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Lyons life was family, friends, community and baseball

With the recent Major League Baseball postseason and World Series playing out, mine and so many others’ thoughts gravitate to the loss of a vital member of our Valley community.

Don Lyons, who strongly battled, but finally succumbed to cancer at age of 63 on Oct. 20, touched the lives of many in the two communities he cared so much for – the Sonoma Valley and whole Valley of the Moon and the city of his birth and growing and stomping grounds, San Francisco.

While speaking from my heart, I know I’m sharing thoughts and feelings with a host of others who got to know Don in one or many capacities – for more insight read Bill Hoban’s touching, informative and straight-forward (how Don took on life’s challenges) Sonoma Index-Tribune story published Friday, Oct. 26.

For me, the saddeness of his death is magnified since I’m from the same two communities, though by different life-avenues, that Don was and while sharing our lives, we bonded over the same passions for family, friends and sports, specifically his favorite, most personal and linked to his competitive soul, baseball.

I got to know Don from our working relationship when I was the Sonoma Index-Tribune sports editor and he the Sonoma Valley High School head varsity baseball coach for the past 18 years. I covered his beloved Dragons for 16 of those years, having retired after the 2015 season.

So I was there when Don coached his varsity Dragon teams to to most of his 258-158 overall record, which included multiple SCL titles and Sonoma’s first and still only North Coast Section baseball championship in 2008, with his sophomore son, Tommy, making him proud as a catalyst for that squad.

I had the privilege of watching and enjoying such a strong and bonded father-son relationship that was enhanced by love, respect, good communication and that shared passion in baseball.

During the diamond season, I would interview him over the phone after games and we would first talk the game played and the business of baseball, which would bring out our shared passion for the sport until we’d finally wrap up another long, enjoyable conversation and he’d often say he wanted to get back to Frank.

As in Frank Sinatra – Don used to say he was an old soul – and there were times I could hear Frank singing in the background as Don’s wife, Teresa, answered the phone.

Actually I got to know Teresa by talking with her over the phone during baseball season when I called a couple times a week and I actually didn’t meet her in person for quite a while.

We found out a lot about each other over the years and that, besides sports, we were also linked by our love for literature, with me as a writer and Don as an English teacher at SVHS.

Both of us also had San Francisco roots that included our love for “The City” and its rich baseball history that we both got to live, especially Don.

After a stellar baseball career at Riordan High School, City College of San Francisco and playing on a full-ride baseball scholarship at Gonzaga University in Washington, where Don, for the third time, was drafted by MLB teams, this time by the California Angels in 1976.

He played in their farm system for three years and during this time he met and played with one of his best friends, Chicago Cubs manager, and two-time MLB manager of the year, Joe Maddon, who I later found out through Don that Joe and I had a connection.

Both Joe (half-Italian) and me are Italian-Americans who love good red wine and it turned out that he’s from the same Pocono Mountain mining region of Pennsylvania, not far from where my father’s family settled after arriving from Italy, in the town of Sugar Notch just outside of Wilkes-Barre.

After the Angels released him in 1979 and his career also ended with an injury during the following year’s spring training, Don became a San Francisco fireman, inspired to follow in the footsteps of his father, a department captain who died in the line of duty when Don was 13 years old. Don would wear his father’s badge proudly when he served his fellow San Franciscans.

Of course there’s always a lot more I could write about Don, but first and foremost, Don loved his family, friends, teammates, city and country communities, his fellow San Francisco firefighters, his students and always his teammates during his playing days and then his players during his coaching days.

Along with all his qualities we’ll be missing was his infectious and inquisitive smile and laugh that brought you into his moment.

Ciao!