Major League Dads

Baseball's Best Players Reflect on the Fathers Who Inspired Them to Love the Game


By Kevin Neary

By Leigh A. Tobin

Foreword by Terry Francona

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Baseball is America’s favorite pastime and one of the best ways for fathers and sons to bond. Major League Dads is an inspirational look at such connections through a collection of heartfelt essays from interviews with 150 of the top players in Major League Baseball, such as David Wright, Carlos Pena, Brad Lidge, and Derek Jeter. Through personal recollections, you can read firsthand what their dads meant to them growing up and how they coached them to success both on and off the field.


To my wife Sue and my three children, Matthew, Emma, and Grace, without whose patience, support, and most of all love, the completion of this book would not have been possible. Also, for my dad Jim who instilled in me my lifelong love of the game of baseball.

—Kevin Neary

For my dad, who not only taught me about the game of baseball but gave me my passion for it. To my children Katie and Sean, to whom I hope to pass on the same love of baseball. And to my husband Eric, for his patience through it all!

—Leigh A. Tobin

There might be 55,000 fans in the stand but you can always hear your dad's voice.

— Jeff Francoeur, outfielder for the Kansas City Royals



Robert Astle, Steve Barr (Little League International), Frank Blum (WALT DISNEY WORLD Company), Brian Britten (Detroit Tigers), Peter Chase (Chicago Cubs), Brandon Cohen, Chris Costello, Chad Crunk (University of Arkansas), Joe Cuomo (New York Mets), Joe Dier (Mississippi State University), Brenda Earhart, Johnny Ferrero, Terry Francona, Pam Ganley (Boston Red Sox), Coddy Granum, Brad Hainje (Atlanta Braves), Dave Haller (Tampa Bay Rays), Andrew Heydt (Tampa Bay Rays), Dani Holmes-Kirk (Chicago Cubs), Brad Horn (National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum), John Horne (National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum), Jay Horowitz (New York Mets), Mike Huff (Georgia Tech), Josh Ishoo (San Diego Padres), Greg Jones, James Earl Jones, Dave Kaczmarczyk, Doug Kemp (Philadelphia Phillies), Amanda Koch (Philadelphia Phillies), Scott Littlefield (WALT DISNEY WORLD Company), Kendall Loyd, Michelle Marks, Pete Mayta, Cheryl Meeks, Adrienne Midgley (Atlanta Braves), Warren Miller (San Diego Padres), Hal Morningstar, James Neary, Veronica Neary, Dr. Gary Nelson, Tom O'Reilly (WALT DISNEY WORLD Company), Candy Owens, Veronica Owens, Paul Perrello, Bret Picciolo (San Diego Padres), Matthew Ratner (Florida International University), Carmen Rios-Molina, Matt Rivlin (Tampa Bay Rays), Phil Alden Robinson, Tom Rodowsky (Walt Disney), Linda Rolen, Carol and Ed Rogers, Dave Schofield, Geoffrey Stone, Bob Thomas (Florida State University), Rick Thompson (Detroit Tigers), John Timberlake (Philadelphia Phillies), Jim Trdinich (Pittsburgh Pirates), Mike Tuohey (WALT DISNEY WORLD Company), Rick Vaughn (Tampa Bay Rays), Tom Whiteway (Tampa Bay Rays), Casey Wilcox (Arizona Diamondbacks), Shana Wilson (San Diego Padres), Judy Wolf, Melody Yount (St. Louis Cardinals), and Ed Zausch.

In memory of Gary Carter who represented "The Kid" in all of us


I have been involved in baseball my entire life. My father was a major league player, I was a major league player, and now I manage in the major leagues.

My father, John "Tito" Francona, was an outfielder/first baseman in the majors (as was I) from 1956 to 1970. My career started out strong (in 1981), but I'd like to think my knees prevented me from having a more successful playing career. I was done playing in 1990 and moved into the coaching and managing ranks in 1991. The White Sox organization gave me opportunities to manage in the minors, but in 1996 I got my big break. General Manager Lee Thomas hired me to be the manager for the Philadelphia Phillies; it was my first big league managing job.

I met a lot of great people in Philadelphia, many of whom I am still friends with to this day. The team didn't have the best results, but I learned a lot and gained experience. Many of the people I met there helped me get through the daily requests, avoid pitfalls, and provided the basis for my future success. One of those people was Leigh A. Tobin, the little spitfire PR person who was by my side through my four years there.

