FATHER KNOWS BEST
After just eight games in majors, Stu Pederson went on to teach his kids, including Joc, about life through the game that turned on him
He loved the Dodgers, but they never loved him back.
Stu Pederson toiled through their minor league system for seven years, yet wore a Dodgers uniform for only eight major league games. He came to the plate just five times. Henever got a hit. Henever scored a run. He collected one RBI on a sacrifice fly to the Dodger Stadium right-field wall, and then took off the jersey forever.
Itwas September of1985, and outfielder Stu Pederson was quite possibly the most invisible man at Chavez Ravine. Hewas sent back downthe next spring and never appeared in another major league game. He eventually sought refuge in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, but by then hewas an aging journey man and, even with a career minor league average of .292, itwas too late.
“I did the best I could,” he said
plainly. “But they didn’t want me, and my run was eventually up.”
When Pederson finally ended his frustrating odyssey by retiring after the1992 season in triple-A Syracuse, hewas given one last chance at baseball salvation. He was offered several minor league coaching jobs. Itwas an opportunity to use his best asset— his baseball mind— to coach young players and perhaps end up back in a major league dugout for good. The temptation for redemption was strong.
But he turned down every offer because, with two children waiting for him, including a son who was born just five months earlier, he realized itwas time to go home and be a father.
“As a man, that’s just what you do,” he said. “You be there for your kids.”
Hewould never be involved in professional baseball again. Hewould never even work outside the home again. Hehas spent the rest of his life being the dad that he promised, in away that might surprise some.
Stu Pederson parented through the game that had turned its back on him. He overcame any bitterness over his own stalled career to teach his children lessons through the beauty of baseball. He played catch with them. He pitched to them. He coached them. He built a batting cage with a pitching machine in their Palo Alto backyard. Hewould drive to their school and pitch batting practice during their lunch breaks.
Henever talked about winning. Therewas never a final score. Itwas always about working hard, appreciating your blessings, remembering that life might only give you eight good games, and you cherish those games.
“I taught them about baseball, but it wasn’t really about baseball,” he said.
Every dad knows the drill, you duck your head and lose yourself and sacrifice everything in hopes for your children’s happiness. You pray for everything, expect nothing, and then, one day, the tiniest gesture brings life full circle.
On this Father’s Day, Stu Pederson will receive a package with the return address of Dodger Stadium, a box containing some fancy new versions of the same sort of Dodgers gear he abandoned 30 years ago.
It will come from a kid who is doing amazing things his father never had the chance to do, things his father only dreamed of doing, yet things his father precisely taught him to do.
It will come from that boy whowas just 5 months old when Pederson quit baseball towork as his father.
Akid named Joc.
Heis the most memorable of this year’s Dodgers, a mop-topped, 23-year-old center fielder who this season has impressed the baseball world with his 450-foot bombs, sprawling catches, and quiet humility.
Joc Pederson smiled and said he learned it all from the most forgotten of Dodgers.
“My dad was my first coach,” said Joc. “He taught me everything.”
The relentless work ethic? Joc said it came from watching his father never turn downa gameof catch despite being surrounded by four active children he was raising with his wife, Shelley.
“I don’t think I ever understood how annoying I was as a kid, and the sacrifices my dad made forme on a daily basis,” Joc said. “End of the day, my dad is tired and hungry and I’m like, ‘Let’s play catch.’ Andhe would say, ‘Not now.’ Iwould say, ‘C’mon Dad, let’s play catch!’ And eventually he would give in. He always gave in and played catch.’’
The amazing feats in the field? After making that highlight video game-saving running grab in San Diego lastweekend, Joc credited his father with teaching him howto save a step by taking his eye off the ball, run in its general direction, then pick it up again before making a catch.
“It’s kind of like a football wide receiver, you can run faster if you’re not looking at the ball,” said Joc. “Been doing that my whole life.”
That aw-shucks humble attitude that permeates his subdued on-field presence and quiet post game interviews? Joc said his father understandably preached to him about never taking one big-league moment for granted.
