Richard Dunn’s memoir takes him on a therapeutic journey
by Alondra Campos
photography by Maxwell Sierra
Only a few can say they had the privilege of writing a memoir during their lifetime. Memoirs evoke laughter, tears, joy, sadness, empathy, and pull at your every heart string. Memoirs submerge you into the author’s deepest and most heartfelt moments of their life. They take you on a journey that perhaps you would have never considered taking before. But most of all, memoirs are meant to inspire. And for one of University of La Verne’s very own, the dream of writing an inspirational memoir came true.
Richard Dunn, class of 1988 University of La Verne alumnus, published his memoir this November titled “One Pitch Wonder.” Richard’s story takes you through his baseball and sports writing career, as well as the incredible story of his late son Julian, who despite his courageous battle against brain cancer, passed away at just 9 years old. Through each of the nine chapters, or “innings” as they are called in the memoir, you dive into the world of Richard Dunn and get a behind the plate experience of his life. From his greatest moments in minor league baseball to the heartbreaking moments of despair and frustration in the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Richard reveals his most impactful moments in hopes of inspiring others who may feel alone in situations like his. “Writing this memoir is truly a dream come true,” he says. “I hope this can remind families who struggle with kids with disabilities to never lose faith and hope, and to comfort them in the darkest moments.”
“One Pitch Wonder” captures you the second you pick up the book with its beautiful cover of Julian in his teal Little League Challenger baseball uniform throwing the ceremonial first pitch at Little League Opening Day. You can see the fortitude and determination in his face, very much like the tiger shark mascot on his jersey. The catcher and guest speaker on opening day, also shown in the cover, is none other than former major leaguer Shawn Green.
“I titled my memoir ‘One Pitch Wonder’ because of that specific photograph of Julian,” Richard says. “He really is a one pitch wonder since that was his first and only pitch, and he did a great job doing it.” You can see that the pitch is a perfect strike.
The book’s first and last chapters are solely dedicated to the joyous and playful Julian who was always the life of the party. The chapters in between depict the jubilant and adventurous baseball career that Richard Dunn had during and after his college years, along with his life-long sports writing career. Richard was always a baseball fan at heart from a very young age. When he was 11, he started writing letters to professional baseball players in hopes of receiving even one response back. To his delight, American professional baseball left fielder Willie Stargell was the first to write him back, sending a signed picture and souvenirs. “I was on cloud nine when I received that first response from Willie Stargell,” Richard says.
That moment would be the start of Richard Dunn’s writing career and would eventually intertwine with his baseball career. His first taste of published sports writing came when he served as sports editor for his junior high and high school newspapers. From there, he attended Orange Coast College, and then the University of La Verne as an undergraduate journalism major. He served as sports editor for the Campus Times newspaper while playing pitcher for the University’s SCIAC championship baseball teams. “I remember him coming into the newsroom with his dirty baseball uniform and cap, ready to edit the sports section of the newspaper,” says George Keeler, professor of journalism and Richard’s former Campus Times adviser. “He had these twin roles he was very passionate about. He loved to write, and he loved baseball.”
Richard played amateur baseball for 30 years, all as a pitcher for the entirety of his baseball career and had zero arm injuries. He recalls the imaginary baseball games he would have in his backyard as a child, and the countless times he would swing his bat by himself, daydreaming about his future as a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Baseball was and still is a huge part of my life,” Richard says. “But like I tell my 19-year old son Nolan, you always have to have a back-up. And sports writing was mine.”
During his senior year at ULV, Richard would attend and play his baseball games and straight after, head over to cover the Angels games for the Daily Pilot newspaper. At only 21 years old, he was covering all-star players like Reggie Jackson. He was doing what he loved and loved what he was doing—pitching and beat reporting. What made him distinctively unique from his colleagues and teammates, however, was the unique mix of his two greatest passions. “Not many of my colleagues who were in the press box were baseball players, and none of my teammates were journalism majors or sports writers,” Richard says. “Ninety-nine percent of the players I played ball with wanted to become coaches, but I always knew I wanted to be a sports writer, and I turned down some coaching opportunities because of my sports writing passion.”
During his time in the minor leagues, Richard kept a diary of some of the best moments with his teammates. He was not only a baseball player but also a columnist for the Daily Pilot, so he would write down all his experiences with the team in a diary. It was this diary and a few newspaper clippings that took him down memory lane and partially inspired him to write his memoir, specifically the seven middle chapters that will make you smile and laugh at his fun-filled antics on and off the baseball field. “When I was playing minor league baseball, I had the time of my life. I had my college degree, and did not have to worry about classes or a job, because I got paid twice a month.”
Richard’s friend and former colleague Barry Faulkner remembers how easy it was for Richard to interact with his interview subjects during his time at the Daily Pilot newspaper. “Richard always had a knack for connecting with the people he wrote about or covered,” Barry says. “He was able to build relationships with athletes and became someone important to their families.” Barry recalls the hour-long, late night conversations he and Richard had in the parking lot after their shift ended at the newspaper. Their conversations would consist of their experiences, memories or just life in general. Flashbacks flooded Barry’s mind as he flipped through Richard’s book and remembered when he worked part-time at the newspaper while Richard played in the minor leagues. Richard would call into the newspaper and write stories about his experiences in the minor league. “Seeing him write his own memoir and just seeing him grow as a writer is really fun for me to see, and I wish him the best.”
