Former New York Mets player, Lee Mazzilli, was labelled a “phenom” at age 18, being drafted directly out of a Brooklyn high school as a first-round pick in 1973. Three years later, he made his Major League debut with the Mets and made the National League All-Star team within four seasons. Fast forward forty years and Lee’s son, L. J., joined the professional ranks this season as the fourth-round pick of his father’s former team. The Mazzillis are just one example of many incidences of former Major League fathers seeing their sons follow in their footsteps, start to enjoy some success, and pursue making their own name in the sport.
The younger Mazzilli played his first professional season in his father’s home town of Brooklyn for the Mets’ Class-A affiliate. He is playing in ballparks where his father previously coached and managed at the minor league level before becoming manager of the Baltimore Orioles for two seasons. As his career progresses, L. J. will have the advantage of advice from a father who knows what it’s like to play in New York City, as well as having hung around the stadium environment while growing up.
Eric Young Jr. was headed to Villanova on a football scholarship when, after some heart-to-heart discussions with his father, he decided he would make baseball his career profession. Eric Sr. was an experienced advisor, since he was a 15-year veteran of the Major Leagues. Eric Jr. reached the big leagues himself in 2009 with the Colorado Rockies, but got a change in scenery this season, being picked up as a free agent by the New York Mets, where he broke into an everyday outfielder role.
Eric Jr. wound up leading the National League in stolen bases this season and is expected to be a part of the Mets’ rebuilding. His father, who also had a stint with the Rockies, was a similar type of player, excelling on the base paths, accumulating 465 stolen bases over his career. Now a baseball analyst for the Houston Astros’ broadcasts, Eric Sr. relishes the idea of being able to work in games in which his son plays.
After ten Major League seasons as journeyman middle reliever, 36-year-old Jason Grilli had a breakout year in 2013, as he was entrusted with the closer role for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He responded with a league-leading 29 saves and 1.99 ERA by the All-Star break, before suffering an injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. Jason was a big component of the Pirates’ resurgence as a playoff team in 2013.
Jason’s father, Steve, had also been a Major League pitcher in the 1970’s, but appeared in only 70 games during his four-year career. Hence, he never achieved the success of his son, so he was indeed a proud papa when Jason pitched the final inning for the National League in the All-Star Game in New York this season.
Wanting to give his son Jacob every chance to succeed in professional ball, Lee May Jr. taught him to switch-hit while he was playing at the college level. It paid off, as Jacob was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the third-round of the June 2013 draft. Lee Jr. had also been a high draft pick in 1986, the 21st overall selection by the New York Mets, and he wound up playing in the minors from 1986-1993. Their bloodlines also include Jacob’s grandfather, Lee Sr., who was a three-time All-Star during his eighteen-year Major League career from 1965-1982. With Jacob’s switch-hitting plus his speed, he projects to be a player more like his father than his grandfather, a power hitter who slugged 354 career home runs in the big league.
Baseball runs deep in another May family. Derrick May Jr. is an outfielder drafted in 2012 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but he chose to attend college over signing. Both his father (Derrick Sr.) and grandfather (Dave) were former Major League players. If Derrick Jr. can reach also the big leagues, their family would be only the fifth three-generation combination in history.
Delino DeShields is an up and coming prospect in the Houston Astros organization. He was a first-round selection out of high school in the 2010 Major League Draft. As a kid, he got a taste of the Major League environment while accompanying his father in big league clubhouses. He got to hang around such stars as Ripken, McGwire, and Sosa, since they were teammates of his father, also named Delino, a thirteen-year veteran of the Major Leagues.
It turns out the younger Delino is a base-stealer in his father’s mold. Now the elder Delino is pulling for his son to gain some maturity on the field so that he can become an integral part of a revitalized Astros franchise.
Kevin Romine has reason to be doubly proud of his baseball family, since he has two sons, Andrew and Austin, who have reached the Major League level. He coached them from the time they played tee ball as children. Kevin had a seven-year big league career as a reserve player for the Boston Red Sox. So when he got calls from Austin, a second-year catcher with the Yankees this season, about helping him with his swing, Kevin was all too ready to provide objective advice. Andrew, who played at Arizona State University like his father, was a fourth-year big leaguer this season with the Angels.
During the 2013 season, George Frazier and his son Parker shared a common dream, more than the normal aspirations of your average father and son. They both had careers in the Colorado Rockies organization. George, a former Major League relief pitcher from 1978-1987, had been a member of the Rockies broadcast team for seventeen years. Parker, a pitcher like his father, came up through the Rockies organization reaching the Triple-A level.
Thus, George waited anxiously for the day when he could do play-by-play with his son on the field for the Rockies. However, their unique dream ended with Parker being traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization during the season. George will have to settle for calling a game with Parker on the opposing side of the Rockies, still destined to be a special moment.
In early April of the 2013 season, big league fathers of several Cleveland Indians were honored at Progressive Field with ceremonial first pitches before the game. Five current Indians, including manager Terry Francona, coach Sandy Alomar Jr., and players Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley, and Zach McAllister, caught tosses from their respective fathers who were wearing their son’s uniform.
Francona’s father, Tito, spent fifteen seasons in the majors from 1956 to 1970. Alomar’s father, Sandy Sr., was an infielder from 1964 to 1978 and then served a long-time big league coach. Swisher’s father, Steve, was a reserve catcher from 1974 to 1982. Brantley’s father, Mickey, was an outfielder for the Mariners from 1986 to 1989. McAllister’s father, Steve, was the only father of this group who did not appear in the majors. However, after a short minor league stint, Steve has been a Major League scout.
For these guys, it was like playing catch in the back yard again. It was probably hard to tell who was more proud—the fathers or the sons.
Naturally, every father wants to see his son have success in life. But it’s an especially proud feeling when the son achieves success in the same profession. Baseball fathers are no different.
These are just a few of the father-son combinations in professional baseball today. I was able to count over 150 such combinations where the son was active in 2013, either in the majors or the minors.
If this article has peeked your interest in baseball’s many family relationships, check out my book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, which contains over 3,500 players, managers, coaches, scouts, owners, executives, umpires, and broadcasters who have a relative in professional baseball. The book can be purchased at http://thetenthinning.com/booksreviews.html.