Bill Rozak


The Union Democrat

Three-time World Series champion and sure-fire future Hall of Famer Tony La Russa is coming to the Mother Lode this summer.

La Russa will appear at two separate functions in Tuolumne County on Saturday, June 23.

The first will be "Lunch with La Russa," a barbecue at Sonora High School's Bud Castle Gym which will focus on raising money for the Sonora Wildcat baseball program. The second event will promote Habitat for Humanity, which will be held at the private residence of La Russa's good friends Roger and Judy Houghton near Twain Harte.

"It's pretty incredible," said Wildcat baseball head coach Scott Johnson. "Anytime you can get a future Hall of Famer to take some time from his busy schedule to give back to high school baseball, it's a great thing. We're very fortunate to have him coming here. Jim Todd really made this happen."

La Russa was originally scheduled to appear only at the Habitat for Humanity fundraiser, but Todd, Roger Houghton's friend, heard about it and thought it might be a good opportunity to do something more.

"I asked Roger if he thought Tony would mind making another appearance," said Todd, who has a son, Connor, playing on the Wildcat junior varsity team. "Roger told me Tony said, 'He'd be more than happy to do that.' "

Todd, COO of California Gold Development Corporation, became friends with the Houghtons after building their house. He and his family are baseball enthusiasts and are on a mission to visit all 30 major league baseball parks and are within a few of reaching their goal.

"I just thought this would be a great opportunity that we couldn't pass up," said Todd. "I have a real passion for the game and I'm hoping people will show up in support. If we have a good turnout, maybe the greater word gets out to the world about our local community. Success breeds success."

La Russa's baseball resume is legendary.

He spent 33 seasons managing in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals. He won six pennants, three with the A's and three with the Cardinals. He won his first World Series title in 1989 with the A's. He won two more with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. He retired in October as the third most winningest manager with 2,728 wins behind Hall of Famers Connie Mack and John McGraw. La Russa also bounced up-and-down between the minor and major leagues as a player for another 10 seasons.

It's safe to say the man has forgotten more baseball than anyone will ever know.

The barbecue baseball fundraiser will begin at 11 a.m. and tickets will be $20. La Russa will speak to the audience and after will likely be available for photographs and autographs. There may also be chances to purchase autographed items and win raffle prizes.

Shortly after the barbecue, La Russa will head up Highway 108 for the Habitat for Humantity fundraiser which begins at 3:30 p.m. and will last through the evening.

The Houghtons, who have been longtime advocates of Habitat for Humanity and have helped build 48 houses, will host this 4th annual event. Tickets are $75.

Among activities at the event will be live music provided by Chains Required, local wineries providing their select vintage and a Mr. and Mrs. Habitat contest -a birdhouse buildingexercise where the end results will be auctioned.

"What we're really trying to do is blend two things together and really supporting the youth in Tuolumne County whether it's through sports or housing need," said Roger Houghton, who has been close with La Russa for over 10 years. "Tony is a wonderful human being. He'll give an autograph to anybody who asks him."