Everything I needed to learn I learned from baseball. Here is my official story.
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! Today, I do that as a lawyer.
Steve Vondran baseball story
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 entire story, ups and downs, the key moments and memories, but I never seem to have time to fully explain all the great times I had.
This attempt at writing my story attempts to capture of few snapshots of my glory days. Where I grew up, and some of my life experiences that took me from a kid from a small town in Upland, California through a magical journey through baseball, playing in a big league baseball game, and moving on to become a successful attorney.
TIPS FOR KIDS: A kid asked me for tips and to sign one of my cards. Here it is for all. You cannot see it on the photo below, but tip #10 is STUDY THE BEST PLAYERS!!!
Getting the chance to meet so many people and play with the best - that's what the journey is all about!
There were so many great baseball players I was fortunate enough to play with from all over the world, but we all had one thing in common – we all yearned to be big league baseball players, at least that's what I think most wanted to do. To try to "live the dream" playing baseball for a living. We were united in this purpose, and we learned about diversity at a young age. There was not the animosity you see today.
When you get to meet and compete with people from all walks of life, together all sharing the same common goal, amazing things can happen and it can be fun to watch. You know you have to stay in tip top shape, stay sharp, but you also want to have a little fun and enjoy the ride.
When you play baseball, don't focus on the destination (making the pros) focusing on the journey (enjoying every game, every play, and every at-bat).
A good friend of mine taught me how to improve my fielding (third base), he said "when you practice, treat every ground ball and every ground ball as if you were playing in the world series, and one day you just might be."
Upland American Little League – “where it began, I can't begin to knowin” (Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond).
DID HE GO? This is a shot probably from around 1978. My dad was up in the stands (he was always the one standing and cheering for all players - hey, hey, oh he would yell) and my favorite first coach, the great Randy Holliday is at the fence waiting for some action from me. I never liked to disappoint him (or the fans) and hit about 12 dingers that year, a few were big time monster shots over the flagpole in center at Upland American Little League. As you can see in this photo, my socks (stirups) are pulled up high for EXTRA POWER! lol.
I was born in Streator Illinois in 1966. The Vondran family was from the Chicago Illinois area. All I remember when I was young is it was really cold and windy out there, and there was a doberman pincher that chased me around a tree for a while - scared me to death.
Thankfully, my dad's job was mobile and he was in high demand as an Army trained accountant. We moved from Chicago to Long Island New York, then to San Antonio, Texas, and ultimately made our roots in beautiful California. First in Anaheim (watching the fireworks from Disneyland every night), but then setting our final roots in Upland, California in 1976 near beautiful Euclid Avenue (Madonna of the trail).
Our family home cost about $75,000 back them. In our new age of "white privilege" we barely got by. I got $2.00 per day for lunch money. Not knowing anything about nutrition, I usually bought "protein bars" from the cafeteria (which was really just a chocolate bar with nuts - I bought two per day for "extra protein" as I thought), before baseball practice - which was the only thing I really looked forward to - not loving academics much, although I did attend, listen and learn, I was not into the homework side of it. I liked to get outside and play baseball or basketball and so that's what I did.
In Upland, I found a nice home. Started making friends on my street, and we lived within a mile of the elementary school (yes, we all walked back then). We lived within walking distance to the local junior high (Upland Junior High) and I could walk up the street and be at Upland High School (where I spent a good portion of my life with my good friend C. Clements). We would spend hours and hours at UHS swimming, playing basketball, "over-the line" and whatever else we could get ourselves into. We also did a lot of "temp jobs" together so we would have some money to eat, and we learned more about the business world in the 20 or 30 jobs we had than they could ever teach you at school. You know, we even got offered a couple full time jobs, but turned them down as we were still rolling stones. I even had a paper route at one time throwing the Upland News. My goal was to hit the porch with every throw, try to rattle the screen door. This helped me work on my throwing and accuracy. Hitting the porch would usually get you a better tip, so that is what I perfected while riding my bike on my route.
But Upland was where my baseball roots ultimately took shape. When I was 10 years old (living in San Antonio Texas), my brother Dave Vondran was the star athlete. He could run, throw, hit and dunk a basketball off two feet (he had all the tools as they say). He was pretty amazing. When we got to Upland, the Vondran's had three boys who played baseball - Dave, Steve and Tom. The rule at Upland American Little League was "if you draft one kid you get all three." Dave hit the tar out of the ball at tryouts, while I think I probably made contact - nothing significant - and same for Tom (who was better with the glove than the bat, respectfully).
Coach Holliday, a vietnam veteran and owner of a construction company, decided to draft Dave Vondran, so he got the whole Vondran crew. This would pan out over time as each of us matured and contributed. NOTE: Randy Holliday gave me my first job in construction (dry wall) when I was about 12 years old. I used to go with him on job sites and carry the heavy dry wall plaster (Mud) boxes all over the place then spot nails and tape and paste. I got paid per project so I busted my butt. I really liked the work too. Very physical and money was very good.
The first significant baseball event I remember in Upland was we were playing a team called "CR" (Compac Reac or something like that). Dave was a runner-up in the Texas statewide "punt, pass and kick" competition - (keep in mind he did not even play football), and we were told "nobody beats CR they are the best." When you are young, you don't know what to believe and what's true or not (sadly, the same is true of many adults these days who think they are informed when they listen to "the news"), but Dave was pitching on the hill that day against CR. I was 10 or 11 and not a big name, or a big bat to contend with or anything like that. I just loved sports and loved watching Dave do his thing. My mom Penny was the team mom (the best, of course).
