This O's dad's day gift touched all the bases

June 22, 2004|By Ross Newhan | Ross Newhan,LOS ANGELES TIMES

I woke on Father's Day mindful that my son, David, had again sent me some of life's finest gifts.

Imagine.

He had again found a way to package perseverance, air mail tenacity, deliver dedication.

He had again found a way, as he likes to say, to overcome a sportswriter's genes and make it back to the big leagues, in the process overcoming two shoulder operations and two years of daily therapy at a time when his big league career seemed on the verge of hitting high gear.

He returned Friday night in the uniform of the Orioles, and in his first at-bat, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning at Coors Field, he homered deep into the second deck in right field.

The drive was estimated to be 435 feet, but it was not the distance of the home run that filled me with commensurate pride.

It was the distance he had traveled in coming back, the distance he had traveled since playing second base at Anaheim (Calif.) Esperanza High on a team ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today for most of his senior year, after which he received no scholarship offers from any Division I college and wasn't selected in the June draft, deemed too small by scouts who too often focus on the five tools at the expense of the sixth and seventh - heart and performance.

I have long been encouraged by colleague Bill Plaschke and others to write a column on David, to connect the dots from the joy and fulfillment that has been 40-plus years of covering baseball to the joy, thrill and enrichment that has come from seeing my son play at the highest level, and I have long resisted.

I have simply felt that I did not want to abuse a vehicle that wasn't available to other fathers.

I did not want, in any way, to slight my daughter, Sara, who has taught me so much about relationships, who provided a foothold for so many young lives as a dedicated teacher and who blessed us with our first grandchild, 1-year-old Brooke, with a second on the way.

I also have been reluctant to contribute in any way to a perception that the dedication needed to play a game we learn as children, that the ability to play it at the major league level, was any more meaningful than that required in any other career or endeavor.

More than 800 Americans have died in Iraq. I draw no parallel to their ultimate dedication, their fathers' pride.

I write now because I see in the replay vision of that Friday night home run - David's fourth in the big leagues and first since tearing the labrum in his right shoulder when up with Philadelphia early in the 2001 season - the equivalent of an exclamation point on the ensuing two years of surgery and therapy and a continuing example to others of determination's rewards.

What's new? A year after leaving Esperanza with only his own conviction that he could get bigger, better and play at a higher level than Division II, he became an All-Southern California Community College selection at Cypress and received a full scholarship to play with Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton at Georgia Tech. He transferred to Pepperdine, where he earned a degree in business, and was drafted by the Oakland Athletics as a senior.

Now, he is with his third big league team on a baseball odyssey that has taught him there are no guarantees and little you can believe in besides yourself, even when it involves your father's profession.

Brought to the major leagues for the first time by the San Diego Padres in 1999, David was asked if he had heard anything at Triple-A that led him to think he was about to be recalled.

"I had read a few things," he said, "but as everyone knows, you can't believe what's in the paper."

Presumably he was joking, but I never inquired.

He also was asked at the time if he ever thought of becoming a sportswriter.

"No way," he said. "I've heard my dad cuss at the computer too many times."

Yes, computers, editors and even umpires when he was playing at an amateur level. I was even red-carded off the sideline when he was playing youth soccer, a little too much parental enthusiasm.

Now, caution is advised in the professional relationship between the baseball writer and baseball-playing son.

In his debut game at San Diego, appearing as a pinch runner, David stole second, turned a fine double play and scored the winning run.

His mother and sister were up cheering each of his contributions, but I sat amid the crowd at Qualcomm Stadium, not sure of how I should respond but beaming internally nonetheless, thinking of my father and knowing the baseball dots extend to the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and all those times my dad and I sat in the last row of the top deck watching the Angels of the Pacific Coast League - most often doubleheaders that had me begging to go by mid-game of the nightcap while my dad would say, "Patience, only a few more innings."

The seeds were planted then, as they were probably planted for a young David on those wonderful March afternoons when I was covering the latter-day Angels in Palm Springs and he had the opportunity to serve as a bat boy for exhibition games and soak up the environment while sweeping the clubhouse.

I suspect it was then that David began to realize the best way to communicate with Dad was through baseball.

Well, he communicated again with that home run.

He sent a 435-foot message of perseverance, tenacity and dedication I received loud and clear.

Gifts on Father's Day? Priceless.

Ross Newhan is the longtime baseball reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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