“He always told me, ‘You never knowwhen they’re going to take the jersey from you, appreciate every moment, and never forget that there’s lots of things more important,’ ” said Joc.
For Stu and Shelley Pederson, the most important thing was clearly family. Today that family includes Joc’s older brothers Champ, who has Down syndrome, and Tyger, and younger sister Jacey. All played sports, with Champ starring in Special Olympics, Tyger playing briefly as aminor league infielder in the Dodgers organization, and Jacey currently starring as a nationally ranked high school soccer player.
The one thing this diverse group shares is an almost complete lack of knowledge of their father’s baseball career, which included two seasons at USC before he spent a dozen minor league seasons with double-digit homers four times and 60-plus RBIs five times.
“Iwas similar to Joc, just take away a little bit of everything . . . a little power, a little speed,” said Stu, now 55, with a laugh.
And remove all memories. There is no old Dodgers uniform hanging in the Pederson house. There are no old baseball videotapes on the TVs tand. When he retired, Stu left behind all remnants of his former life and concentrated only on his children.
“He never talked about himself, itwas always about us,” Joc says. “He’s never like, ‘I played, you should do this.’ Itwas always about howwe could get better.”
With an online ticket business allowing the family tomake ends meet, Stu focused on teaching his children the values he learned through his struggles. Instead of pushing them toward his lost dreams, he hit them with reality.
Life isn’t always fair. You don’t always get a second chance. Fame is fleeting. Bitterness is worthless. Do the right things, be a good person, and you’ll find your way.
“I didn’t have the greatest opportunity in the big leagues, but I did have an opportunity, I did have four at-bats,” Stu said. “What if I had gone four for four? Would they have given me more of a chance? It just wasn’t meant to be. I don’t live off old memories. This is not about continuing my dreams, it’s about making newones for my children.”
So he didn’t blink when Joc went through entire years during elementary school literally wearing nothing but baseball pants or shorts. Andhe dropped everything when Joc reached Palo Alto High and began asking his father, who was an assistant coach on the varsity baseball team, for extra help.
“Itwas lunch time, the phone would ring, ‘Dad can you come over and throw?’ ” related Stu. “So I’d go to the high school, we’d get in the cage, he’d go back to class, I’d go back home, then a few hours later Iwould go back to practice.”
Nowthat Joc has a handful of coaches who can pitch to him around the clock, he doesn’t need his father’s arm somuch, which is fine with Stu. In fact, despite this being his son’s first full season in the big leagues, Stu is spending two months in Alaska as an assistant coach with the Anchorage Glacier Pilots of the Alaska Summer Baseball League for collegians.
It is Stu’s way of satisfying his eternal urge to teach. It is, perhaps, also his way of catching up on some of the high-level baseball coaching that he gave up so many years ago.
Joc, whose first phone call upon being recalled to the big leagues last September was to his father, understands.
“He taught me how to play the game the rightway, it’s up to me now,” Joc says. “Once you growup and you realize howmuch time he gave us, all the sacrifices he made for us, howit was always about us and never him, howmuch he loves us . . . I’m just happy if he’s doing something that makes him happy.”
Stu can only catch the occasional gameon national television, but perhaps his greatest Father’s Day gift is the satisfaction of knowing he no longer needs towatch his son to know how exactly he will look.
“He knows what he needs to do,” said the father.
“I knowwhat I need to do,” said the son.
‘It just wasn’t meant to be. I don’t live off old memories. This is not about continuing my dreams, it’s about making new ones for my children.’
Stu Pederson, on his abbreviated MLB career
FORMER DODGER Stu Pederson holds his young son Joc in an old family photo; Joc Pederson, now 23, is the starting center fielder for the Dodgers who has impressed people with his skills and humility.
STU PEDERSON, currently a coach at a college summer league club in Anchorage, gives advice to infielder Kevin Viers before a game.
JOC PEDERSON works on his fielding skills while at the Dodgers spring training camp in March. He says of his father, Stu: “He taught me how to play the game the right way, it’s up to me now.”
ASSISTANT COACH Stu Pederson, seated, of the Glacier Pilots doles out highfives to a little league team leaving the field in Anchorage.