Well, Dave threw one hell of a game on the mound, and the game was tight up until the 6th inning (which is what you play in little league). Dave gets up to bat and hammers a long one over the fence in left-center to give us the WIN!!!! Dave did it, we beat CR! Being a small town, everyone was talking. Dave Vondran who is this guy?? I lived on his coat-tails - and I would proudly tell people "that's my brother." And that's how it all started happening.
From there, I started getting more interested in baseball, and the next year, I started developing physically (grew a few inches taller and developed some muscle), and that's when I started hitting home runs out of sight. Something like a homerun a game - some seriously launched that surprised even myself. This started my roots for the love of baseball, getting my own recognition and having a coach who really made the game fun and memorable.
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 hitting a line drive back up the middle would head straight to the window where she was cooking and could become a serious safety hazard – luckily I managed to find ways to hit the ball OVER THE HOUSE so as to protect my dear mommy)!! : )
Coach Nasi Zabala ("Nasi") - Pony League and Freshman Baseball Mentoring
Before I entered high school. I played in the “pony leagues” with Coach Nasi. Now, this guy was AWESOME. What I loved about him is he wasn't just a COACH, he was a PLAYER. If you did something wrong in the field, or at the plate, he wouldn't just yell and go crazy, he would grab your bat or your glove and say “this is how you do it.” He would normally launch a home run onto the roof of the shop building at Upland High School. You know, when you are young, being able to “do it” is the real deal” and that earns respect and makes good sense. We won a lot of games and Nasi is one of the best baseball coaches in Upland, California history. I learned about the “will to win” from Nasi, to NOT accept defeat and to NOT give in under any circumstances. He did not accept losing, and frankly, I agreed 100% and he is a true friend to this day.
Upland High School – growing up!
I was always playing ball with my Buddy Clements. We called him "Clutch Clem" because he was great at all sports - basketball, baseball, swimming, ping pong, pool, you name it, he was a tough competitor 24/7 (no "off button"). Him and I were best friends through my pony league and high school years. In Pony league, I once hit three homeruns in a game. That was my first tri-fecta. Whenever Clutch and I saw an empty baseball field or basketball court, we would be playing. All day long. We would put our money together to buy baseballs so we could pitch to each-other and then go shag the balls and do it over again. We became very good at both baseball and basketball (having a nice set of plays we had perfected). These were the best of times.
In high school, I played on the freshman team my first year. Hit about 450 or something like that. Next year, I wanted to be on varsity as a sophomore, I knew I had the bat to do it. I played for Coach Rush, who frankly I did not like (too serious and I didn't think much of him as a coach). Long story short, I guess he didn't like me either. He saw me one day in the gym playing basketball, he came be me and said "if you want to play on the varsity baseball team you will quit basketball, now." So, I listened, and quit. He cut me anyway. So, I was pretty pissed off and hit about 585 on the junior varsity team.
That summer one of my buddy's Jason Davis came by and picked me up to go to a baseball game (Saturday morning game and I like sleeping in). I told him "nah" he said come on, McDonalds is on me. I said okay, let's go. I got an orange juice and two egg McMuffins (my power food), and went to this old beat up field and hit 6 home-runs in a double header. When I hit my last homerun, the other team greeted me out at homeplate. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It's these little moments that start saying "hey, wakeup, you are pretty good at this and you should get more serious about it."
That was a good story from that summer. Then, there was what I call "the encounter." A couple Saturdays after that, I was again playing at that field. There was hardly anyone in the stands. The pitcher threw me a hanging curveball and I popped it up. I was so pissed off I threw my bat down and (instead of running the ball out), I walked right back into the dugout. At the end of the game, I am walking out of the fence and there is this MOUNTAIN OF A MAN standing there. He says "Steve Vondran?" I said "Yeah" he said "do you know who I am?" I said "No" he said "I am Mike Alonso, the new Upland High School baseball coach, if you want to play for me your will NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. I could not believe it. My first impression was the worst. I went home really upset with myself and my actions. I vowed I would never do that again, and would always hustle every play out, and I did. Yes, I made the varsity team as a Junior, Coach Alonso and I becoming pretty close friends (except all the times he made me run laps when I would cuss). Needless to say, I got in pretty good shape that year!
I earned ALL CIF honors my junior year (.522 batting average) and my senior year (.486 batting average). Coach Alonso had mentored me pretty well, and when it came time to think about college (despite my numbers I did not get any "sniffs" from the pro scouts), he told me he possibly had some contacts at Nebraska University. To me, that would have been fantastic and I was really 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 would spend hours reading books and looking 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.
The Vondran Baseball Brothers (Dave, Steve, Tom)
RARE COMBINATIONS: In 1984 we had three brothers who all made the varsity baseball team. Steve, Tom and Dave. Something you don't see too often. Dave was MVP of the league in 1984. I mad first team all-state my Junior and Senior Year. Tom received the Coaches award for most inspirational.
Watch Attorney Steve® on the mound
VIDEO: Click on the image above to watch this video of me PITCHING in 1985. I hit .486 this year and was First Team All-CIF as “Utility” player.
Junior year at the plate (Steve Vondran)
Here is a shot of me hitting in high school. I was mostly a doubles hitter, and known for driving in runs. I played first and third base and was a catcher and pitcher. I mostly hit third in the lineup.
Taking a shot at the curveball. Upland High School 1985.
Shot from Upland American Legion ball (summer after high school). My coach was the great Ray Baker! Boy, he was a beauty and we miss him. Memorial Park was eventually named after him. My good buddy Frank Pigoni jumping over runner!
1984 ALL-CIF first team (Hit .522)
Nothing more exciting than a play at the plate! As you can see, I tagged him out saving a run!
1985 ALL-CIF first team (Hit .486)
Here was the 1985 ALL-CIF award. Robin Ventura is right below me.
