Tonight when PawSox manager Torey Lovullo walks out to home plate to exchange lineup cards, his shoes will be double-knotted because of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
It’s not a tribute to the coaching legend following his death. Lovullo has tied his shoes that way for more than 30 years.
“I used to go to his basketball camps every year, and they were some of the greatest things I’ve even been a part of,” Lovullo said. “He would come in those big horn-rimmed glasses and watch you intently. I remember he called me over and said, ‘Come here young fella. Are your shoes tied?’ I looked down and the laces were kind of loose because I had only tied one knot. He said, ‘Never go without double-knotting your shoes.’ So I will double-knot my shoes for the rest of my life whenever I am in competition. He believed that it was a selfish maneuver and took time away from the team if you had to take time to tie your shoes.”
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
Torey grew up in Southern California and vividly remembers rooting for Wooden’s teams as a kid.
“That’s a big reason why I went to UCLA,” Lovullo said. “My dad went to UCLA and I felt like I had to go there. There was a huge attraction because I had been cheering for them my whole life, starting with UCLA basketball.
“I remember sitting there and watching Coach Wooden’s last game in 1975. I was 10 years old and I was really having a tough time understanding why he was retiring. I said to my dad, ‘Why is it his last game? He looks so intense and is so good at it. Why is he stopping dad?’ I just couldn’t get that. But my dad explained that Coach Wooden had probably decided that he was going to retire at 65 to dedicate his life to his wife, kids, and grandkids.
“My dad would constantly say, ‘Be quick Torey, but don’t hurry.’ If I didn’t hear it once, I heard it probably 10,000 times from my dad. It wasn’t until I was about 18 and I opened up a book of John Wooden’s most famous quotes that I realized that he was the man who came up with, ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ For all of those years, I thought my dad was brilliant.”
The lessons continued after Lovullo began playing baseball for the Bruins. Once after a win over archrival USC, Torey walked into a Pioneer Chicken franchise in his UCLA baseball uniform to grab a quick bite to eat. As he waited in line, he was approached by an elderly gentleman who asked how the team had done. Torey answered, “We beat USC,” and realized it was Coach Wooden.
“Congratulations young man,” Wooden told him. “And remember, those four letters across your chest have got to mean something to you. Every time you can, you beat those Trojans.”
Wooden was not only the source of meaningful life lessons for Torey. For many years, he helped the PawSox manager give out some great Christmas gifts.
“I gave everybody that I know autographed basketballs from Coach Wooden for a Christmas present for about five years,” Torey said with a laugh. “You would go to the athletic department, put a little sticker on the ball and leave it in a big pile. Then you would go back a month later and they would all be signed. He didn’t charge a dime. The first time I did it was for me and my dad. I left stickers that requested, ‘To Sam’ and ‘To Torey,’ and I went back a month later and they were there. I think anybody could have sent a basketball to UCLA and Coach Wooden would have signed it.
“I have a great black and white picture where I am sitting beside Coach Wooden when I was about 7 or 8 years old and he autographed it, ‘To Torey, Coach Wooden.’ I went to a UCLA basketball game with my son about 10 years ago when he was right around the same age and had the same photo taken with Coach Wooden. So I have the two photos in a frame together and that’s going to be an heirloom that will be in the family forever.”
In other words, John Wooden is a string that ties Torey Lovullo to his father and his son.
In a double knot.
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Ryan Kalish picked a great time to hit his first Triple-A home run. His 2-run blast in the 13th inning gave Pawtucket an 8-6 win in Louisville on Saturday night.
The two teams meet again on Sunday at 6:05. I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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