By Mike Lopresti
Here comes Father’s Day. And what better place to discuss that but a baseball clubhouse, with its memories of backyard games of catch?
So it is with the Indians. Lots of sons on the roster, not to mention a few dads. Let’s go around the room.
There’s the perspective of a man who can look back through time to his first images as a son. Manager Dean Treanor.
“I think about my father, the hardest working man I’ve ever known. The thing that always strikes me is he worked on the railroad, he’d work for maybe 24 hours straight, come home, I don’t know how much time he’d have off, not much. But when he got home there was always the catch in the backyard or the street. All the time, never no.
“I think later you realize how important it was for me and how important it was for him. Fourth grade education. Had the Depression. Had to leave family to go work at a very early age. Just who he was as a man, who he is as a man to me now.”
And also the perspectives of the new fathers among the Indians. Trevor Williams, with an eight-month old son.
“I’m looking forward to getting a tie or something for Father’s Day from him. Life changed, obviously, when he was born. You start looking at little kids a different way, like people that have small children in restaurants and kids screaming. I sympathize with them now. I can’t wait to bring him out on the field for Father’s Day. I can’t wait to play catch with him when he’s older, just like my dad would do with me.”
Or Jason Rogers, with two small children.
“It’s special. I have a baby girl and a baby boy, girl is almost 2 and boy is four months old. It’s another responsibility. It’s not just yourself, you’ve got two other human beings to take care. So things change, your priorities change. Knowing I have them, it’s a lot more to play for. Helps me out every day.”
Stories? You want Father’s Day stories? Try Jacob Stallings, son of Kevin, who is the new basketball coach at Pittsburgh, after a long career at Vanderbilt.
“Up until about high school, basketball was my favorite sport, so I spent a ton of time at his practices and at the gym. When baseball started coming to the forefront, we spent a lot of time doing baseball stuff. It’s special to be able to spend that kind of time with him. He throws batting practice to me. He’s really good. A lot better than he gives himself credit for.
“He coached one of my baseball teams when I was young, just kind of an assistant. He actually knows a lot about the game, and he kind of brings that basketball intensity. I remember he would get mad at me a few times when I’d do something stupid. You can imagine elementary, middle school kids with a college basketball coach as one of their assistant baseball coaches. They thought it was pretty cool.”
Over to Josh Bell, with thoughts of father Earnest.
“My earliest memories are with my father in the back yard. He had a ball and a string and he’d toss it at me and I’d hit and just roll it back to him. Kind of a lazy man’s way of batting practice.
There was the pitching machine we set up in the back yard, and the Wiffle Ball games we used to play. The home run derby where if I hit so many balls over the fence in my backyard, like 10 out of 15, I could go eat wherever I wanted.”
Steven Brault, with words about father Dan.
“I have three older brothers, there’s four of us, and my dad was always our coach. He was always at all our school events. He works like crazy. I remember one time my mom getting upset with me – I did something stupid – because she didn’t think I appreciated what my dad did for our family, so I kind of reflect on that.
“He was there when I got drafted, which was awesome. He’s been there every first game at a new level, so I think it’s a collection of memories. The one I have from when I was little was driving home from the field one day and me asking him if we could go to 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee. And he said, `Now that you ask, no.’”
Williams, on father Richard: “He wasn’t a baseball player. He was a Marine and a wrestler. But when we’d play catch, he didn’t look like an idiot. Like some guys look weird throwing, he doesn’t look weird throwing. We spray painted a home plate in our street when I was younger that my neighbors weren’t too happy about. It was right in the middle of our neighborhood street. I’d pitch to him, we had a slanted driveway, and it worked out good.
“He keeps score of every game, like he keeps a book, and I have books going back to when I was 10 years old. I’ll get a picture of the scorebook after every start with what I did well, what I didn’t do well. That will always be a great memory. I never kept score. I chart pitches now … I don’t think I’ll ever keep score. I’ve charted enough in my life.”
Jameson Taillon, about father Michael: “Once you outgrow the backyard, you go to the baseball field. A lot of memories are of just me and my dad out at the field. It would be summer, really hot. All these baseball fields and it’d be just me and him out there. He’d always say, `Everyone else is inside and you’re out here working and it’s going to pay off.’ And here I am.”
About gifts for dear old dad . . .
