The morning sun beams down out of the brilliant Arizona sky, casting a terra-cotta aura over the McDowell Mountains. Robin Yount stands in his backyard, gazing at the desert view in the distance. After a moment, he walks across the yard—pausing to pluck a Wiffle golf ball from the grass—and heads for the garage. As the garage door begins to rise like a stage curtain, Yount turns to a guest and says grandly, "Welcome to my playroom."
To the left sits his go-kart, covered with a plastic tarp. Lined up on the other side is the family fleet: a Honda CR500R dirt bike, two smaller dirt bikes and three all-terrain cycles (ATCs), ranging in size from a big Honda 200X to a child-sized model. On a worktable is a go-kart engine Yount is rebuilding. Helmets, gloves and tools line the shelves; pictures of race cars decorate the walls. "This is me, the typical California kid," says Yount, who grew up a typical California kid in the San Fernando Valley.
While he pokes at the go-kart engine on the table, Yount's 19-month-old daughter, Jenna, toddles into the garage and climbs onto the smallest of the ATCs. "This family starts out young," he says. "We go to the dunes near Yuma. My two older daughters [Melisa, 10, and Amy, 8] and my son, Dustin [age 7], ride these ATCs all over the place. Dustin rides his dirt bike around the desert, using the clutch and everything. Jenna gets up and rides with me."
At the back of the garage, perched on a shelf, is another shiny toy, a remote-controlled model helicopter. "A Christmas present," says Yount. "I'm building it, but I haven't had time to play with it—yet. So far, all my flying's been on the ground."
Yount wheels his dirt bike and the 200X ATC into the driveway. After a few tries, he gets the big three-wheeler running and then speeds back and forth on the U-shaped dirt course in his backyard. Satisfied after a few minutes that the ATC is running well, he puts it aside and turns to the dirt bike. The engine won't turn over. He goes into the garage, returns with a spark plug and a handful of tools, and begins tinkering. Ten minutes later, he climbs aboard the bike and kicks down the starter. Success.
He zigs across the driveway and into the empty streets of the secluded Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley. A few minutes later he is back, and he concludes his spin through the neighborhood with a hi-yo-Silver wheelie at the garage. "I can't start an engine without running it somewhere," he says. He then hoists the bike into the back of his pickup truck. Time to head for the desert.
Yount, the 34-year-old centerfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers and last years American League MVP, is a near-certain Hall of Famer. He earns more than $3 million a year and, thanks in large part to his 40-year-old brother, Larry, who acts as his agent and runs a real estate development company in Scottsdale, Ariz., the brothers' net worth is believed to be around $100 million. Last fall Robin tested the free-agent market, and at the outset of the discussions with each of the six teams he talked to, he laid down one ground rule: "I told them, 'I'm going to ride my bike in the desert, and I'm going to race cars and go-karts, and if you have a problem with that, then there's no use talking about money.' If they wanted me, they had to accept me."
Yount is in his 17th season with Milwaukee. He is, in team owner Bud Selig's words, "the Brewers' franchise." Teammates, however, simply call him Kid. It is one of the game's most fitting nicknames. "Robin is more of a kid now than he was when he was 15," says his mother, Marion. If there were a school founded on the premise that you can only be young once, but you can always be immature, Yount's picture would be on the cover of the school catalog every year. "That's me," he says, laughing at the thought. "My wife [Michele] is forever saying that I'm worse than the children."
At Yount's favorite local dirt course on the northern outskirts of Scottsdale, he rolls the big Honda out of the truck and pulls on his riding pants and helmet. "I wore this helmet when I won my first motocross race at 14," he says. With that, he is off in a cloud of dust. He spins around, roars up an embankment and disappears. A minute later, the drone of the engine grows louder and he comes soaring off the edge of the embankment, landing halfway down it. When he reaches the flat, he skids, swerves and heads back up. Like a dog chasing a stick, Yount looks as if he would be happy doing this forever. When he finally stops for a breather, he says, "As kids in California, we rode the hills all day. We chased jackrabbits. We did wheelies on mountaintops."
Yount's eyes sparkle impishly, and then he spins and roars down the road. Every 50 yards or so, he yanks the front tire into the air and does a wheelie, like a 13-year-old on a new bicycle on the first day of summer vacation.