Despite having matured into a pretty good player, there were no offers from colleges and none from pro teams. I felt kind of stuck. Nebraska University did not work out (never heard back from Coach) and didn't realize I should have done my own leg work. Lesson learned. If you want something, you have to go out and get it, don't expect it to come to you. This is true in business, sports, and in law.
Junior College Years – “you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.” [Rolling Stones]
Nebraska University never happened, and not knowing what else to do, I enrolled at a local Junior College - "Chaffey College," - in Rancho Cucamonga, California. [click for Chaffey College Baseball homepage]. This was a nice place up near the San Bernardino Mountains and it had a great basketball gym (Yes, Clutch and I both went to Chaffey, and yes, we were still playing basketball). In fact, his dad was an English professor there. Good guy.
Ballplayers in the Valley often referred to Chaffey as: “The Rock” (named after Alcatraz), meaning no one really gets out of there and does anything with their lives. They used to say "it's where dreams go to die." I never cared about rumors though and I was out of options. So, I figured I would go up to the Rock and dominate and get drafted by a pro team or at least get into a Division One college, which was my backup plan if I didn't get drafted.
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. He used to say "GET TOUGH MEN" that was his quote and "SAVE YOUR EMOTIONS FOR EMOTIONAL TIMES (for example, when you win the championship, not after you hit a homerun, for example).
Lowder was a tough cookie. I think Clutch and I may have been too loose for his liking. Despite us being top notch players, he did not play us. So, we would just go on and on playing basketball and working on our degree (AA degree). Once again, I had a coach tell me "no more basketball." But since Coach Lowder continued to bench us both, this time I didn't listen and we played baseball all day, then would go play basketball all day until the bus came (yes, I took the bus 45 minutes each way). This gave me time to think about my life, who I was, and where I was going. There were many LONG rides that season, and I knew the ROCK had chewed me up and spit me out with a mere 27 at-bats that year. Shit.
I remember vividly listening to the song “Band of the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings over and over again while waiting for the bus. The lyric that stuck in my mind (even to this day) is “stuck inside these four walls….stuck inside for ever, ………never seeing no one......if I ever get out of here” these words were literally burned into my psyche. Later, when I learned how to play 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 and it always will. I just wanted to break out of there, and Clutch and I did just that. We decided to go to Mt. San Antonio College the following year after a summer of throwing batting practice to each-other, lifting weights, and trying to get better.
NOTE: At Chaffey, I met Jeff Anderson, second baseman. Jeff was a smart guy and talented athlete. His name will come up later. Also, Shoutout to Kendrick Bourne and John Gilbeaux. Two very talented and beautiful people I played with. Brothers I call them.
Mt. Sac - Sail on down the line (Lionel Richie)
After Chaffey, we were happy to have a new start at Mt. Sac and to be fortunate enough to play for the great copach Art Mazmanian! He was as good as a coach gets, and a lot of fun.
Team photo at Mt. Sac 1987 – some of my best buds were Doug Twitty, Casey Clements, Eric Meron, Jeff Cerneka, Doug Brown, Rick Davis, John Paboojian, Steve Dye, Jamie Davenport, Vince Aguilar. I am #24. Clutch is #22.
Click here to go to MtSac baseball page.
Mazmanian was a great coach who also coached a professional team during offseason (Baltimore Orioles I believe). Clutch and I both made the team, and found a spot in the lineup playing third base (me) and first base (him). Coach Maz called us "Country and Rube" (old baseball duo). We both thrived at SAC and got. the bulk of playing time. I hit about 5 or so homeruns and hit for overage (300+ don't recall the specifics), but I had definitely matured as a hitter and a fielder. I had hoped it was enough to get drafted, or at least get into a good college. 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. Yikes, now what. Here I was again.
As the season neared to a close, I had a conversation with Coach Maz about "where do I go from here." He said “you had a good year, no pro scouts, but I can get you into a any Division II School you want, just let me know.” Northwestern was one he mentioned. It sounded nice, and I was appreciative of his willingness to make a call for me. However, recall, I had been through the before with Nebraska. Once bitten, twice shy as they say. So, I politely declined and let him know "Coach, if I cannot make Division 1 then I will hang up my cleats, so thank you for everything, but i am going to make a few calls of my own." That was, I think, the last time I ever saw him before he recently passed away.
Again, this was in 1986 before the internet, before cell phones (at least for me), but I was at least a little older and wiser and I had a nice career stat-sheet to help promote myself. I went to one of my favorite hangouts - the Upland Public Library - and started going back though the college catalogs to see which schools/teams were considered Division 1. It took some time, but I wrote down the contact information for each college in California (I decided I wanted to play in my home state) and wrote them each letters following up with phone calls to the coaches. My letter had my stats, history, how tall I was, etc. I even drew a picture of a guy hitting a homerun (a picture I had perfected while doodling during the many boring classes I took).
I got two "sniffs" - One from Long Beach, and another from Coach Bob Bennett at Fresno State. He said "I have heard some good things from my local people, come up and try out, no guarantees, no scholarship." I then got excited and went back to the library to learn more about Fresno, I wasn't even really sure where that was located. But, I had committed in my mind that this was the place. Sometimes, its just a gut feeling you go with.
Fresno State University – “well the rain exploded with a mighty crash” (Band on the Run). Living the Dream.
Here is our 1988 team. My first year in Division 1 baseball. This has to be one of the top ten college baseball teams of all time. The 1988 Fresno State Bulldogs. Won 32 straight games in 1998. Appeared in College World Series. Yes, I hit a home-run in the World Series and couldn't help but wonder if my previous coaches were watching.
