passed the Arizona bar and became very active in the California and Arizona real estate business. I earned brokers licenses in both California and Arizona. I now run and manage my own law office and have successfully grown the business over the past 11 years. I have argued cases in state and federal courts in front of judges who were appointed by presidents. I became a leader in foreclosure and real estate law and was invited on Fox News three times as a legal analyst.
It has been quite a journey as a lawyer and I thoroughly enjoy representing people. I have recently been appointed to the prestigious Camelback Village Planning committee by the Mayor of Phoenix. These are just some of the highlights. So yes, there is life after baseball. You can visit my website at VondranLegal.com. Click to watch one of my videos.
Transferring skills and passions
Here are a few things I took from my baseball life that guide me even today in the practice of law, years after the crowds have stopped cheering:
1. Focus on the fundamentals – Dreams start small and build up from there. Every sport (and even the practice of law) has its own set of fundamentals. The job of a professional is to learn and master the fundamentals and consistently get results. When I was trying to become a great hitter, I studied all the greats. Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, etc. Guys who had a track record of getting it done and watching and studying how they do it. Mastering the fundamentals is something we should fight for every day no matter what we do in life.
2. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do – While I often dreamed about being a Ricky Henderson type of player (power and speed), stealing bases for me was never a realistic option for me. So I had to be honest about my strengths and weaknesses. In law, and in our cases, many times we have to ask the tough questions, and be straight up with our clients about what we believe we can and cannot accomplish. There are lots of law firms that are willing to tell you what you want to hear (especially before you sign the retainer agreement) but we tell you what you need to hear, and what we think we can realistically do.
3. Set obtainable goals – In arbitration and litigation cases (which is alot of what we do) as in baseball, you have to set goals for yourself every day, and in every case. In baseball, with a great sinkerball pitcher you might tell yourself “my goal is to only swing at a good pitch and to lay off that junk in the dirt, and make solid contact.” By setting a goal you can force yourself to get that good pitch to hit and to stay within yourself. In life, regardless of what you do, you have to set lofty (but attainable goals) and re-set those goals as may be required, so that you can get every ounce of enjoyment and fulfillment out of life.
4. Be open to criticism – This is a really big one and tough for most people who just want a pat on the back. This has to do with being “coachable” and being “open minded”. These are two things that most people struggle with. Sometimes my legal partner will criticize my thinking or approach on a case (I should upgrade that to often times) but you have to listen to opposing viewpoints. While my first instinct might be to want to defend myself it benefits everyone by listening and incorporating other people’s ideas into our own lives. We do not know as much as we would all like to think we know, we have to be open to other points of view.
5. Believe in yourself even if no one else does – In life you will find that you have these big dreams and goals that you want to accomplish. Some people will believe in you, and some others may not. Pay the nay-sayers no minds. You have to always believe if yourself and who you are and never let go of your dreams, whatever they are. If you don’t have any dreams, you need to go get some. That’s what living is. You have to want something really bad and then go fight for what you want, persist, and get knocked down and jump back up again. It sounds cliche, but its the guts to stick it out despite what anybody else thinks of you. Be willing to go through the trials and tribulations, and in our case to fight for justice since justice is not something freely given to people, it is most often something you have to fight for.
6. The Five P’s – In the practice of law (as in developing in any sport) this is a BIG ONE so take note. The Five P’S stand for “PROPER PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE.” This was taught to me by a coach a long time ago, so long ago I don’t know where or who it was but it always stuck in my mind because it made so much sense. Most people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. Proper planning, hard work, focus, dedication, eliminating distractions, faith, and patience will help you get where you want to get. In law, proper preparation is a key ingredient to success in every case You have to know the law and the facts of the case COLD and be able to anticipate what your opponent will do. You have to be fully prepared for any unexpected thing that may happen (to use a baseball analogy, its like when you get a ground ball down the third base line and the ball hits the bag and shoots up). What are you going to do? Are you going to act surprised, or are you going to be prepared by taking 100 ground balls before the game and anticipating the things that might come up. Planning and preparation are keys to our success at Vondran Legal.
7. Know thy enemy – This comes from Tsin Tsu the Art of War. One of the quotes I like is “know they enemy and you will never have to fear a thousand battles.” Get to know the “players” involved who may be obstacles to your success and be prepared to deal with them. In baseball, it may be an opponent you are trying to beat out for a position. It may be the pitcher you are facing that day. Do you know what they like to do on a 1-0 count? Find out what you have to know and be ready. As lawyers, we need to understand the moods and mindsets of judge, know our opposing counsel, know our witnesses, try to understand what potential jurors might think of our cases. There are a lot of things to consider and you have to put in the mental hard work in order to succeed.
