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Embracing Life’s Imperfections

GOTT THE MESSAGE: Jim, Cathy and Danny Gott provided a touching, poignant and often humorous entrée into a family affected by special needs. Mitch Lehman Photo

His mother is a big hitter in Southern California’s special needs community and his father struck out a lot of big hitters during his illustrious 15-year career as a Major League Baseball pitcher, but once again—and to the surprise of nobody in attendance—Danny Gott stole the show.

All three members of the Gott Family took turns at the San Marino Community Church podium on Thursday afternoon for the weekly assemblage of the Rotary Club of San Marino and between them, told a touching tale of life as seen through the filter of autism.

Jim Gott, a San Marino native and the aforementioned ballplayer, and his wife, Cathy, rounded out the starting lineup and discussed their experiences with two children with autism: Danny and C.J., Jim’s son from a previous marriage.

But first, Jim told the story of being introduced to Cathy when he was single and still pitching in the big leagues.

“Cathy liked to play catch and one day we were here in San Marino tossing the ball back and forth,” Jim Gott said. “She kept telling me to throw it harder…and I did.”

One of Gott’s tosses bounced off her mitt and struck her square in the leg.

“She didn’t bat an eye,” Jim said. “I knew right then that she was the girl for me.”

Cathy immediately took on the challenge of a son with special needs and on Thursday, Jim revealed that it wasn’t always wine and roses.

“We would be on a road trip and I would call Cathy from Times Square or some place like that,” Jim said. “Cathy would say, ‘really…C.J. just finished jumping on a bunch of people.’ But Cathy saw an incredible need.”

Danny Gott then showed a photo of himself at the Orange County Fair and told the audience how much he enjoyed spending time with the farm animals.

“My mom figured that we should just have the farm animals all the time,” Danny said matter-of-factly.

And thus, Danny’s Farm was born, a petting zoo of sorts for the special needs community, replete with ducks, rabbits, goats, horses and a lineup of critters that Danny was all too pleased to catalog for Rotarians.

The Farm has undergone a couple different iterations and now finds itself on a ranch in Shadow Hills, but the constant has been its proprietor, one Danny Gott, who serves as director of marketing and writes all the press releases and newsletters himself.

The mood turned understandably somber when Cathy provided some statistics, none of which included the number of strikeouts or an earned run average.

“Today, one in 59 children is born with autism,” Cathy said as the room fell silent. “When Danny and C.J. were diagnosed that number had gone from 1 in 15,000 to 1 in 5,000 and has elevated every year to one in 59.”

Cathy explained that because of that ration, more kids each year are aging out of school services and searching for underfunded resources.

“What will it be like in five, 10, 20 years?” she asked rhetorically, her voice cracking. “85% of those wit autism are unemployed or underemployed. That is why organizations like this are so important.”

Cathy Gott encouraged anyone with the capacity to do so to consider hiring someone wit special needs, even in an unpaid internship.

“To give a human being a purpose,” she said, “at whatever level.”

Jim Gott, who has served the past two seasons as the bullpen coach for the Philadelphia Phillies, said talked about the “power of the special needs community” and how he is constantly approached during road games by members of the community he has met elsewhere.

Jim then provided a poignant glimpse into a life many are not familiar with.

“We are up here, Danny’s [service] dog is running around and the microphone isn’t working right,” said the former CIF Player of the Year. “I always wanted life to be perfect but I have learned to embrace the imperfection.”

An unexpected twist developed when Cathy Gott acknowledged Cathy Johansing, the mother of Rotary President Greg Johansing, who was one of Danny’s aids at Carver Elementary School.

To donate to Danny’s Farm, contact info@dannysfarm.org

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