Casting a long shadow on the field and in the classroom.
He was nicknamed “The Stork.” At 6 feet 5 inches tall, George Theodore BS’69 MSW’78 stood out among the 1973 New York Mets. He flew on his long legs, making him a dynamite first baseman and a quick outfielder. Theodore’s baseball career started early. He hit his first home run at age 9 and, within a couple of years, became a terrific pitcher. Imagining a grand future for himself in baseball, he recalls a scout for the New York Yankees bringing brochures to one of his Little League games. Young Theodore hit .750 that season, “yet the Yankees didn’t try to sign me!” It was a great disappointment for the 11-year-old, but he was not deterred.
He played baseball at Salt Lake City’s Skyline High School, then at the University of Utah while obtaining his bachelor’s degree in psychology. At the U, Theodore demonstrated his speed, lettering all three years he played and leading the school’s team in stolen bases in 1967 and 1968. He was known for his fielding abilities in the outfield and at first base, and during his senior year in 1969, led the team with 24 RBI and the second best batting average at .336.
That year—upon the recommendation of his aunt—Theodore applied to the U’s Master of Social Work (MSW) Program. Shortly after being accepted, though, he was drafted by the New York Mets in the 31st round of the amateur draft. He decided to play with the team’s minor leagues through the summer before returning to Salt Lake City for fall semester. And then, “I did better than anyone expected,” recalls Theodore. So he put graduate school on hold.
Over the next few years, Theodore climbed the minor league ladder, playing with teams in Virginia, Florida, California, and Tennessee. During spring training in 1973, he finally got a spot on a major league team—the New York Mets. “I was delighted to be there!” Theodore recalls. He’d played first base in the minor leagues, but his tall build, impressive wingspan, and great speed made him a strong asset to the Mets in the outfield… if only for a short period of time.
On July 7, 1973, the Mets were playing the Atlanta Braves at home in Shea Stadium. In the seventh inning, the Braves’ Ralph Garr hit the ball deep toward left center field. With eyes on the ball and running at full tilt, Theodore and center fielder Don Hahn collided with each other and the wall, then fell to the ground. Theodore was carried off the field on a stretcher. Although he broke no bones, the collision dislocated Theodore’s hip. “I was never the same player after that,” he says. Theodore rejoined the team in mid-September and returned to the field just in time for the postseason.
The Mets won the National League East title, as well as the National League pennant that year, sending them to the 1973 World Series.
On October 13, 1973, the Mets faced the Oakland Athletics in the first game of the World Series. The team had won the series just four years earlier, so the franchise’s second shot at the title came with some extra pressure. Yet Theodore recalls feeling prepared for the no-doubt overwhelming experience. “In my backyard growing up, I played a thousand championship teams,” he chuckles. It was a hard-fought series between two talented and well-matched teams. But in Game 7, the A’s defeated the Mets and won the World Series. It was a disappointment, to be sure, but Theodore’s spirits were soon lifted.
The next year, he met Sabrina BFA’81, a charming fan from Jackson Heights, New York. “I found out the reason I was on the Mets,” he says. “It was fate.” The two eventually married, and, now 39 years later, Sabrina teaches art at Uintah and Oakridge elementary schools in Salt Lake City.
Theodore played sparingly during the 1974 season. Although he wasn’t experiencing pain, after his injury, he didn’t have as much motion or strength as he’d had before. His last game with the Mets was October 2, 1974.
He returned to Salt Lake City in 1975 and, the following year, was once again accepted into the U’s MSW Program. Theodore focused his education on medical social work and completed his practicum in the VA Hospital in Helena, Montana. Upon graduating in the spring of 1978, he found few open positions for medical social workers, so he accepted a position with the Granite School District’s elementary counseling program. It turned out to be the perfect fit.
As a school social worker, he towered above the young people with whom he worked, yet his warm demeanor, quirky sense of humor, and terrific baseball stories made him easily accessible to both kids and parents. For many years, Theodore spent one day each week working at Granite High School. But when the school permanently closed in 2009, he began spending the whole week at Lincoln Elementary. He loved working with kids. “You can see a lot of change in a hurry,” he remarks. With the elementary-aged children, he could observe improvements in self-esteem and social skills in just a few sessions. (With teens, he notes, it often took longer for students to see the changes they worked toward.)
This May, after 38 years with the school district, Theodore said his goodbyes and retired. He proudly shares that Lincoln became increasingly diverse during his tenure, and that when he left, the student body included 70 children with refugee backgrounds, and 30 different languages echoed through the halls. Of his nearly four decades as a school social worker, he remarks, “It’s gone by kind of fast.” During his time, he supervised 10 MSW students from the U in their practicum placements, seven of whom went on to be hired by the district. “It has been a wonderful profession,” he says, “very energizing.”
Theodore is directing his energy elsewhere these days—settling into retirement; golfing with one of his former social work professors, Larry Smith BS’70 MSW’72 DSW’74; grooming the family poodles; and spending more time with his wife and their son, Alexander BS’08, who is a professional golfer. Perhaps his retirement will also include cheering for the Mets in another shot at a World Series title. “One game doesn’t mean a thing,” says The Stork of their 2015 loss. “The Mets are a team of destiny.”
—Jennifer Nozawa is a public relations specialist for the College of Social Work.