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

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

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

Ped­er­son fam­ily

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.

Loren Holmes

STU PED­ER­SON, cur­rently a coach at a col­lege sum­mer league club in An­chor­age, gives ad­vice to in­fielder Kevin Viers be­fore a game.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

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.”

Loren Holmes Alaska Dis­patch News

AS­SIS­TANT COACH Stu Ped­er­son, seated, of the Glacier Pilots doles out high­fives to a lit­tle league team leav­ing the field in An­chor­age.

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