I worked out with weights especially hard that summer. Clutch had gotten into UNLV (also Division 1) and we both worked out full time to get ready for our new opportunities. When it was about a month out, I asked my brother Dave if he was willing to give me a drive up to Fresno. He said "where are you going to stay." Remember Jeff Anderson from Chaffey? He had heard I was going up to Fresno, and he will willing to split his place with me. You know, sometimes when the energy is flowing, the wind seems to be at your back. I was so fortunate Jeff was also going to Fresno, otherwise, I had no backup plan, and no way to get my own place. So, just god shining on me is all I can think of.
So, I threw a couple of my Easton bats in a black plastic bag. Grabbed some tortillas and cheese, and a few other things and headed to Fresno with my brother Dave in the family pick-up truck. I don't remember what we talked about on the way. I was too excited to get up there. I was looking at a map and said "Dave, over there Cedar Ave / Shaw. We turned the corner and there it was, the most beautiful baseball diamond I had ever seen. RED BUCKET SEATS OY MY GOD. "Drive back there quick". He took me around to the gated entry where the players walk in every day. OH MY GOD LOOK AT THIS PLACE....THEY EVEN HAVE A SCOREBOARD!!! I literally thought I was dreaming. This could not be my life. What happened. How did I get here. Now what do I do?
First thing I did was check in at Jeff's. He had an awesome place, way better than what you would expect as a student. PERFECT I said. Next, I started going to the gym to hit it hard (it was still a few weeks before tryouts officially began). I went into the weight-room and introduced myself to Coach Parker. This guy had the most perfect physique anyone could hope for. He was like 6'2" and a former football player at South Daklota State, I believe. I started hammering the curls, attacking the bench-press, going to town on the squats. Every now and then Coach Parker would yell "Hey Vondran, when you gonna hit the abs?" LOL. He was such a great guy. Everything was off to the perfect start.
A couple weeks later, I was feeling so ready. There was a team meeting for all the players, both walkons like myself, and scholarship players. We met in a room and there must have been 150 guys in there. I was thinking wow, lots of people trying out. But, I knew I was as ready as I was going to be. Let's go for it!
One of the funny things I remember from this first meeting was this skinny kid named Ed comes in with his skateboard. I was checking him out. Someone said "That's Ed Zosky," he is the star shortstop. I was like "really" he looks more like a skateboarder. Then, when I first saw Ed on the field, it was magic. He had a magic glove and arm that would scoop up everything, and throw with firmness and accuracy from any position on the field (see "greatest double play ever" video down below to see what I mean). Ed would later become a first round draft pick and major league baseball player. We are still good friends today. Jeff Anderson, my "roomy" became a successful mortgage broker in California.
I shortly learned that the Fresno State Baseball team was STACKED with talent! Tom Goodwin, also a first round draft pick for the Dodgers, was on the team. The fastest guy I ever saw. If you bobbled the ball as an infielder, he had a hit. He also tagged up from second base and scored one time. There was Steve Hosey, a talented hitter and outfielder who could hit the ball a country mile and run like a deer. There was Lance Shebelut (called Sir-Lance-Alot on the scoreboard when he came up). He broker the schools homerun record and was the best hitter I ever saw. There were many other very high level players. So, not only did I walk into a Division 1 College, it turns out I walked on to one of the most talented college baseball teams in history. Three first rounders and a trip to the College World Series. Did I make the team? Read on.
Beiden Field in Fresno, California (now Bob Bennett Diamond)
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 (pictured in the background) like a mad man, doing anything I could to pick up speed. FSU was the greatest college sports experience I could have ever dreamed of.
TAKING CHARGE: Here is a picture of me catching. Bob Bennett made famous the "donut glove." All catchers had to use it. I hated it and actually pulled the glove apart and modified it to my own liking.
HAWAII DINGER SETUP: Here I am in "launch mode" in Hawaii. It was hard to hit a ball out of this stadium, but this was the picture of at at-bat where I did hit one out to left-center against a strong wind coming in. I was totally locked in mentally and physically.
GOD DAYS OF SUMMER: Here is a look into the dugout at Fresno State. I loved our Red, White and Blue uniforms.
By the time the official tryouts started I was ready to go. I remember waling into a room full of hopefuls (probably about 150 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. Ed Zosky, Lance Shebeulut, Tom Goodwin, Steve Hosey and others.
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. I had to break out quick.
d. The Guarddogs – basically the lowest level (to be put on this list was basically a gentle suggestion that you are probably wasting your time pursuing baseball 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. Very few ever make good money in professional sports and there are injury concerns that follow many athletes after their playing days are over.
Here's me hitting a longball against, Looks like BYU. Coach mike Rupcich was always there with the congrat. Great coach and man.
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 (first time I think we spoke in person) 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 would you?” 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!! But Bob really understood the game, and understood people. He knew how to get the most out of a player and he has had hundreds players drafted over his and Coach Rupcich's leadership and many who have played in the major leagues.
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. Mike now coaches and Bryan is a coach and businessman in Fresno.
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, I was placed on 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 came down the third base line. I dived for it and felt the ball hit the leather and got up and gunned out the runner. I don't remember my first at-bat ever in Division 1 but I had broke out of the Rock!
Here is an account of my "walk on" story from the local newspaper.
32-game win streak by FSU Bulldogs
Our team was awesome. We were lighting up the other teams and performing at peak levels. We 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. The 32 game streak was only snapped when shortstop Ed Zosky had to miss a game.
We hit over 120 home runs in 1988, and as a team 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 first round players were Steve Hosey, Tom Goodwin, and Eddie Zosky (“the rifleman” as it showed on the Screboard when he came to bat or made yet another game saving play).
Click here to read the press coverage on Santa Clara busting up our win streak.