"Leigh-Leigh" never got flustered. She treated everyone in that clubhouse with respect, which is why I think they respected her in return. She advised me on interviews, anticipated my statistical needs, would listen to my rants without judgment, was firm, but remained a rock through it all.

I was hired as the Boston Red Sox manager in 2004, probably the biggest move and most thrilling year of my career. It was the first of two World Championships I experienced there. And it was shortly after that year that Leigh-Leigh introduced me to Kevin Neary.

Kevin is a fascinating person who can tell a story better than anyone I have ever met. He told me about his idea for this book and got me thinking about my father. Looking back, when I was growing up I think I probably took my dad for granted. It wasn't until I moved out on my own that I realized how lucky I was.

One of my first memories was traveling with my dad a little bit when he was playing during those summer months. My dad was special . . . he was a major league player, but he was always a dad first to me. He was gone a lot with his job, but somehow he managed to make me feel important. He encouraged me to try my best and to enjoy the game. He never put a lot of pressure on me—he cared more about me—and to this day I am proud of him . . . and I hope I learned a lot about being a dad, so I can pass it on to my kids.

That is what makes this a special book. Every kid has special memories about his father—funny stories, vivid memories, great advice—and this is a great way for many major leaguers to share those stories and honor the men who helped us get here. (By the way, the best advice I received from my dad was to respect the game, respect the people in the game, and enjoy the competitiveness of the game.)

When my son Nick was in Little League, I was right there for him, as my dad was for me and, hopefully, Nick will be for his son one day. For us, baseball is just the means to a stronger father/son bond that is passed from generation to generation.

—Terry Francona


I need to begin with an admission . . . I am a baseball fan and I have my father to thank for that.

They say that history begins the year you were born but when you have a father that loves the game of baseball, history has no defined boundary. My dad would always remind me of the great players he grew up watching, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and of course Ted Williams. He would also talk about the great players who played the game before them, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, and of course "The Babe."

To the casual observer the game of baseball is played by two teams, on a field, preferably grass, with batters and fielders all competing in an effort to outscore their opponent in a given nine innings of play. Three strikes make an out, first base is ninety feet away, and the pitcher's mound is sixty feet, six inches from home. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Yet the game we call baseball for many is much more complicated, involving strategy and a sound game plan. And for some, the game takes on a somewhat philosophical approach. To these special individuals, "Baseball Is Life," so says the popular expression.

Baseball is truly a game of tradition, heritage, and that of honoring excellence. And, I guess when my own son, Matthew, and my daughters, Emma and Grace, who I do coach in baseball, get a little older it will be my job and responsibility, as my dad did, to educate them on those same traditions regarding baseball and the greats who have played the game.

When I was a kid, I played baseball every chance I got. I loved spring and summer because that meant it was baseball season. Growing up we played baseball around the neighborhood, as well as a variety of games all inspired by baseball. I remember we used to play a game called half-ball. It involved a broomstick as a bat and a ball appropriately called a pimple ball we would then cut in two equal halves and use to compete on the street or in a back alley.

So many people have asked me over the years as I was collecting my research and writing this book, "Is this a book about baseball?" The answer is "Yes." But, it's less a book about baseball and more a book about the relationships between fathers and their sons.

The common thread that connects each of these stories is that it involves a major league ballplayer who had a father who served in a coaching capacity during his life. The book itself is designed to highlight the positive relationships of these fathers and their sons who have played, or currently play, the game of baseball. Each story describes the influence their father had on their baseball careers, their approach to life, and/or their own relationship with their families.

As you read each player's story you will discover that every situation between father and player is unique as you might expect. Yet, there are subtle nuances that seem to connect each of the stories. What you will quickly discover is that behind every great ballplayer is an equally great father, who loves his son and shares with him the love of the game. A father, who was able to connect with his son, made the sacrifices when he needed to, and shared with him a common dream. I am sorry to say, however, that this book is not a blueprint on how to become a major league ballplayer.

This leads me to the next question, "Where did I gain the inspiration for the book?" For inspiration, I turned to two sources. As I watched the Little League World Series in 2005 I got my first source of inspiration. I began to wonder if the best players are oftentimes the coach's son. This seemed to be the case with the Maitland, Florida, Little League team, which featured Dante Bichette Jr. and Tanner Stanley. Both, in this case, the sons of former major league ball players. After a few calls to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, my suspicions were confirmed. Each organization provided many examples of players who they knew were at one point coached by their father.

