Baseball has been uniting father and son since the inception of the game in the 1850s.
So on this Father’s Day, we are grateful to the many dads out there who taught us how to play America’s pastime.
With the Chicago Cubs in town for this past weekend’s series, a few of the visiting players shared their memories growing up learning the tools of the trade from their fathers.
Following in Dad’s Footsteps
As the son of a Major Leaguer, former Met and current Cubs’ outfielder Scott Hairston recalls always being at the old Comiskey Park to watch his dad, Jerry Sr., play. Jerry Sr. spent 13 of his big-league seasons with the Chicago White Sox, so Scott grew up in Naperville, Ill., and always wanted to play for a Chicago team.
“My dad was a huge influence on me obviously being a baseball player,” Hairston said. “With his direction, the discipline I received from him made me the man I am today. I love my father, and I appreciate all the hard work he’s done to raise us five kids.”
Even though Scott is now a veteran, he finds that he calls his dad often to discuss the game. He said that his father is someone he can turn to in good times and bad times, and that’s important since the game of baseball has many ups and downs.
“My dad is always there for me,” Hairston said. “Everybody needs somebody to talk to. It helped me because my dad played a lot of years. What he’d been through, chances are I’ve been through.”
Teaching Work Ethic
Hairston’s teammate and fellow outfielder David DeJesus – who was born in Brooklyn – also has great memories of learning the game from his father. The family moved to Manalapan, N.J., and the first thing that David’s father, Heryk Sr., did was built an outdoor batting cage for his three sons: David, Michael and Heryk Jr.
Heryk Sr. never played organized baseball growing up in Puerto Rico, but he could tell from an early age that his sons had talent. In addition to the batting cage, the kids also took at least 400 swings per day – left-handed of course – in their basement. Heryk Sr. hung a blanket from the ceiling and stacked mattress pads behind it so his sons could get their work in. These sessions were often videotaped so the family could all review the tapes later on in the evening.
Heryk Sr. laid the foundation for David, and for that David is very grateful.
“The most important aspect was the work ethic,” DeJesus said. “Sometimes as a young high schooler, you don’t really want to go and hit. At five o’clock every day when he got home and the garage door went up, that’s when we knew we were going to the baseball field to go practice. It gave me that work ethic to work hard every day.”
Heryk Sr. was in the ballpark for all three games of the series and was able to spend some time with his son. David now has his own son, three-year-old Kingston, who loves baseball. David hopes his son’s interest in baseball continues to grow so he can share the same experiences he had with his father.
Baseball Comes First
Of all the stories these Cubs’ players shared, first baseman Anthony Rizzo has the best one. He spoke of the time his brother, John Jr., was making his first Holy Communion in Florida. However, with Anthony’s dad John Sr. as the ringleader, the family didn’t exactly make it through the whole ceremony.
“He (John Sr.) snuck me out of there to go play a game,” Rizzo said. “From the Communion, we went straight to the field.”
John Sr. was able to be with his son at the 2013 World Baseball Classic while Anthony played for Team Italy. Rizzo said he and his father further bonded as he represented his Italian heritage.
Rizzo’s dad coached him all throughout Little League, through travel ball and right up until high school. Rizzo said that John Sr. served as a vital mentor in his path to the big leagues.
“He’s shaped me as a person,” Rizzo said. “Whether I do good or bad, it doesn’t matter as long as he knows I’m happy and as long as our family is happy.”
John Sr. was also at Citi Field the entire series, and the two got to spend some more quality time together.
Happy Father’s Day
It’s great to see that even players who reach the big leagues never forget where they came from. Each one of these players’ dads played a major role in helping their sons achieve their baseball dreams.
They each had some final thoughts to pass along to their dads.
“I love you, that’s it,” DeJesus said.
“Happy Father’s Day,” Rizzo said. “I hope he enjoys it. I hope to have another 50 or 60 Father’s Day’s with him.”
“Thanks Dad for being there for me and directing me during the course of manhood and being a baseball player,” Hairston said. “That appreciation will never die as long as I’m living.”