The first sporting activity most dads have with their sons is tossing a ball back and forth as soon as the boy is old enough to participate.
And on rare occasions, sons follow their fathers all the way to the big leagues; first as little kids hanging out in the clubhouse, then as major-leaguers bringing their own sons to their workplace to show them what daddy does for a living.
The Bells, Alous, Alomars and Motas are some of the notable families who have seen sons follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
Then there’s the Boones—a three-generation family with Ray, Bob, Bret and Aaron all making it to the big leagues, while Bobby and Barry Bonds along with Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. are probably the best of the father-son combos, with the Griffeys actually playing together in the Seattle Mariners outfield.
The Dodgers have joined this group in a big way this season, setting a record on June 1 as five sons of major leaguers — Tony Gwynn, Scott Van Slyke, Ivan De Jesus, Dee Gordon and Jerry Hairston Jr. — were all in the starting lineup against Colorado. Gwynn was in the outfield, while the other four set a record for sons of ex-big leaguers comprising the starting infield. And don’t forget about Justin Sellers, son of former Red Sox pitcher Jeff Sellers, who has been up and down with the Dodgers this season, appearing in 19 games.
Father’s Day is obviously an important day of appreciation for kids toward their dads, and the Dodgers’ fortunate sons talked about growing up while dad was playing in the majors.
Father: Anthony “Tony” Keith Gwynn Sr. — Hall of Famer … Played with Padres for 20 years … 2,440 games … .338 average … 7 batting titles … 15 All-Star Games.
Son: Anthony “Tony” Keith Gwynn Jr. — Played with Brewers, Padres and Dodgers … 562 games … .249 average … married with three daughters.
“It was awesome,” said the younger Gwynn. “It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, being in the clubhouse and being around Hall of Famers and All-Stars. The guys who were my dad’s teammates always treated me well. It’s a blessed life that God was able to bless my father to be as good of a player as he was, and in essence he blessed our entire family to be around it. It was good for the family that he was able to play his entire career at home, even though I wanted to see him move on at one time. I remember his first time being a free agent and me trying to convince him to play somewhere else, because I wanted to see him play for a World Series ring.
“At the age of 16, I didn’t realize what that meant for him to stay with the same team for an entire career. But now that I’ve started my own career, I realize how rare it is, how important it is. Especially in his mind, because the only thing he was thinking about was his family. He didn’t want to pick up his family and move, and he didn’t want us to be away from home. He also didn’t want to be away from us for long periods of time. He really enjoyed it and wanted to be in San Diego. He loved the people there, and he loved his family.
“Being around this life really shaped me as I grew up, because as an adult, there are going to be rough times and adversity. When you’re dealing with a sport where being successful only 30 percent of the time is considered really good, it teaches you how to deal with adversity. And you really understand it when you have kids of your own. Baseball is one of the better sports for teaching you life lessons, because nothing comes easy in this game and you’re constantly striving to get better. You can definitely apply that to life in general.”
He said that when his dad was diagnosed with cancer, the life lessons he’d learned helped him deal with it and be able to help Tony Sr. get through the ordeal.
“It was extremely tough,” Tony Jr. said, “because it was so unexpected. My dad and I are extremely tight, and to see him go through that tough time was hard for me and our entire family. But God brought us through it, and we’re all better off from it. He would tell me: ‘Tony, there’s nothing you can do, so just go out and play baseball.’ I know he meant it, but I can tell you that’s easier said than done. Especially when you have the love for a person that I have for my father. But we got through it, and it was another lesson learned.
“Father’s Day is a great day for me to spend with my dad and my kids.”
Father: Jerry Wayne Hairston Sr. — Played with White Sox and Pirates … 14 years … 869 games … .258 average.
Son: Jerry Wayne Hairston Jr. — Played with Orioles, Cubs, Rangers, Reds, Yankees, Padres, Nationals, Brewers and Dodgers … 15 years … 1,306 games … .260 average …Married with a son and two daughters.
“Growing up, I was always around the ballpark,” Hairston remembered. “But as a kid, all you want to do was be around your dad wherever he was. This was just something he did, but I can’t think of anything better than being a kid with your dad playing major-league baseball. Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a baseball player, so he definitely had an influence on that. And being able to share that with my son now is very special.
“I remember going on road trips with my dad, and being in place like Fenway Park and taking batting practice on the field. I’d be (behind the screen) right where the outfield grass and the infield dirt meet right behind second base. My dad pitched to me and I hit the ball off the wall. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to make it to the (majors) so I could hit one off the wall or over the wall, and I’ve done it. That’s stuff is all very special to me.
