Saturday, June 24, 2006

The following is an article I wrote for the June 18 Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer.

Diamonds also a father's (and son's) best friend'

Like father, like son' carries onto the baseball diamondDoug Drabek, dear old Dad, has taught his son Kyle a lot.

By Claire Smith

Former major-league pitcher Doug Drabek knows that is what people think when they see his son Kyle on the mound. Same build. Same shock of sandy blond hair. The onetime Cy Young Award winner also sees the same stuff. Not just spitting-image fastballs, but stuff - the fire in the belly, the refusal to lose.

"He's got his own thing - his own delivery, his own motion, and maybe he throws harder," Doug Drabek said. "But we both are both so competitive. He doesn't want to ever lose - just like me."

Baseball, intrigued by both the nature and nurture in the relationship between fathers and sons, is dipping into gene pools more than ever in search of second- and third-generation players. The Phillies certainly did when they selected Kyle Drabek in the first round of the draft, making the hard-throwing chip off the old block the 18th pick overall.

Drabek was not unique. Father's Day came early for 20 former major-leaguers when their sons were drafted on June 6 and 7.

Kyle Drabek, for one, knows he registered with scouts in part because of his dad. "He's been an inspiration to me all my life," the 18-year-old from The Woodlands, Texas, said. "In a way, my dad's always been teaching me about life. And, as a pitcher, he taught me everything I know."

Like many major-leaguers, Doug was happy just to be able to give Kyle and Justin - 13 months Kyle's senior - access to his world. It is part of the routine: sons and daughters of big-leaguers rollicking around ballparks in baggy baseball uniforms and floppy caps, playing make-believe on the field, in dugouts, in Dad's locker, all while the big guys watch over them - and dream.

"When they were younger, sure you hope they will play - that that would be neat," Doug said. "But you wonder, too, what if they lose the flavor for the game?

"Then I'd think about what I got from my dad. He coached me, but he never forced me to play. He taught me that as long as you have good kids, let them be what they want to be."

What did his kids want? "When they were smaller, they just kind of wanted to play with the other kids around the clubhouse," he said. "Then, by the time I got to Houston [in 1993], they started to get to know some of the players."

That's when the added benefits famed sons such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds speak of began to factor in. "By the time they were 12," Doug, 43, recalled, being around big-leaguers "was more of an advantage because the boys were into baseball more. They were in situations where being around clubhouses allowed them to get comfortable with the setting. "

Some of Kyle's most vivid memories are not of surroundings, but of the man who won 155 games. "When you're younger, just being able to be around him at the ballpark, you watch, you learn so much," Kyle said. "I can remember everyone saying, 'When he's on the mound, he hates to lose.' He was always so aggressive out there."

When Drabek's 13-year career ended in 1998, he embraced life at home with his wife, Kristy, and his children, including his daughter, Kelsey, 14.

"I wanted to be around them, wanted them to know I was available for them," he said. So Drabek poured himself into coaching - though he laughingly admitted that "I can't help my daughter with cheerleading or dance."

But he could help Kyle and Justin. So he coached the aspiring pitchers part-time and full-time, from Little League on, even turning down a minor-league coaching job to do so.

"He's always been there for us," Kyle said.

Doug Drabek's approach was simple: "Let them have fun." It was also caring, Kyle said. "When I was young, he told me to throw nothing but fastballs because he didn't want me to hurt my arm," he said. The other pitches - and inside-baseball stuff - would come later, in measured doses.

"Once I saw their style and their approach, I pretty much left them alone - if nothing was wrong," Doug said. "Maybe I'd see something in the delivery, or the way they threw a certain pitch, and I'd say something."

It hasn't always been easy. Having a major-league last name has often brought out the worst in fans. Kyle also had a personal Web page defaced by hackers.

"I probably take stuff like that worse than he does, because I'm a dad," Doug said. Yet Kyle's composure is his father, because, the son said, "Dad knew how to keep his cool on and off the field.

"It's pretty hard to describe, the bond between us three," Kyle said. "And baseball has always been such a big part of it."

Now, as Justin still strives to join a big-league organization, Kyle, his 14-0 senior season over and a high school state title won, knows he is almost there. "I'll be on my own in many ways," he said, "but my dad will still be teaching me things, about on the field and off - because he's lived it."

Nature and nurture. Like baseball, Kyle Drabek is banking on both.

Contact staff writer Claire Smith at 215-854-0454 or

All in the Family Sons of major-leaguers taken in the 2006 draft:
Drabek, Phillies, first round, son of Doug.
Preston Mattingly,
Dodgers, compensation round, son of Don.
Chad Tracy, Rangers,
third round, son of Pirates manager Jim.
Marcus Lemon,
Rangers, fourth round, son of Chet.
John Shelby,
White Sox, fifth round, son of John.
Joshua Lansford,
Cubs, sixth round, son of Carney.
Tyree Hayes,
Devil Rays, eighth round, son of Charlie.
Jeremy Barfield,
Mets, ninth round, son of Jesse.
Joshua Roenicke,
Reds, 10th round, son of Gary.
Benjamin Petralli,
Tigers, 17th round, son of Geno.
Curt Bradley,
Dodgers, 33d round, son of Phil.
Trent Henderson,
Astros, 37th round, son of Dave.
Scott Thomas,
Cardinals, 38th round, son of Lee.
David Cash,
Orioles, 40th round, son of Dave.
Bryce Lefebvre,
Padres, 45th round, son of Jim.
Candy Maldonado,
Devil Rays, 46th round, son of Candy.
Lance Durham,
Tigers, 45th round, son of Leon.
Kyle Williams,
White Sox, 47th round, son of White Sox general manager Ken.
Kyle Page,
Nationals, 48th round, son of Mitchell.
Jonathan Fernandez,
Blue Jays, 48th round, son of Tony.

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