Taillon: “The first Father’s Day gift I remember giving him was my first home run ball in Little League. I didn’t have a good signature back then but I’d write my name on it – like `first home run’ — and hand it to him. As I’ve grown up, I realize while he loves baseball, he also loves steak and wine. So this year I got him a gift card to a steak and wine steakhouse.”
Brault: “Now I try to give him something from my team. A hat or a shirt. That’s all he wants. He goes to the Padres games a lot, and he’ll wear a Padres jersey and a Pirates hat.”
Then there is the movie “Field of Dreams.” A father, a son, and baseball, all wrapped in a Kleenex that many hardened males need at the end.
Treanor: “I was in Waterloo, Iowa for two seasons. My kids came out so we went there where they made it. Did the whole thing. Pretty cool. Great movie, great theme.”
Brault: “That was our family movie growing up. We used to drive around the country in a motor home and we had that movie, just on repeat basically. It strikes a lot of chords.”
Taillon: “People always ask me my favorite baseball movie, and it depends on what kind of context you’re using. “Sandlot” reminds me of me and my friends going out go a park and playing. “Bull Durham,” for what we’re going through here playing in the minor leagues. And “Field of Dreams” for the father-son relationship. That movie we’ve definitely watched it together.”
But most of all in the Indians clubhouse is a cherished value for what has been given them, and the hopes and dreams of giving the same one day to a child. A deep appreciation for both having a father, and being one.
Taillon: “As I’m sure most guys in that locker room can attest to, we probably wouldn’t be where we’re at without our dads. He was so supportive. At the time I thought it was pretty normal, but the traveling to baseball tournaments, going out of town and staying at hotels, and eating at restaurants on the road with him, a lot of sacrifice put in, a lot of hours. He’s a hard working businessman and to go out of town on the weekend with your son to a baseball tournament probably wouldn’t be on top of a lot of people’s list of priorities, but he was always there.”
Stallings: “I just think back to memories of him molding me as an athlete. When I was real young, it was raining and cold at a soccer game one day. He said, `Everyone else is going to let the elements affect them and how they play, don’t let it affect you.’ I was probably like five or six.
“I think it’s just like Mother’s Day, and you can appreciate all your parents have done for you. And hopefully one day my kids will be able to appreciate me and my wife.”
Bell: “The concept behind playing with your dad every day is one thing I’ll never forget, and hopefully I’ll be able to share that same sort of joy with my kids one day. And just the concept behind hard work beating talent. Just pushing to the limit every day and always trying to stay one step ahead of the competition. I just feel like that mindset is so instilled in me from the moment I get to the park every day.
“You think it’s my own voice, but it’s probably just him. He’d be happy to know that.”
Brault: “What I learned from him is something I use all the time. It’s something he says to his employees. He has a business and he always says, `It’s just work.’ Of course they hate it. But it’s something I’ve taken with me. He would always get mad, if he told you to mow the lawn and you mow half the lawn, why do something if you’re not going to do I right? It’s just work. I learned a lot from him growing up.”
Williams: “We’d go to Padres games three or four days a week, we had season tickets, and that’s where I fell in love with baseball. And hopefully my son falls in love with it as well. But if he doesn’t, no big deal. It’s one of those things where I connected with my dad, and now I get to connect with my son through baseball. He’s traveling around all over the place. He’s eight months old and he’s lived in six different spots, but he doesn’t know that yet.”
Rogers: “I’m always waiting for that moment with my kids, when they haven’t seen me in a while, they come up and give me a hug. My father helped me a lot, just being in the backyard, helping me hitting and pitching. I can’t wait to do that with my kids.”
And finally, Treanor, as a father and son.
“I look at my daughter and son now, I was very fortunate. For the things that I went through, things had to fall in place for me to get married when I did and to have the kids I’ve got. I talk to them every day. My son played the game, he had two surgeries, so he was done. But I think the game is kind of the glue for us, because it brings us together. I can really honestly say from the heart there’s not a stronger relationship between father and son than I have with my son.
“And my father, everybody talks about where’d you get your work ethic from, I just watched him. I think about him every day.”
No better words can be said in a clubhouse about the third Sunday in June.
Mike Lopresti is a Ball State University graduate and Richmond, Ind. native and resident. He was a sports columnist for Gannett newspapers and USA Today for 31 years, and covered 30 World Series and 33 Major League Baseball All-Star Games. He is a voter for Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired he was 16th in nation in seniority on Baseball Writers Association of America.