8. Perfect your craft (a true professional makes things look easy) – By working hard and focusing on the rights things, eliminating distractions and eliminating excuses and by focusing on the fundamentals you will see your levels of professionalism improving each day, no matter what it is you are doing. This is what is meant by perfecting your craft. Keep working at it hard day and night, study all the moving parts, and refine your practices until you get it right. When you are truly a professional, I don’t care what you are doing, you will make it look easy!
9. Never underestimate the power of “team” (there is no “I” in team) – In many cases a team approach works best. Two heads are better than one, and bouncing ideas off each-other can lead to great innovation and problem solving. The best teams I have ever played on had one thing in common – CHEMISTRY. We went through the ups and downs, highs and lows together, as a team. In law, we take a co-counseling approach to our cases, whether business, real estate, insurance or intellectual property cases (ex. BSA software audits). We work together to solve problems and win cases. While you have to fight to make yourself better every day, don’t forget to be a team player.
10. Work as hard as you possibly can (hustle) – After everything else is said and done, I believe that the person, player, or lawyer, who maintains the best attitude, works the hardest, prepares the most, hustles, and puts their passion and hearts into every game and every play is going to be the one who is most respected, and most satisfied in themselves, and and most likely to reach their potential. I remember Scott Post who diligently took notes on other pitchers. He worked harder than anyone else. He made it to the big leagues and later got an appearance on a baseball movie. I have to say I tip my cap to him, and he embodies what I am talking about. In our legal cases, we give it all we’ve got and we believe in putting it all out there on the line each day.
One of the great quotes that has always guided me, and always will are the following
- Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing (Hellen Keller),
- But by far my favorite:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Don’t forget to be silly and have some fun along the way!
NO ONE HERE GETS OUT ALIVE – HAVE SOME FUN ALONG THE WAY: One thing I can say for sure, I loved every minute of this game, and love my daily life as a lawyer and husband! Here is me pitching with my catcher’s glove on. I hit 85 mph on my best day. Below is a shot pitching in high school (not goofing around).
I don’t have kids, but if I did I would hope they would be attracted to playing a sport. I believe that participating in sports is one of the greatest things a kid can do, male or female. Being in the heat of the battle, competing for a spot on the roster, fighting to get and stay in the lineup, trying to excel in a sea of talented teammates and opponents, and basically knowing what its like to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. These are priceless treasures you really cannot learn anywhere else in life. It’s the sports academy lessons of life that will guide you the rest of your journey on the big rock. Life is in fact competition at the highest levels against the best and most polished in all fields, regardless of what occupation you choose to do. So live to compete and compete to live! You will enjoy it.
Steve Vondran Coaching
GIVING BACK – Giving back is all part of the process. After my playing days, I coached (head coach) for Upland High School freshman baseball team. I coached with my brother and two friends. It was one of the funnest things I have ever done, and I had a couple kids who eventually went pro. The freshman team was a challenge. At first, I was a hard core kind of coach, very demanding, and the first half of our season was mediocre. It wasn’t until I loosened up and said “the heck with it, let’s just have fun” that the rest of the team responded and we finished strong in second place. I learned that while hard work is very important, having fun with the game is equally important. Whether it is playing baseball or trying to figure out your career moves in life, just find your passion and go all in.
After my playing days came to an end, I later coached two years (assistant coach) at Pomona College in California. Pomona College was a prestigious school where the kids all had high SAT scores (16o0 range). They were all very smart and talented. I coached under Paul Savdgis, who was a great coach whom I really admired and totally respect. His knowledge and passion for the game (and for his players) were both inspiring and contagious. He is still coaching today at Azusa Pacific University (last I checked) and he really know the game like few others.
I also coached with a couple other great guys, John Shelvey and Frank Pericolosi and coach Schwartz. These guys made coaching fun and I learned quite a few things from each of them.
Some of my buddy’s and what they are doing after baseball
Steve Vondran baseball resources (I am missing a few key videos and links, if you have any to offer to help me complete my library please contact me using the contact form below)
4. Sports illustrated Article (From Rookie Ball in Billings Montana):
7. Bomb off BYU (ESPN game of the week)
9. Fresno State College World Series “Homerha song” with Chuey Escuaela
10. Some catching footage and a DINGER off San Diego State (1989 Fresno State Baseball)
Bonus Materials: DON’T FORGET TO READ ABOUT MY HOLLYWOOD DEBUT IN CITY SLICKERS!!!
California & Arizona Legal Counsel
If you want to discuss anything on this page (or have anything to add), or looking for a lawyer for a business, real estate, software audit, intellectual property matter (ex. copyright infringement), or need sports representation call us at (877) 276-5084. We will be back to you, normally within the hour. Thank for visiting. Feel free to share this page on your social media networks!! Remember, few things in life are impossible. Chase your dreams no matter what anyone else tells you
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