WALLA WALLA - Jeff Cirillo took a life lesson from his experiences playing youth baseball.
"I have a mantra of, ‘Finish what you start,'" the former Major League All-Star and part-owner in the Walla Walla Sweets, said. "Whether it be baseball, dinner, homework - or even a video game!"
Cirillo will undoubtedly convy more words of wisdom Saturday evening as the featured speaker at the Walla Walla Valley Youth Baseball and Softball Association's 28th dinner and auction.
The event annually raises more than $50,000 that goes to local baseball leagues serving players ages 13-19, and softball leagues ages 5-19. That includes funding the "Batter-up program, in partnership with Cummins Athletic Supply, which provides gear and apparel for those who need some help getting to the plate; and capital improvement projects such as fencing, field maintenance and lighting on local fields.
Cirillo followed his youth and high school baseball careers by playing for the University of California. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Milwaukee Brewers after graduating USC in 1991.
He made his Major League debut with the Brewers in 1994. In 1997, he was named to the All-Star team, and in 1999 he hit .326 for the Brewers before being traded to the Colorado Rockies.
Cirillo had another .326 average his first season with the Rockies and was named to his second All-Star Game. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners after an injury-riddled 2001 season in which he hit .313.
He spent two years in Seattle, and part of a season with San Diego before rejoining the Brewers. In 2007 he played for the Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks, before joining the Brewers' television crew in 2008.
As part-owner of the Walla Walla Sweets, which open play in the West Coast League June 8 at Borleske Stadium, Cirillo said the team means more than just baseball to the Walla Walla Valley.
"I think it will be a huge hit for entertainment value," he said. "Zach Fraser is a jewel for (general manager). He has so many ideas and most reflect on players from the Sweets dealing with the community.
"We are looking to create a bond between the community and the Sweets," Cirillo said. "The uniforms, ballpark, host families, speaking engagements for the players - these are all part of the process to have the Sweets be a reflection of Walla Walla."
For the young baseball and softball players of the Walla Walla Valley, "huge dividends can be achieved through playing baseball and softball," Cirillo said. "Dealing with adversity, fellowship, being relied upon in situations, confidence, accountability, plus fun with friends."
And his advice for players young and old?
"Hustle on and off the field,"he said. "I scout for the Diamondbacks and I can't always tell good from great players, but I can tell a ton about a guy's work ethic and make-up by the way his energy is on the field."
As for his initial involvement with the Sweets, Cirillo said he wasn't quite sure what to expect, but has been pleasantly surprised.
"Seeing how it has materialized is something that has been very exciting," he said. "As a player, you have such high's when you get a big hit or win a big game. I get the sense that the Sweets will have that same effect, but maybe on a larger scale.
"See, for me, I want these ballplayers to all fullfill their dreams of being Major League players," Cirillo said. "Most won't but some will and I like the fact that the community of Walla Walla and myself will play a small part in that process.
"The second part is, I think minor league baseball has a slice of Americana you can see but is hard to duplicate. Families coming out to the park enjoying baseball and spending time together.
"That is why I am involved."