I liked to play hard ball. Push the limits. Knock people over. Dive into a brawl to protect my team mates. I believe what's worth doing is worth DOING RIGHT! Hustle and elbow grease.
FSU 1988 Regionals
This chart shows our College regional bracket. You had to win this to get to the College World Series.
Opening game nail-biter with Minnesota Gophers – Game 1
Best double play in College baseball history to win it!
ZOSKY DOES IT! Fresno State Bulldogs needing a win in game 1 regionals at Beiden Field. The game was tight throughout. 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 back-hand flip).
WOW. I'm not sure I have ever witnessed a more amazing play. Zosky-to-Pearse-to-Shebelut. Minnesota cannot believe it. Dogs march on!
Mid regionals – going deep to left off Washington State to propel dogs into final day.
We found ourselves in the losers bracket, to our surprise, but we battled out like the Bulldogs we are. The fans must have stayed home and it must have been a cold night (no fans in the outfield as usual). Here I am going DEEP TO LEFT. Is it fair? Is it foul? "Ala Reggie Jackson" the announcer says. Bulldogs stay alive! Dogs win 7-6 and move into finals with U.S.C.
NOTE: FSU fans were the BEST and we had one of the top attendances in the Country. The "Dugout Club" was the best. They would make "beer pancakes" and provide a full buffet on Sunday home games. Great fans, great people.
Another Round-Tripper!! Hall of Famers Mike Burton and Lance Shebelut extending me a hearty congratulation! Great guys!! Mike is now a golf pro in Florida. Lance is in farming in Fresno area.
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.
SYNERGY - THE KEY TO SUCCESS: 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. They have fun together. They care about each other. 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 regional 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 my homerun that broke it wide 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. Ken is now in accounting. The game also featured "back-to-back-to-back" homeruns by our 7,8, and 9 hitters. Imagine having to face that.
Here is an account of the game from the L.A. Times. We were headed to the show in Omaha, Nebraska. I suppose I was going to get to Nebraska one way or the other!
Homerha! The College World Series
Long story short. 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. We went 13 innings with Miami, but could not find a way to win. We were literally on a plane home as quick as we got there.
Here is a song the local radio station made for us called "HOMERHA" (which features the call on the famous “back-to-back-to-back” home runs I discussed above). Former Dodger Jay Johnstone calling the action - 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 home run!
In the second game of the College World Series, I hit a home run against Miami on ESPN which hit off the scoreboard (which had my name displayed on it). It was my 16th home run 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.
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 (physical education). I was not sure what I was going to do with that, but thought sports psychology might be something I would look into. I studied under Ken Ravizza, sports psychologist for the Dodgers and Angels and he was the greatest professor I ever had. I wanted to be like him someday if baseball didn't pan out. You should buy his training materials at the link posted above.
ANOTHER AWESOME DAY AT BEIDEN FIELD: Looks like a shot from my Junior year. The stands were always filled with fun fans. About four to five thousand per game. The media was sensational! I was SO LUCKY I ended up here. People sometimes say "go to your happy place" well being on deck on a warm sunny day, that is my happy place and sometimes I go here.
HITTING TIP: The best way to try to hit a home run is to NOT try to hit a home run. 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.
TV interview. We always had media at our games and practices. Here I am after a big game with buddy Rich Crane in the background. Rich was also an all-American pitcher (aside from Bobby Jones the most accurate pitcher I ever saw), and I believe his is now a golf pro. I had golf class with him and he could really crush it.
College World Series – The Agony of Defeat!
INEVITABILITY. 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. In this picture, many of my Amigos. Mike Hills, Soob, Shully (Eric Schullstrom), Tom Goodwin, T-Frazier and Steve Lozano.
Once again, no sniffs for me
Even with all our power, top talent, 32-game win streak, the year ended, and despite hitting some mammoth bombs that year and hitting 16 home runs, I did not get so much as a sniff from any professional baseball scouts. I was really starting to wonder if there was ever a real chance for me to get drafted. I knew I had one more year, and a great place to play, so as Eminem said I went "back to the lab again."
Summer Ball (1988) – 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 with the Humboldt "Crabs." I had a great time in Eureka, California with my Buddy Steve Wolfe (now a successful real estate broker in Florida).
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. Steve Wolf and I loved to go to the local pizza joint and play this pinball machine called "Frontier" which would yell "Ride the Ferris Wheel" when you hit a certain shot. Good times.
TEAMMATES HAVING FUN: Not sure WHY they were crowning ME – these guys were first rounders and amazing players (Steve Hosey and Tom Goodwin) but it must have been a good reason!! : )
Steve Vondran recounts the 1988 Fresno State Run
1989 - The Year of the Draft!
It was around this time that I had to do some deeper soul-searching. I still believed I had the talent to play in the pros, but I was still not getting noticed or getting any interest, while others from my team were being drafted. It was tough.
I decided to make some adjustments that might help. For one, to cut down on my swing, and try to hit for a higher average (I only hit .297 my junior year), and secondly, to try to "find a position" as they say. This would give me one final shot, my senior year, to get drafted by a pro team.
I talked to coach Bennett about my goals. He made a career-changing move for me – he put me behind the plate and converted me to catcher. Now, 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. Bob would put us through rigorous training which included putting us catchers lined up at the left field fence and WHACKING fungoes at while we blocked the balls. I was no Johnny Bench, but at the end of the day, I figured it out and gave it my best shot. I now had a position.
FOCUSING: Cutting down my swing helped me jump my average from .297 as a junior to a league-leading .388 as a senior. I battled my teammate 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 where I nipped him out with my .388 average.
Yes, I did find a home, and nothing feels better than that.
RUNNER MAKES GOOD DECISION - Decides to stay put at first. Me Catching.