“I take my son to the ballpark, because anyone can be a dad, but everyone should be a father. By that, I mean you should spend time with your kids. Whether it’s your son or your daughter, kids need that special time with their dads and they need for them to tell them that you love them. I’m also one of those guys who think it’s important for your kids to know what you do. I take them to the ballpark and my son into the clubhouse so that when I’m out of town, they can picture what I’m doing — that dad’s going to work and not just leaving home and living some separate life. My dad did that for us, and it helped when he had to go on the road. We always knew what he was doing.”
Father: Tom “Flash” Gordon — Played with Royals, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Diamondbacks … 21 years … 890 games … 138-126 … 158 saves … 3.96 ERA.
Son: Devaris “Dee” Gordon — Played with Dodgers … 2 years … 115 games … .267 average.
“Having my dad (playing in the big leagues) was always great,” said Dee, “because we always got to be around the ballpark and spend time with my dad. It was all so special.
“My dad helped me prepare for when my time came, talking to me about the ins and outs of the life, all the things to expect. It’s still tough sometimes, but at least my dad gave me a heads-up. He’s going to be (coming to L.A.) very soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing him.” Father: Jeff Sellers — Played for Red Sox … 4 years … 13-22 … 4.97 ERA.
Son: Justin Sellers — Played for Dodgers … 2 years … 55 games … .204 average … engaged … one daughter.
“It was a great life,” said Sellers, “me and my brothers getting to travel with my dad, our family getting to be together and do different things and see a lot of different things at a young age. Being in the club … it was so much fun.
“At home, he always managed to spend time with us. Players are busy all the time — as I’ve found out — but my dad would hang out with us or take us to an early lunch or whatever. Just spending time with him is what I remember most.
“Father’s Day is always so special, being able to be with him on that day. There was one Father’s Day when we hand-made a card for our dad, we were excited about it and when we gave it to him and he opened it, it was a really emotional moment for him.
“I’m hoping my dad will be out here (Sunday) and throw out the first pitch with some of the other dads. I’d really like to have him do that. I haven’t brought it up yet, so hopefully I can surprise him and get him to do that. Being a father myself, I know how great those moments can be,”
Father: Ivan De Jesus — Played for Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies, Cardinals, Yankees, Giants and Tigers … 15 years … 1,371 games … .254 average.
Son: Ivan De Jesus Jr. — Played for Dodgers … 2 years … 33 games … .237 average.
De Jesus Jr., who was a batboy for the Houston Astros when his dad was coaching there, said he doesn’t remember any of Senior’s playing career. But he’s the beneficiary of dad’s extensive knowledge.
“We talk about a little bit of baseball every day, when we get a chance to talk on the phone. And it helps,” DeJesus Jr, said. “When he used to play, I never got the chance to watch him play in the big leagues.
“But right now, though, he’s happy just to watch me play.”
Father: Andrew James “Andy” Van Slyke — Played for Cardinals, Pirates, Orioles and Phillies … 13 seasons … 1,658 games … 274 average … 5 Gold Gloves … 3 All-Star Games.
Son: Scott T. Van Slyke — Played for Dodgers … 1 year … .194 … 1 HR … 6 RBIs.
Scott credits his dad for sustaining his interest in baseball.
“In high school, I kind of went to practice, came home, ate, did my homework,” Van Slyke said in an interview with LATimes.com. “I didn’t really put in any time into it. I heard him talk about how quick my hands were, the leverage I had. But it was in and out.
“When I had a little success, it helped spark my desire,” he said. “I would have two or three good games a week. Then it became three and four. It felt good to be on base. It felt good hitting balls hard. I liked the feeling. I wanted to get better at it so I could have success more often.”
Like his Dodgers teammates, he enjoyed growing up the son of a big-leaguer.
“It was great for me and my brothers to hang around the ballpark with my dad,” said Scott, who was recently sent back to the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque. “Not a lot of kids get to experience what we did, and it gives you memories for a lifetime.”
And Scott was able to return the favor to his dad on May 20.
The elder Van Slyke was in the stands when his son stepped to the plate against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. Scott got the green light on a 3-0 pitch and hit a three-run homer off Mark Rzepczynski to win the game and complete a three-game sweep over the World Champs.
Like father, like son — especially with the Dodgers.