This was going to be the easiest Editor's Letter I'd written all year. It's summer and I wanted to reflect that change in atmosphere by putting aside the usual issues and bringing together baseball and education.
I'd taken a hardly original idea--asking baseball players to name their favorite teachers--and was ready to apply it to the San Diego Padres. The rest would be as easy as typing.
It didn't work out that way, but as often happens when plans go awry, the lesson you didn't expect to learn is better than what was planned.
Everything started smoothly. After the National School Boards Association show in San Diego, I went to Petco Park, got into the San Diego clubhouse, and went about asking what I thought was an easy question.
The first ballplayer I tried mentioned that his mom was a teacher. I asked him for someone he actually had in a classroom. He thought for several moments, and then simply said, "You stumped me badly."
The person next to him started to mention a high school teacher from whom the class stole breath mints, and it was then that I realized this could be a lot tougher than I thought.
I persevered and had better luck with the next group of players. Second baseman Mark Loretta, who grew up in Arcadia, Calif., quickly mentioned Thomas Moran, his high school English teacher from St. Francis High School in La Canada, Calif. Starting pitcher Brian Lawrence picked Mike Stinnett from the Linden-Kildare Consolidated Independent School District in Linden, Texas. Outfielder Dave Roberts, who grew up in Vista, Calif., chose his seventh-grade teacher Mr. Nelson. "He read us those O. Henry stories with a twist," Roberts said. "Whenever I hear an O. Henry story I think of him."
Then I stopped at pitcher Adam Eaton's locker. He was about the fifth person to point out that my "easy" question was anything but. Eaton said he came from a family of teachers, including his father, his brother and his sister-in-law.
He struggled to narrow down the designation to one person before naming Gerry Salvadelena, his seventh-grade teacher in Snohomish, Wash. Eaton said he had dissected frogs and crawfish in the class, but more than the work he remembered that his teacher was "easygoing and a lot of fun." The more he talked about Salvadelena, the more he warmed to the topic.
Then Eaton hit upon a great idea. "This is good," he said. "Send me the story and I'll show it to him. This will make up for my not inviting him to my wedding." Eaton explained that this oversight was made worse because his wife, Meggan, also had Salvadelena as a teacher.
Well by now you can see I've kept my promise to publish Eaton's story, but I decided to go further. I called Salvadelena and gave him the good news myself. "That really is an honor because we have a lot of good teachers here," he said.
Salvadelena said he had Eaton in seventh and 10th grades, and he coached him on the basketball team. "I like to use him as an example for my kids now," he said. "When he played basketball for me, I felt like he gave every ounce of effort he had. He wasn't the best, but he didn't stop ever."
When I asked the teacher if this designation made up for the wedding snub, he said it did without a doubt. "I got past [not being invited] right after I told them about it," he said. "You could see the genuine hurt on their faces. ... When you think so much of a student and he does that, I'm honored."