Here is a look at the top batting champions over the years. A couple big leaguers in there. Yours truly 1989.
When players push each other great things can happen. My home run total had dropped from 16 to 12, but still good power. I also had a position to play (catcher).
KID ICE: When superstar pitcher Bobby Jones was a freshman, I was fortunate enough to catch him. He was simply amazing, and an all-american that year. He is an all around great guy who had a phenomenal major league career.
Also, as fate would have it, I also got to play against UNLY and my old buddy Clutch who got to watch me launch a couple of home runs in Las Vegas. One, was the farthest ball I ever hit. I think it is probably still rolling. I know Clutch probably felt good for me and for us. We had both hit Division 1 and we were both starting. Him at first base.
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. Maybe Clutch taught me that?
Getting the Call
In the off-season my buddy "Soob" had given me a job at the Clovis Athletic Club selling health club memberships. I sold memberships, worked out, and yes, played a lot of basketball. One day, I came home to my girlfriend Beth (keep in mind she used to throw me "soft-toss" in the dark so I could practice at night with her car headlights shining on the fence) and the phone rang. She said it's for you. I answered, and the guy on the phone said he was with the Cincinnati Reds and they have drafted me a catcher in the 13th round of the 1989 draft. Get ready, you are a pr player now! I dropped the phone, hugged Beth, and ran out the door screaming, I DID IT, I DID IT!!! Although I grew up a staunch Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I turned RED really quick!!
Coach Ruppy and Captain Bob Bennett (Thank you)
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.
There was no better place to play than Beiden Field
Fresno State Baseball Wall of Fame video (thank you FSU for the amazing video)!!
INDUCTED: I eventually was nominated and inducted into 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 a lot of other great players, including many former major league players like Terry Pendleton and Mark Gardner and others.
Here was my plaque that hangs at what's now called Bob Bennet diamond.
Click here to listen to my podcast talking about the 1988 Bulldog Baseball run.
Cincinnati Reds – going pro!
When I saw this in the paper, I knew it was real. Guess what, Tommy and me went on the same day!
FIRSTIES: 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, and it did.
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.
Seeing the writing on the wall, 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 to play 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. The main thing being to bring intensity into. Field every ground ball and make every throw in practice like it is the world series. That helped me quite a bit. His brother Jason Gill is now head coach for the U.S.C. Trojans. Chris works for Sony Entertainment in San Diego area last I checked.
READY LIKE A CHEETAH: Go ahead and drop a bunt, I dare you!
LET IT RIDE! Local beer crowd looking on as I try to smash a hanging curveball.
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.
Here is the sports illustrated article. Underlined are my quotes.
B. Charleston West Virginia
In 1990, after rookie ball, I was sent to the A-ball team in Charleston West Virginia in the South Atlantic League (which we called SALLY league). We were so damn good that toward the end of the year it was literally not even fair to play us. We had 6 or 7 players eventually make it to the big leagues from that team (which in itself is amazing). Some of those players were Tim Pugh, Scott Pose, Darren Cox, Trevor Hoffman, Bob Ayala, Dan Wilson ( Motorboat Jones was also called up), Jerry Spradlin, and probably one or two others.
The final game was a blast (I think we won 25 of the last 28 games or something like that) so it was just absurd what we were able to accomplish as a team. Off the field we had more fun than I can mention on this post.
Here, I also played third base next to shortstop Trevor Hoffman who was from University of Arizona. Hoffman is a Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher – and WHAT AN ARM HE HAD LET ME TELL YOU! Also, a very funny guy!
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 both on and off the field. 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!
BONDING: Having some fun with Lenny Wentz (now owner of Rubberarm) after a Wheelers win in Charleston, West Virginia! Sensational pitcher Johnny Ray in the background!
South Atlantic League Championship
Championship game: 1-4 with an RBI. It also says one stolen base (wow, that was a rarity)!! You can see future major leaguers Dan Wilson (Mariners) and Scott Pose (Yankees) in the lineup! Here are two pictures – one with Dan Wilson and one with Scott Pose before the game in right field.
RIDE SALLY RIDE!
Here is a video clip from the final Championship game ( Click on the pic to watch the celebration video).
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES COME ON! Yes, we had joy we had fun we had seasons in the sun!
Next spring training - pulling up limp!
I had started spring training in 1991 on the Reds AA team, and was expecting to make the AA Chattanooga squad when something unfortunate happened. During the off-season 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 (even worked on toning my abs as coach Parker told me to do). 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 college and pro career.
They sent me over to the training room where there was hardly anyone there. There was, however one guy there riding the exercise bike – Eric Davis – (note that he was one of my favorite hitters growing up as a kid). I pulled up on the machine next to him and introduced myself and rode my bike as we talked. We talked baseball, and our injuries, and I learned he was a really great guy on top of being one of the best power hitters in the game. He told me that bad breaks are part of the game, and not to worry about it, something good would come.
Not that I had a choice, but I listened and 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 CRAP, 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. I wanted that AA assignment badly. Now, that was gone.
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 and hopeful assignment to Chattanooga AA, 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 (picture Forrest Gump Scene). This was not the bus to Chaffey College, this was the bus to the Pirates spring training camp for an afternoon game in the BIGS.
I saw only one seat toward the back and asked if he minded if I could sit there. He said “sure kid have a seat.” The player was Ron Oester on what I think was his last year with the Reds. He was a legend in his own right. We talked on the way to the field in Florida. He was a great guy, he just told me to have fun and relax, everyone puts their pants on the same way he said. The ride to the Pirates filed was about 20 or 30 minutes away. It was a perfect sunny day.
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, the player were ready for opening day. 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 a can of chew (copenhagen) and headed out to the the field.
