Here in Fort Myers, Florida, one can easily catch a glimpse of droves of nervous baseball players as they gather to show their skills at the Perfect Game National Showcase. And if you think some of the elite players in the nation are anxious as they run the 60, throw from the outfield or face a 95-mph fastball, you should eye the parents as their sons chase their dreams. It somehow feels very fitting that these gifted teenage ballplayers make their run at greatness on Father’s Day weekend. Many dads wear their soles, and souls, out as they pace the walkways and aisles with their boys on the green grass of jetBlue Park.
Watching these grown men as their stomachs churn and their pride beams makes one hope that all of these talented players remember who supported them in so many ways should they reach the “big time.” A small sample of conversations I’ve been able to have over the years says that the future stars will not forget their most loyal sponsor. Time and time again, when athletes open up, it seems to come back to dad.
Albert Pujols remembering father Bienvenido and his baseball/softball trips: “My dad, he was always there for me. I remember as a little boy growing up, my dad playing baseball, and he’d have to make trips to different parts of the country (Dominican Republic). He always said that if there wasn’t a spot for me, he wouldn’t have gone. So they had to find a spot for me to go on the bus, whether it was in his lap or in someone’s seat. He was almost like a dad and mom at the same time. When I was hungry, he’d cook for me. When I needed something, he’d find a way to earn the money so that he could give that to me. That’s something growing up he always did for me and my family.”
Nick Gordon, recently signed by the Twins as the fifth overall pick, on the effect his dad Tom “Flash” Gordon has had on his journey: “So much. I lean on him so much because he’s been there and he’s done it all. He knows everything that I need to do to make me better and what I need to do to get to the next level. So whenever I need to bounce back or I’m not feeling comfortable, I always go to my dad and ask him, ‘Dad what am I doing wrong?’ and ‘What can I do to do better?’ He’s always there. He’s always given me the right answer. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”
Troy Tulowitzki’s dad Ken coached him until the high school level: “He was tough on me. At the time, I really didn’t understand why he was so tough on me. The other kids he was coaching, he was more relaxed with. It seemed like he almost got along better with them than he did with me. It was that fatherly love, he was tough on me because he wanted me to be the best player that I could possibly be. He felt that that’s what he needed to do to get me to where I am today. It definitely worked.”
Trevor Hoffman’s father Ed passed away in the mid-90’s. The elder Hoffman was a Marine and a singer in the Royal Guards, and in his later years he ushered at Anaheim Stadium and pinch-hit as an anthem singer: “My dad was a proud American, a guy that served in World War II, but loved baseball. He used his first life, a life of singing around the world, meeting his bride and doing a lot of that stuff professionally and putting it to good use. In Anaheim, the times that I-5 would get a little backed up and they couldn’t make it to the stadium in time, he’d come in in the pinch and sing the anthem for them. Great memories.”
Randy Johnson lost his dad Bud on Christmas Day, 1992: “I really look back to a lot of the things that my dad had told me over the years. He was in World War II and he was a police officer. He wanted the best for his kids and was very stern in doing that. He was very adamant about getting the most out of whatever it was going to be that I was going to have (do). He was very supportive and I just see a lot of those things now that I am a father that I telling my son or my daughter. You go to school, you do homework, you take that test, you’ve only got one opportunity to do the best you can and I really reflect back on a lot of those conversations my dad and I had growing up. I miss him a great deal.”
Vin Scully serves as the lone exception in our Father’s Day theme. He lost his dad as a child and it was his mother who filled both parental roles for a good portion of the future baseball legend’s upbringing: “She was a red-haired Irish woman, highly emotional. She was widowed. In fact, when my father died, I was about 4 ½ I think, she took me back to Ireland. We lived over there for several months until she felt better to come back. She was a strong woman, but never invasive. Oh sure, once in a while she’d get angry and I would hear ‘Vincent’, then I knew I was in trouble. She was a highly religious woman who had great values. I think she taught me well in the sense that I never, ever wanted to take a bow. I’ve always felt that whatever gift I do have is God given. I know too that it could be taken away from me in the next second. So I’ve never glorified in it at all. I think part of that is from her.”
So there it is…just a little digging through the archives and discovering that fathers (or father figures) often find themselves in the front of the mind of their achieving sons. As for you nervous dads here in Fort Myers, keep pacing and keep praying. Something tells me there’s a pretty good chance you’re your sons will remember your sweat equity in their careers should they reach the highest level. Happy Father’s Day.
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