Former NFL quarterback Dan Pastorini, who learned to ride horses, drive single-cylinder quarter-midget race cars, and throw baseballs and footballs as a boy growing up in Tuolumne County, plans to saddle up and ride again in Saturday’s 64th Mother Lode Roundup Parade.
Pastorini, 73, who moved to Sonora when he was 6 months old in October 1949, said he remembers the very first Roundup Parade in 1958.
“I was dressed as Elvis Presley in the first kiddies parade,” Pastorini said Thursday in a phone interview while traveling from Texas to San Jose. “I won one of the little statues.”
Pastorini, who quarterbacked for the Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, and Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s and 1980s, said he plans to do a public meet-and-greet Saturday at the Wilco Farm Store in the Sonora Plaza Shopping Center at 750 Mono Way from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. before the Roundup Parade starts at 10 a.m.
He said he’ll be riding one of his nephew’s horses in the parade, helping carry banners for his charity, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Be an Angel, www.beanangel.org, which he says has raised more than $4 million for handicapped individuals and their families over the past 15 years.
“We’re just hoping to see old friends, create awareness, and help families,” Pastorini said. It’s been about 15 years since the last time he visited Tuolumne County.
Pastorini came to Sonora more than 70 years ago with his parents, Dante and Dorothy, who bought about 10 acres at Browns Flat and opened Pastorini’s Longhorn Club Cafe in the late 1940s.
“Spaghetti and meatballs and soup and salad for a buck fifty,” he said and laughed, “Times have changed.”
He said he did every job any kid could be told to do at the Longhorn.
“Taking out garbage, doing dishes, stacking the supply room, making garlic bread, dishing up soups and salads, and I learned how to cook from my dad,” he said, adding that he’s still making and selling his namesake barbecue rubs and seasonings.
Dan Pastorini learned to ride horses in the arena his father set up outside the restaurant, where visiting cowboys would stage “little rodeos” and do trick-riding performances.
The Pastorinis had a barn out back for the horses, and Dan Pastorini was about 6 when he first got up on one to ride. Decades later, being comfortable around horses helped him get along with Houston Oilers head coach Bum Philips, who used to ride cutting horses on his free time, he said.
These days, Dan Pastorini lives north of Houston in a development called The Woodlands and said he spends a lot of his time since retiring from the NFL working on his charity and a golf tournament in Houston, which raises money for the Be an Angel Foundation.
Dan Pastorini said he decided to come back to Sonora for this year’s Roundup because his nephew contacted Jim Opie with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse, which has organized annual Roundup events since the first one back in 1958.
Opie’s father used to work on all of Dante Pastorini’s cars, as well as the quarter-midget cars Dan Pastorini used to race on the dirt track behind the Longhorn. He started racing quarter-midgets when he was about 8 years old.
“It was a dirt track, and a few kids locally and a few kids from Oakdale, we’d race,” Dan Pastorini said. “It was a fun deal for us kids, it created some entertainment for the restaurant crowd, and it brought in business.”
Coming back to Sonora always stirs up memories, he said. The Roundup always reminds him of how it was that time of year all the kids looked forward to, because it was time to go to the fairgrounds and see the rodeo. His favorite events included team roping, saddle bronc riding, and calf roping.
“I haven’t been back in so long, hopefully they are still doing things for the community,” Dan Pastorini said. “Whatever they’re doing in a positive light, we’re happy to be there.”
Dan Pastorini attended kindergarten through sixth grade at Columbia Elementary and transferred to Sonora Elementary for seventh and eighth grades. He played varsity left field with eighth graders when he was still in third grade, and he was a star in pony league baseball before he left Tuolumne County. He was later drafted by the New York Mets in 1967, but passed on the opportunity to pursue his career in professional football.
In 1963, Dan Pastorini left Sonora for a boarding school in the Bay Area. One time he remembers he came back for the Roundup in the 1990s as a spokesman for Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey.
He hopes there are still some people at this weekend’s Roundup events who remember him.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody,” he said. “I hope there’s still some people my age still around and they’ll recognize me. It’s a real tradition, the county’s western heritage. I’m happy to be coming back for it.”
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or (209) 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.