I must admit it was a bit surreal to see my name on the linup card hanging in the dugout, hitting 8th it said. I wish I would have grabbed that lineup card.
My first at-bat was against lefty Neal Heaton (an all-star the year before). He hung a curve ball and I lined it to left for a single. This isn't so tough I said to myself. 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, winked 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 quickly. 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 throwing Bonilla out 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 “thanks, 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 and it is a game of inches as they say. But I nailed it and it felt good anyway.
I had one or two more at-bats, a fly-out and a walk, and we won the game. That is basically a short 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 with Oester. He pulled out a beer from his cooler under the chair, and said "nice job today, how did it feel?" I said, amazing, just amazing. 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!
Final thoughts about my big league game!
My “cup of coffee” (as they call it) 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. 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 onto a big league playing field on a sunny day with the greatest players in the world. I was in the lineup, I performed.
I think sometimes, what if I went to Nebraska University is this where I would have ended up? What if Bob Bennet didn't call me back when I sought a tryout, or what if I didn't learn how to catch in American Legion ball? What if I did not pull up limp in Spring training? Would I ever have got this taste of the coffee? I don't know. But, I believe as coach Alonso taught me in High School - Good things happen to good people.
Sent back to High-A ball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
C. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
After my cup of coffee, I was shipped out to play my third year in the Reds “high-A” league in Cedar Rapids.
DUGOUT SHOT: Here is a shot of me popping out of the dugout in Cedar Rapids (man, it was cold here but I still had my Florida spring training tan working)!!
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME: Cedar Rapids Reds field. High “A” baseball. This was a very cool old park, as you can see, it was called "Veterans Memorial." You could also smell a strange smell from a nearby factory.
GREAT DAY FOR A DOUBLE-HEADER: A shot of Cedar Rapids baseball stadium from left field. Notice the nice crowd-size!
NOTHING LIKE SEEING YOU MUG IN THE PAPER. Bottom right of the article mentions my home run off Tim Worrell!
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. My motion was denied!
HITTING PHILOSOPHY: My batting philosophy was simple – get a good pitch to hit and I liked FIRST PITCH SWINGING, good time to get a fastball. I did not like to hit from behind the count. Great hitters like Steve Pearse from Fresno State (NCAA hit leader in 1988) was good at being able to do this, but I was not.
So, I finished Cedar Rapids hitting .233. My worst ever. Frankly, it was embarrassing. It was super cold, I did not care much for Cedar Rapids, and ended up getting demoted to the "Low-A" team, sending me back to Charleston Wheelers in West Virginia.
However, we finished the year winning the championship and I pretty much figured it was going to be my last year playing baseball. I had some nagging injuries (finger and bone bruises), and realized I had played enough. I knew it would be tough to make it to the big leagues and I had to be honest with myself.
When we won with the final pitch, we did our on-field mobbing and hugging and before I went into the clubhouse for champagne, I threw my glove, hat and jersey into the stands and that was it. I finished on a winning note. Yes, I was still hitting fourth in the lineup and playing third base.
That December, I received the Red release letter. While I could have tried to pick up with another team, I was done. I was ready to move on and see what else life had to offer, this time perhaps from the academic side of life. So, I enrolled to finish my college degree at Cal State University of Fullerton (an old rival of ours) and a year and a half later I had my college degree.
Make sure to Catch Attorney Steve® Legal story which will be my next book.
Moving on after sports
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 when sports is over. 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 student-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 did this WITHOUT TAKING THE BAR EXAM, for more details you have to wait for my legal book. I later passed the Arizona bar and earned real estate brokers licenses in both California and Arizona.
I stared out doing a lot of real estate related work. Incorporating real estate brokers and helping with intellectual property or business matters and defending them in accusations and licensing disputes. I became a leader in foreclosure and real estate law and was invited on Fox News three times as a legal analyst. I was appointed to the prestigious Camelback Village Planning committee by the Mayor of Phoenix.
My practice eventually evolved into an intellectual property practice where I am a leader in copyright law in the United States. We have been in business since 2004 and I have litigated over 300 civil cases in state and federal courts in California, Arizona, New York and Texas.
I have argued many cases in state and federal courts in front of judges who were appointed by presidents. It has been quite a journey as a lawyer and I thoroughly enjoy representing people. I have recently been
These are just some of the highlights. So yes, there is life after baseball. You can visit my website at VondranLegal.com.
NOTE: As I am writing this, the song "BAND ON THE RUN" just started playing on my cable music channel. WEIRD RIGHT?
TIPS: 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. Have BIG DREAMS but START SMALL and work on it.
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. But, be realistic about your strengths and your weaknesses. Build on your weaknesses, don't neglect them.
3. Set obtainable goals – In arbitration and litigation cases (which is a lot 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 realistic 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 – Closed-mindedness is the curse of our times. This is a really big one and tough most people just want a pat on the back. But you need to be open to criticism. It's not easy to criticize someone but they are doing it for your own good. 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, but you have to listen to opposing viewpoints and you will find many times they are right or have the tip you need to break through. 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 it's the guts to stick it out despite what anybody else thinks of you. Be willing to go through the trials and tribulations, and in my case, as a lawyer, 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, nailing the case law cold, 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 right 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. We actually cared about each other and picked them up when needed. In law, we work together as a team, my clients and I, to set goals and achieve our outcomes. We work together with attorney and staff to make things happen. We talk, listen, and cooperate. Teamwork makes the dream work as we like to say.
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 teammate Scott Pose 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. Energy creates motion, and motion creates emotion. Put it out there and make sure you get your uniform dirty every game. Real dirty.
