When Don Lyons was a kid, he wanted to be a baseball player, a firefighter and a teacher.
Lofty dreams indeed, but Lyons became all three. He played minor league baseball in the Los Angeles Angels farm system, was a firefighter for the San Francisco Fire Department and taught English at Sonoma Valley High for more than a decade. And for the last 18 years he was the Sonoma Valley High Dragon baseball coach.
But for the past two years, he waged a gallant fight against cancer, a fight that he lost last Friday morning, Oct. 20. He was 63.
Don Lyons was born Oct. 7, 1954, in San Francisco, the third of four brothers.
He went to Riordan High School in San Francisco where he was cut from the freshman baseball team. The next year, as a sophomore, not only did he make the varsity, he was a three-year starter at first base and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1972. He didn’t sign, and instead headed to CCSF where after a year, he was drafted again by the Orioles and the Oakland A’s in two separate drafts in 1973.
Lyons again declined to sign and headed to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, on a full-ride baseball scholarship. Along the way, he was accorded various honors and was the Northern Pacific Conference Player of the Year in 1976.
In 1976, he was drafted by the California Angels and spent three years in their farm system playing in Salinas, California; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and El Paso, Texas. It was while he was playing in the minors that he met and became friends with current Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Last year, in the fifth game of the World Series, the action was stopped for baseball’s annual Stand Up to Cancer.
All of the fans, the players and the umpires were given cards ahead of time that they could fill in the name of someone to honor.
The television cameras panned around the stadium stopping on various players and spectators
Cubs’ Manager Maddon was shown holding a sign that simply said, “Doc,” which was Lyons’ nickname when the two of them played together.
“I didn’t know he was going to do that,” Lyons said at the time. “We were watching and my son Travis, said, ‘I think he means you.’”
Lyons was released by the Angels in the fall of 1978, and went to spring training the next year where he ran into a brick wall, injuring himself and ending his baseball career.
In 1979, he joined the San Francisco Fire Department, following in his father’s footsteps. His father, who was a captain in the fire department, died when Don was 13. While he was a firefighter, Don wore his late-father’s badge.
But Don Lyons had baseball in his blood. He played on various fire department softball teams including the department’s first co-ed team.
Being a firefighter takes a toll on one’s body and Lyons ended up having nine knee surgeries before hanging up his turnouts.
From 1992 to 1994, he was a volunteer freshman baseball coach for Sonoma Valley High and became head coach of the junior varsity from 1995 to 1999. And in 1999, he became head coach of the Dragon varsity baseball team, a team he coached until he stepped down this past June.