But writing was so much more than a career choice for Richard Dunn. It was a lifestyle. It was how Richard came to share both the story of his son and his love for baseball in his carefully crafted memoir that he hopes will make people both laugh and cry. Before putting pen to paper, it took Richard six years for him to be able to write about his late son. He says the emotions were simply too much for him at times. But with time and prayer, Richard had a breakthrough and felt comfortable enough to offer the world a glimpse into his life. It was not until this year that he felt emotionally ready to revisit the significant last moments he had with Julian. And even still, there were days where Richard would find himself bawling his eyes out as he worked on the last chapter of the book, where you find out what happens to Julian. He says he would have to step away from the keyboard at times, recollect himself, and come back courageously to continue writing about his son.
When he first began to write his memoir, Richard chose to first write about his son. The first and last chapters dive into deep detail about the hospital trips he would take with his wife, Andrea Dunn, and how she would spend numerous nights there with Julian. And when it would become too difficult to continue, he would put those chapters aside and instead work on the uplifting and happy chapters of his baseball career. At the end of the day, however, he would still need to come back and write the portions about his son. “When writing a book, you have to edit, rewrite and tinker with everything, and every time you do, you place yourself back in those emotional vessels.”
Nonetheless, Richard persevered and completed his memoir in nine months. He always thought that memoirs were supposed to be written at a much older age, but no one is promised tomorrow or another day, so when the motivation and courage came, he took it and immersed himself in the writing process. “I love news-writing, but deep inside me I always wanted to publish my very own book,” he says. “And let me tell you, it’s not easy. There are layers within layers of the writing and editing process and you become so emotionally invested in it, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Richard’s memoir touched so many hearts, including his longtime friend Tim Fortugno, former Major League Baseball pitcher and a current scout for the Tampa Rays, who read Richard’s memoir in four days. “Richard’s book is a page turner, and it pulls you in with every chapter,” Tim says. “I love the title, and how he tied his baseball career with his son’s story.”
Tim first met Richard on the baseball field during the summer of 1982 at Orange Coast College. He had come down from Massachusetts and was looking for a college to play baseball. At the time, Richard was 18 years old and already on the team, while Tim was 20 and in the process of trying out, Tim says. “I always admired Rich from the first day I met him. He was honest, and that isn’t very common when you don’t know anybody. He was the guy who connected me with everybody at Orange Coast College and always made me feel welcomed.”
Richard and Tim’s interactions did not come again until 10 years later when Richard interviewed Tim for a story he was writing for the Daily Pilot newspaper on Tim’s professional baseball career. “As I look back, I can see how Rich and I have come a long way in our friendship,” Tim says. “Despite me not being there for the big moments, I feel like I and Richard are close, mainly because of his personality. He makes you feel like you are the most important thing in the moment.”
Overall, Richard’s memoir was inspiring to Tim and served as a motivation to finish his own memoir. “I’m sure Rich feels rich, no pun intended, with all the accomplishments he’s had and all the struggles he has overcome.”
“One Pitch Wonder” may be Richard’s only memoir, but not his only book. His first book, “14 Weeks,” tells a story about how a high school football team worked its way to the top to win its first CIF title in 64 years. Inspiration, motivation and raising spirits seem to be common themes both in Richard’s life and his work.
As passionate as he is about baseball and sports writing, Richard also has an entrepreneurial spirit that led him and his wife Andrea to open their own public relations firm and publishing business. Andrea first served as the public relations director for the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and then went to work for the fundraising department of the hospital. She is now the development director for a non-profit organization in Santa Ana, California. Her involvement with the fundraising department at CHOC is ultimately what led to the couple’s most time consuming job: grant writing. “My wife first began to ‘grant write,’ and she became very good at it so I decided to help her out since she was in high demand,” Richard says. “I took some grant writing workshops, and with the writing experience I already had it was an easy transition.”
CHOC’s Child Life Department has featured a new project in honor of Julian and his love for LEGO Toys called, “Julian’s Lego Corner.” The project provides new LEGO kits for hospital patients, particularly those who are receiving care in the oncology unit and for children with other serious conditions. “Children with disabilities can’t always run around and go to Disneyland or play little league baseball, but they can lay in bed and play with their LEGOs,” Richard says. “And once they finish building their LEGO toy, that gives them something to be proud of.”
In honor of his memoir, Richard held a book launch on Nov. 22, 2020, at Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza Store, an establishment that has raised a lot of funds for Julian’s Lego Corner over the years. In that single book signing, $2,000 was raised for Julian’s Lego Corner. This means that about 100 ill children at CHOC will be receiving a new LEGO kit.
Sports columnist, baseball player, grant writer, entrepreneur, author, father, and husband are only a few titles Richard Dunn has picked up during his lifetime. “It’s all about love and spreading the love. This is our way of giving back. Whether it’s through baseball, sports writing or my book, everything we do is to love these children and families.”