Mark Wiedmer: Big-league tribute to Dad's Day

Mark Wiedmer: Big-league tribute to Dad's Day

June 17th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (10) plays in a baseball game against the New York Yankees Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones isn't exactly sure what his three young sons will give him for Father's Day today. He has some idea what his gifts may be made of, however.

"They'll probably make me some cards," Jones said last week from his cubicle inside the Braves' locker room at Turner Field. "I have no idea what they'll say, but it will probably involve glue, magic markers and finger paint. It's always a great surprise."

An email arrived in my cyberspace mailbox a few weeks ago that proved to be a pleasant surprise for any guy who ever played catch with his dad in the backyard. It promoted the release of a book titled "Major League Dads -- Baseball's Best Players Reflect on the Fathers Who Inspired Them To Love the Game."

Written by former Philadelphia Phillies employees Kevin Neary and Leigh A. Tobin, it briefly profiles 134 current or former big-leaguers who were coached in one way or another in their youth by their fathers.

Of those 134, 118 had their father for a youth league or high school coach. The remaining 16 tended to mirror David Bell -- whose grandfather Gus and father Buddy both reached the majors before him -- or Aaron Boone, who actually got to play for his father Bob when the elder Boone managed the Cincinnati Reds.

It doesn't include players such as former Braves star John Smoltz, because his dad never coached him.

Smoltz did tell the authors, "My father was a musician and he wanted me to be a musician, too."

But most were on the order of former Braves pitcher Mike Hampton, who answered "Four" when asked how old he was when his father began coaching him."

When the authors asked how old he was when his father quit coaching him, Hampton laughed and said, "He is still my coach."

But what their fathers taught them were as varied as their last names, which appropriately ranged from (Moises) Alou to (Ben) Zobrist.

For instance, when New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter once refused to shake an opponent's hand after a little league loss, his father told him, "Time to grab a tennis racket, since you obviously don't know how to play a team sport."

There was pitcher Nate Robertson, who recalled his father being angered by Nate and his brother complaining about the available food in the family home.

"My dad always stressed to us to be content with who you are and what you have," the player explained. "When my dad overheard us, he came out with two plates and an opened can of sauerkraut. He then told us to eat every bit of it and that was all we were going to get. I learned my lesson that day. I'm pretty happy with what I get."

The noted knuckleballer Tim Wakefield recalled the rather unceremonious way he was introduced to that pitch by his father.

"We'd throw for awhile (after his father came home from work); then he'd start to get tired," Wakefield told the authors. "He'd throw the knuckleball so that I would miss it and have to go run after it. It was a way of making me tired so he could go in and get dinner."

New York Yankees slugger Nick Swisher's dad wanted his son anywhere but inside after a game of Wiffle-ball in the family living room.

Showing early signs of his All-Star father Steve's hitting prowess, Nick said, "I hit a couple of pictures, broke a couple of frames, and that was the last time I hit inside the house."

Speaking of hitting talent, Tampa Bay outfielder Matt Joyce remembered a youth-league all-star game when his father backed his pickup truck up to the outfield fence and promised Matt $100 if he could hit a home run into the truck.

"Sure enough, I hit the home run and hit the truck," Matt wrote. "My dad never made that bet with me again."

Then there's current Braves outfielder Matt Diaz, who remembers his father once calling him after a hitless game at Florida State to tell him his hands were low.

Asked how he could possibly know this when he had only listened to the game on the radio, his father told him he'd based it on the number of balls he fouled back and the location of the foul balls.

Sure enough, when Diaz reviewed the tape he saw his father had been right.

"Fathers really do know best," he wrote. "And I guess former President Gerald Ford was right when he said, 'I watch a lot of baseball on radio.'"

More than a few pitchers repeated former Brave Paul Byrd's story of the final time his father tried to catch him after the player had signed his first professional contract with the Cleveland Indians.

"I was 21 years old and he didn't want me to take it easy on him," Byrd recalled. "I threw one pitch and it went past his glove and hit him in the mask. It cut his forehead and blood started flowing down his face. I thought I'd killed my dad. We laughed about it later, but he had to go to the hospital and get stitches. We agreed he probably couldn't catch me anymore."

Larry Wayne Jones Sr. won't be at Turner Field today to watch his son Chipper on Father's Day.

But Chipper will phone him as soon as the game against the Baltimore Orioles ends and the Braves head for New York to face the Yankees.

"I'll probably call him on the way to the airport and tell him I love him and how much he means to me," Chipper said. "Because without my dad, there's no way I'd be where I am today."