One such player was catching great Gary Carter. When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he began by telling the thousands in attendance that, "My parents can't be here today in person, but I know that they are smiling down from heaven today, because they have the best seats in the house." He continued and gave a glowing account of his own father Jim, "He was always there for me. He coached me in Little League, Pony League, and American Legion and also supported me in any other sport I played, constantly encouraging me. His favorite time of year was spring training, when he'd come and visit the family and watch a few games. He would go early with me to the ballpark and would stay until the end. He just couldn't get enough baseball."

So, there I was poised and ready to write this book. And for someone like me who is firmly planted in the concept of tradition, it seemed only fitting that my first interview for the book would be with Gary Carter, the player who quickly came to be, in my mind, the quintessential example of a son who was coached by his father. For over sixteen years Gary Carter's father was his coach. "My father always reminded me to keep a level head, to keep focused, stay on track, and understand that I was given many God given gifts," said a reflective Carter. "My father was always a part of my life and he was a great role model for me. I was his son, and my dad was my idol and my best friend." admitted Carter. "My greatest honor after my nineteen-year professional career was to be honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I know during my Induction Ceremony speech my father was looking over my right shoulder and my mom was looking over my left shoulder."

Very quickly what I discovered was that the book was developing its own personality. I remember very early on in the writing project a media relations official by the name of Chris Costello from the Tampa Bay Rays approached me during an interview session and said, "Please let our home (Tampa) be your home for your American League interviews." Shortly after that exchange, the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies made similar acknowledgments. I never knew who I was going to interview when I stepped into any clubhouse. There is certainly no media guide or documentation that says, "Played Little League and Pony League from ages six years old and up and was coached by his dad." Every time I entered a clubhouse I knew I had to ask the question to every player I came into contact with. I got several "no's" but not of the nasty sort. In most cases the player would say, "No, my dad couldn't coach me because he was working all of the time." And then they usually followed it up with an "It's not like he didn't want to be my coach!" Many players that I came into contact with, Tim Hudson, Chase Utley, Randy Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez, A. J. Pierzynski, Gary Sheffield, Paul Konerko, David Ortiz, and Ryan Howard, to name just a few, fell into this category. That hopefully answers yet another question I would often get about the book, "Why didn't you interview this player or that player?" Certainly, I would have loved to interview the players mentioned, and so many more, but they didn't fit the paradigm of being coached by their father.

One of the most interesting responses from a player that I came into contact with was pitcher John Smoltz. I asked John the same question I asked all the players, "Was your dad ever your coach growing up?" Smoltz replied, "No, my father was a musician, and he wanted me to be a musician, too." I replied back, "I guess that is why you are such a virtuoso on the mound." I think he appreciated the compliment.

Another interesting situation occurred with baseball great Alex Rodriguez. I remember when I interviewed Derek Jeter. Like so many players, Derek was very excited about the opportunity to talk about his father. In fact, I had to interview Derek twice because each time we ran out of time with the interview session. One of the days I interviewed Derek, Alex Rodriguez was sitting across from us and suiting up. Alex seemed very interested and fascinated at Derek's recounts and stories about his father. I remember, when I finished with Derek, out of curiosity I turned to Alex and said, "Mr. Rodriguez may I ask you the same question? Were you ever coached by your father?" He admitted that his father did not coach him. I apologized to him, stating the parameters of the book and my inability to interview him. I wished him continued success and the very best. Alex then stood up, extended his hand, and said, "No, thank you and God bless!" I think Alex truly enjoyed listening to Derek's own account of his father and the impact he had on his life.

Over the years, I've had players laugh with me and cry with me as they relate the stories of growing up being the coach's son. In fact, I remember one player said to me, "I haven't talked to my dad in over twenty years, but I owe him everything and am hoping your book brings us back together."


On Sale
Apr 24, 2012
Page Count
256 pages
Running Press

Kevin Neary

About the Author

Kevin Neary has been a fan of the game his entire life. He worked with the Philadelphia Phillies for nine years. For the past twenty years he has worked for The Walt Disney Company and is the coauthor of Major League Dads. He lives in Celebration, FL.

Leigh A. Tobin worked for the Philadelphia Phillies for more than twenty years in PR as the writer for the club’s publications and later as the Director of Media Relations. She has relationships with a great number of major league players and is the coauthor of Major League Dads. She lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Learn more about this author