Quotes that guide me - [motivation]
Life can be tough folks. There are good days and tough ones, good games and bad (I think every day is a gift regardless), but you have to STAY POSITIVE and STAY FOCUSED on your dreams.
Here are some of the great quotes and movie clips that has always guided and inspired me, and always will. Click on these and watch with your kids
- Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing (Hellen Keller). Dare to be the person you dream you can be.
- It is never too late to be who you might have been (don't say "it's too late for me"). I went to law school in my 30's. The way I look at it (for myself at least, I am in the 6th inning of my life, the first 5 were great, but the 7,8, and 9th innings are AWLAYS THE BEST - anything can happen!
- Life is not a matter of CHANCE it is a matter of CHOICE!
- If it is to BE, it is up to ME
- Don't be a BLAMER, be a GAMER!
- The difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful person is not TALENT, it is a matter of the WILL TO SUCCEED.
- But by far my favorite is the critic:
“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.”
8. Sometimes we all need some encouragement from our buddies, friends, family, coaches and teammates. I recall my final year in pro ball, I was expecting to be in Double A ball in Chattanooga, Tenn. Right before spring training I pulled a hamstring (first time in my life). The Reds ended up sending me to the "high A" team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was freezing up there and I had a lousy first couple of months. I was later demoted to the "low A" team in Charleston, WV. I was really disappointed (in myself) and after a few weeks in Charleston (which is a lovely place), I felt like I wanted to hang up my cleets."
I told my good buddy, second baseman Chris Gill, that I felt like giving up. He just smiled and shook his head and said "Vonny, did you ever hear the Wilson Phillips song 'hold on for one more day' listen to it and pick yourself up, don't let them take you down." I listened to that song every morning for the next week and I CHANGED MY ATTITUDE."
We won a championship that year and my season ended up with me throwing my glove up in the air and third base on jumping on a pile of teammates in celebration. So, folks, YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN, SO STAY IN THE FIGHT, KEEP DIGGING, IF YOU FEEL DOWN TALK TO SOMEBODY, YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED HOW SOMEONE CAN PICK YOU UP. Thanks Chris you made a big difference at the time I needed it most.
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 in Charleston. I hit 85 mph on my best day (not a bad curve and change though). 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 this 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. It's not where you start, it's where you finish. It's the journey and not the destination.
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 also 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 (1600 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 knew 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.
Every athlete should watch these movies AT LEAST ONCE:
1. Forrest Gump (Ping Pong Scene)
3. Pursuit of Happyness (spelled wrong on purpose)
6. Top Gun
10. Facing the Giants - (The death crawl scene)
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. Steve Vondran mammoth home run in Las Vegas vs. UNLV
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!!!
Attorney Steve® Batting Tips – [Top 10 things to think about]
Best I can say about hitting can be summed up in these 10 main points.
- Be strong, get in good shape. You have to be able to throw that hammer!
- Be patience, you have to wait for a good pitch to hit (you cannot hit balls in the dirt, balls inside our outside, or balls over your head)
- Practice this over and over (be disciplined, there is no time for screwing around). You practice like every pitch is the world series. That way you won't freak out when you get there.
- Take some deep breaths before you get in the batter's box and just relax and trust yourself.
- Keep an eye on the pitcher in warmups. What does he like to throw? Can he get the curveball over? Do you know how they see YOU as a hitter? Be prepared for that.
- Don't be afraid to be a FIRST PITCH HITTER. Many times that is the best pitch you will ever get (keep in mind the pitcher always tries to get ahead in the count, and you can make a living on the first pitch regardless of what people tell you).
- If you get behind in the count 0-2, 1-2, (shorten up the cut, just put it in play, force them to make a play to get you out). Be aggressive as you can without going overboard (do not let the umpire do his dance). Umpires can be very unpredictable. Try to get a feel for him as well. Do not let them CALL YOU OUT on strikes. Yes, it will happen, but minimize these. If the pitcher makes an outstanding pitch, sometimes you just lose. That's why 3-10 is superstar level after all.
- I found mental imagery on the bus ride and night before to be helpful. Listen to music that pumps you up and just visualize pitches coming in, and you spray the ball all across the field. Van Halen was my music. Close my eyes and listen to "Right Now" or "Jump" or Bruce Springsteen "Born. to Run" on the way to the game. Just visualize all the great plays and hits you are going to do.
- Talk to others, talk hitting, see what others have to say. Everyone is different. Incorporate what makes sense, but try to not switch around every game. Find out what works for you, what allows you to see the ball best, and what gives you the best plate coverage.
- Have fun, try not to get frustrated on the 7 out of 10. See if you can keep your cool and learn something, anything, about those at-bats. One player I played with (he made the major leagues), used to keep a book on pitchers. He wanted to learn from failure.
MY MAIN MAN SOOB: 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 spark-plug that made our 1988 bulldog baseball team go. Love Love Love this great man!! We still do business together.
MY HOMIES: Jon Fuller, Steve Vondran, Eugene “Motorboat Jones” and Kevin Riggs in Cedar Rapids! Last I checked Riggins was a AA baseball coach. Fuller started a baseball academy.
What I miss
People often ask me what I miss most about baseball. Well, there are many things.
The friendships, memories, smell of fresh cut grass, cheap hotels, chalking of the field, filling of the stands by our great fans, the smell of BBQ in the air, the controversial calls by the umpires, close games going extra innings, walk off home runs, tape ball in the locker, eating at Becky's Country kitchen, teamwork, traveling on dark windy roads in the middle of nowhere at night, champagne, parties.....these 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 enjoyed my walk down memory lane nonetheless.
Bookmark this page. Coming next:
- Attorney Steve® Legal Story
- Attorney Steve® Lisa Love Story
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