Those who saw Robin Yount blossom as a baseball player at Woodland Hills Sunrise Little League, then at Taft High, never predicted he'd reach the Hall of Fame.
But no one is surprised he made it on Tuesday, along with other first-ballot selections Nolan Ryan and George Brett.
"It's very deserving," said Clement Cohen, Yount's Little League coach. "He's a very unique individual, not just in baseball but in character. He's been very dedicated, very focused on what he's doing. He's a throwback to the old-time baseball player who put his nose in the grindstone and worked at the game."
Ray O'Connor, who coached Yount at Taft, said the two-time American League most valuable player with the Milwaukee Brewers reached the pinnacle of his baseball career because he loved the game and believed in himself.
"He has honestly said of all the years he's played, he didn't go to bat once he didn't think he could get a hit off the pitcher," O'Connor said. "The thing that separates Robin is his personality, not just in baseball--the humbleness, the gratitude of being his parents' offspring. He just radiates all the things you want to see in a person."
Yount entered Taft in the fall of 1970, when it was a three-year high school, with a reputation earned in youth baseball. But Yount's lack of size caused O'Connor to keep him on the junior varsity as a sophomore.
"It was hard to envision him going onto [the varsity] level because he wasn't a real big kid," O'Connor said. "But he had a determination that was hard to imagine."
Yount grew into a 6-foot, 170-pound senior shortstop who batted .455 and was selected the City Section player of the year in 1973.
"He had a great arm and tremendous range," O'Connor said.
Not that O'Connor didn't have his worries about the teenage Yount. He remembers pleading with Yount's parents to hide his skis during the season and to keep him away from riding motorcycles for fear of injury.
Bill Spooner, an NBA referee, played at Woodland Hills Little League and Taft a few years behind Yount, but he never forgot the impression Yount left.
"When he was 12, I was a punk 10-year-old," Spooner said. "In one game, he hit a long foul ball down the left-field line, then a long foul down the right-field line. Then he drills a ball over the center-field fence. I wondered, 'Who's this guy?' He was so good at a young age. The guy was just skilled and talented. He didn't do it for glory. He did it because he loved the game."
O'Connor, who hopes to attend Yount's induction ceremony July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y., said, "It's kind of a dream come true one of the kids you worked with long ago has reached the epitome of the game."
Added Spooner: "He's one of the all-time greats. I'll have a tear in my eye when he's inducted."
Yount is the second player from the Valley to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Former Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale, a Van Nuys High graduate, was inducted in 1984.