Former Dodgers’ star Yeager has found missing ingredient

Originally Published at LA Daily News by Jill Painter

When longtime Dodgers fan Debbie Dalton walked into Jersey Mike's Subs on her lunch break in 2009, she spotted Steve Yeager sitting in a back booth. 

She squealed and screamed and immediately made a beeline for Yeager. 

She proclaimed she was his biggest fan. Now, they're friends. 

The 62-year-old Yeager's hair has turned gray now, but there is no mistaking the lively personality of the former Dodgers catcher and World Series co-MVP. 

Dalton would never forget him, especially since she still owns the Playgirl magazine he posed for in 1982. That spread was nearly 30 years ago, but Yeager is equally popular for Dalton and many other Dodgers fans. 

"Some people are movie groupies, but I'm a Dodger groupie," Dalton said. "Steve is very outgoing, and I'm not shy. I've been a Dodger fan since I was 10 years old. He just wants to reach out to the community." 

Every day like clockwork, Yeager stops by the restaurant during lunch hour. 

He and his wife, Charlene, opened the shop - part of a national franchise - about 18 months ago with Gillian Armenta, whom Charlene worked with in the mortgage business. Yeager isn't just a name on business papers. 

Whether he's hanging out in the waiting area by the front door or sitting in a booth, he's chatting with folks or signing baseballs. He does this every day. 

The day before Opening Day, Yeager signed dozens of baseballs. He even did his meet-and-greet thing on Opening Day before heading to Dodger Stadium with his son. 

"Charlene asked me, What are you going to do?"' Yeager recalled when they opened. "I said, I'll be your greeter. ' I come over and talk to the customers. 

We talked about the Dodgers. I hear a lot of suggestions on how we can be better." 

There's no charge, either. You can order a No. 7 - Yeager's old number - which has turkey and provolone - and you get a side of conversation with Yeager. 

"He calls himself the Wal-mart meeter and greeter," said Charlene, who spends most of her time in the back helping prepare food. "I don't want him back there (behind the counter). He needs to be more involved because people love him. So many people are into the '81 Dodgers and the 70s and 80s (teams)." 

This Jersey Mike's Subs shop has Lakers promotional ads all over the place, not the Dodgers, but that's because the franchise determines what goes up on the walls. And that means no fancy Dodgers names for sandwiches, either. 

But make no mistake, this shop bleeds Dodger blue. Steve Yeager was part of four Dodgers World Series teams and was named Series co-MVP with Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero. Judging by the reception around here, it seems like he was throwing out base runners yesterday. 

"I think he misses being in the public eye," Charlene said. "To have this, he just beams." 

Yeager invited pals and former Dodgers teammates Steve Garvey and Bill Russell to come by for lunch recently. It wasn't an official autograph session that day, but since a public relations official invited a television crew and the Daily News, Garvey, Yeager and Russell donned Jersey Mike's aprons and cook's hats and put them behind the counter to make sandwiches. Yeager, who likes the pastrami sandwich with chipotle, was the only one who knew what he was doing. 

It was the middle of the lunch rush, and none of the business folks waiting for sandwiches minded the delay. Former Dodgers greats were throwing tomatoes, lettuce and dressing together on sandwiches in a photo opportunity, and nearly everyone had their cellphones flashing or videos rolling. 

Can you imagine this kind of reception for Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp in 30 years?  Hardly. 

Ethier started spring training saying he wanted to be a leader. Not long after that teammate Chad Billingsley got a contract extension, and clearly irked, Ethier publicly stated he didn't know what would happen and maybe he wouldn't be here next year. 

The Dodgers don't have a future Yeager or Garvey or Fernando Valenzuela in 30 years. Of course, they don't have the World Series titles, either. The Dodgers haven't won one since 1988. 

Winning helps. 

Yeager isn't just about profit. He has lots of community service days at the shop, where he gives organizations 20 percent from the day's profits. Jersey Mike's just did one for the Lakers Youth Foundation. 

And Yeager visited Dalton and hundreds of her fellow co-workers at Medtronic Diabetes, too. Dalton said he probably signed 300 autographs that day. 

"Everyone was like, Oh my God, is that really Steve Yeager?"' Dalton said. 

Dalton is a regular, and so are Joe, Hank, Jill, Joel and Brian. Yeager knows them by name. 

"He's created a family environment here," Garvey said. "He has a face people know and love." 

He's getting to know future Dodgers, too, working with catchers in spring training for the first time. And when a Little Leaguer comes in, Yeager will ask him to see his stance, and he might make an adjustment. 

"The Dodgers have some kids with potential, and I love to be around the kids," Yeager said of the minor leaguers he helped this spring. 

"My passion is about giving back. This isn't about me. I had my day in the sun. I just take what I have and try to put it to good use." 

And giving someone a smile - or squeal - with that turkey and provolone sandwich or a swipe of the Sharpie is a good way, too.