This past year I became a first-time father. There is nothing in my life that I have looked forward to more than becoming a dad and being able to guide a child through life, bringing him or her up to be as outstanding and as beautiful of a person as my wife is and as much of a baseball fan as I became.
In recent months I have felt a tremendous bond with my son and I wondered, at times, how great the connection will grow but also how long it might stay intact. I treasure the opportunity to watch him learn and develop, but I feel like there will be a day when he doesn’t need my insight or coaching. I don’t have a father, so, without an example of my own to go by, I worry that he’ll outgrow our relationship.
Wondering if that’s accurate, I began asking players and coaches that I know for their thoughts on how close each one is with his dad, when it comes to his career and sometimes life as well. I mainly targeted men whose dads also had a career-path in professional baseball, but also got some thoughts from a couple players about their non-baseball fathers.
Reading Fightins infielder Jesmuel Valentin’s father Jose Valentin played in the big leagues for the Brewers, the Mets, the White Sox as well as the Dodgers. Jesmuel was lucky enough to grow up around in the game and still welcomes all feedback from Jose, even from afar.
“My dad is back in Puerto Rico, managing semi-pro ball, but he has the minor league app, so where ever he is, he’s pretty much watching the game, so after the games I know it’s going to be an hour or 45 minute conversation (on the phone) with him. He will go over all my AB’s, ‘Remember, you have a guy on second base. The score was like this, so what were you thinking? Okay, so you’re wrong because the situation was this and they were gonna throw this pitch!’ So, I think that’s the most important thing that I like, because having a dad that can help me every day or having a close person like that is just something that can help me go faster through the system.”
Lakewood skipper Shawn Williams’ dad Jimy Williams was a big league coach and manager, who also played with the Cardinals. Shawn’s dad is accessible regularly for advice and set a fine example while Shawn and his brother Brady were growing up, as both sons would go on the play and manage in the professional ranks.
“I talk to my dad every day. Of course, he’s always trying to help and I understand that and I have open ears. He was very good at what he did and not that I do everything that he says, but it just goes for anything, you take the things that you like, from– there’s so many great minds around here with our coordinators, my dad, but he is by far the greatest teacher I have with just all kind of situations.”
“That’s the best thing about this game, there’s so many situations that come up in a game that you’ve never seen before. So, you just learn from them and he’s definitely very helpful in that. ‘Maybe try doing this, or try doing that.’ Or whatever it is. Dealing with players and stuff like that is, he’s huge for me.”
Reading manager Dusty Wathan followed in the footsteps of his father John Wathan, who played and managed in the big leagues. Dusty says that advice and insight from his father are always welcome and they are frequently in touch.
“I talk to him a lot. He’s a good sounding board.”
“He comes a couple times a year usually. He’s partially retired now, so he has less work now. I talk to him on the phone, we talk about a lot of things.”
“I’ll ask him more than he says that to me, but that was actually his job in Kansas City. Part of his job was to go in talk to managers after games, talk about moves and stuff. That’s not second guessing as much as it is– I’ll ask him, ‘Hey did you see that last night?’ ‘Yeah, I saw it.’ ‘I did this. What do you think?’ ‘Oh, did you think about this? Did you think about that? Did you think about that?’ You know, so yeah, he’s great.”
Reading pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. also speaks with his dad, former Phillies pitcher Mark Leiter Sr., on a daily basis. With the MiLB TV game streaming package, the elder Leiter is able to catch every single one of Mark’s outings. They have a very close bond and Leiter Sr. offers guidance regularly to his son.
“Yeah, me and my dad talk almost every day. I’m real close with my dad, he’s my best friend basically and to be able to lean on the advice that he has as well as just casual conversation has been a tremendous advantage I think and it’s an opportunity that I’m very fortunate to have it.”
“He played a long time, so he doesn’t necessarily, like, overstep at all really. I think really people on the outside would kind of perceive certain things that way, but he played a long time and he really understands the way things work and he’s been around. He knows what it’s like to go through it and he knows what you need to hear and what maybe you need to– he doesn’t necessarily tell me everything I need to hear at the time. He waits for me to ask him certain things sometimes as opposed to just throwing all the information out at you. Especially if you have a tough game or something, he kind of waits for me to kind of swallow it and get over it and call him and be like, ‘What did you think of that?’ or what it might be.”
“To be as close as me and him are, it makes it easy to have trust and just enjoy the conversations that we have. It’s not like a class room. You know what I mean? He’s my dad and we just have great conversations and I’m fortunate that these conversations are helping me in my career and I have so much great insight on what I’m trying to do.”
Blue Jays prospect Dwight Smith Jr.’s father, Dwight Smith Sr., played in the big leagues with the Cubs, Angels, Braves and Orioles. The younger Smith says his dad takes a more fatherly approach than a professional one with his feedback. They also chat with great frequency.
“He just helps me out any way he can. Just to really be a dad more than a coach. He pretty much lets me do my own thing, but he still helps me along the way.”
“I talk to him every day. I talk to him every day before I go out. I talk to him and my mom and my sisters before every game.”
“He tries to watch every single game that he can when he’s not working. But, he’s always looking at my at bats and if he sees something, he lets me know. He’s just there all the time.”
“He’ll never step on anybody’s toes like that, but he knows me better than any coach could because he’s known me from when I was little, so he knows my swing and everything like that. I really listen to him a lot.”
Top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford‘s dad, Larry Crawford, was once an athlete on the football field, but currently works at a school. That lack of baseball connection won’t stop Larry from offering feedback to his highly touted son.
“My dad calls me every day after the game.”
“My dad tries to give me tips almost every day. If I have a bad game, he’ll try to state the obvious, but it’s cool. It’s awesome that they care.”
Reading starting pitcher Tyler Viza‘s father, Dan Viza, have quite a bond as well.
“My dad is my role model and mentor in my career and life outside. My dad’s and my saying is ‘one at a time’. Meaning one batter at a time, one pitch at a time, one inning at a time. In this game there is so much to think about at any given moment. So, if I can focus solely on the moment that I am in, I have the best chance to be successful and not worry about the past. It also refers to having 100% conviction on every pitch that I throw from the first pitch of the game to my last pitch.”
“Usually, (we talk) right before and after each start. Then we talk again after my bullpens. He doesn’t ‘bust my balls’, but we just talk about things that worked and things that didn’t work and why they didn’t work so I can get an idea how to fix it for next time to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again.”
Okay. Thanks to these fine fellows that took time to chat about their relationships with their dads, I have great hope for the bond that I develop with my own son will last well into his adulthood and that makes me feel much easier on my first Father’s Day as a father.
Happy Father’s Day, everyone!