“We lost,” said retired San Bernardino Valley College athletic trainer Mike Sola, “an icon among icons.”
He was speaking about Tommy Lasorda, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Hall of Fame manager who died at age 93 on Jan. 8.
There was, it seems, a connection between Sola, who spent 37 years as SBVC’s trainer through May 21, 2019, and the onetime Dodgers’ skipper.
Somehow, Sola had to prove himself to Lasorda — especially when he met the longtime L.A. manager at the 2016 Little League Western Regionals in nearby Devore a few years back.
Sola, of Highland, was trainer for the final game. Ken Lane, a local doctor from Highland, “told me to get there early because I was in for a treat.”
When Lasorda, who had to be 89-years-old at that moment, showed up just before the game surrounded by a pair of security guards, it was Lane who introduced Lasorda to Sola.
“I was petrified,” said Sola, who’d been introduced to Lasorda as “one of his biggest fans,” by Lane.
“The only thing I could say was my dad took me to my first baseball game in 1959 when I was six-years-old.”
It turns out that Lasorda, a southpaw, was pitching that day. Cuban Winter League baseball was huge, at least in the days before President Fidel Castro banned it.
The game was played at Estadium del Cerro in Havana, Cuba. Sola’s dad had taken Mike to visit his great grandmother in Havana. At that game, Sola was presented with a scorecard “so I could learn to keep score, which I did.”
Fifty-seven years later, the Cuba-born Sola told Lasorda, “You pitched a complete game beating Mariano [the opposing team] and you pitched for Almendariz, beat them, 5-1, struck out seven, walked two and gave up four hits.”
Lasorda, recalled Sola, “just stared at me.”
There were a couple of security guards with Lasorda, who turned to them and said, “See? This kid saw me pitch and I told you guys I was pretty good.”
Lasorda spent 70 years in the Dodgers’ organization. Sola caught him at a solo moment during that lengthy connection.
At Western Region headquarters in Northern San Bernardino that day, there was some chat between Sola and Lasorda, which happened to be spoken in Spanish.
“How beloved he was by the Cuban people in the exile and how proud we were when he took a bunch of college and minor league players and beat a loaded Cuban National team for the gold medal in the Olympics in Australia.”
Lasorda dedicated that 2000 Sydney triumph to the American people, said Sola, “and especially to all the Cubans in the U.S.”
There was a photo taken of the two men together.
Sola said he later sent that photo with a self-addressed envelope and a note asking if Lasorda “could please autograph it.” Two days later, it was returned with the signature.
“There will be a thousand Lasorda stories as there should,” said Sola. “This one is mine.”