Baseball bonds Sooner players, parents
There are few moments in a ballplayer's life as special as taking the field at Rosenblatt Stadium. For Oklahoma's Garrett Buechele and Cameron Seitzer, last year's trip to the College World Series was even more memorable because it was one of the few times their fathers -- both former major leaguers and current coaches -- were able to see them play.
Steve Buechele, manager of Texas Rangers Double-A affiliate Frisco, and Kevin Seitzer, the hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals, don't get to many of their boys' games. It's one of the few downsides of a career they love. But both have found unique ways to follow the Sooners.
"The hard part is missing his games," said Kevin, who spent 12 years playing for the Royals, Brewers, Indians and Athletics. "Every time I can see him play in person, I try to take advantage of it. The ability to watch games on the computer or on TV helps."
"I don't get to see a lot of games; that's one of the biggest drawbacks," Steve said. "When I'm asked what kind of player he is, I tell them, 'I know he can hit, but everything else, I can't tell you because I don't get to see his games.'"
Both Kevin and Steve have played major roles in their sons' development as ballplayers. Kevin retired in 1997 to coach his sons. "They weren't getting the quality coaching or having the experience that kids need to have. Especially for my older son, who was 12 at the time," he explained.
But being the son of a major leaguer isn't always easy, especially when you're attempting to make a name for yourself in the same sport. "I remember making an error in T-ball, and someone said something like, 'Your father would have made that play.' And it really ticked me off," Garrett said. "But that was the last time I ever let it get to me. I just go out there and play, and don't worry about what anyone else thinks."
It's a balance that Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway understands. "The challenge is for the boys not to overdo it. They want to please at a level of a dad who was a professional star -- not a cup-of-coffee guy," he explained. "We've had a lot of players who have had associations -- a father, uncle, grandfather -- with the bigs, and I'm cautious at times. When it's good, it can be great. But there can be some pretty bumpy roads.
"I give all the credit to the players for making it a success. Cam and Garrett have been great. Never acted entitled, never asked to be treated any different than their teammates, and their dads have been just like that also."
Cameron, a junior first baseman, and Garrett, a redshirt junior third baseman, clearly have been blessed with good genes and have benefited from living with a coach. But competing at the highest level of collegiate baseball wasn't a sure thing for either.
"Cam wasn't one of the better players on the team growing up; he was more of a middle-of-the-road guy. There were several players who were much better athletes," Kevin said. Cam experienced a growth spurt his junior year, and it took some time for his game to adjust. Many teams overlooked the lanky lefty. "[My approach to the recruiting process] was to just let it unfold. I wasn't a dad who went around contacting coaches, asking them to look at my son. I didn't want him going to a staff that wasn't pursuing him."
Cam was looking at junior colleges when Oklahoma began recruiting him. Still, Kevin had his doubts. "I didn't want him to take a risk with a Division I program and not get playing time," he explained.
As a hitting coach, Kevin had a few questions that most parents might overlook. "I asked about their hitting philosophy, what they would be teaching my son to do," he said. "I didn't want to put him in a situation where he'd be told to do something different than what's been ingrained in him all his life. [Oklahoma] puts up offensive numbers each year -- there's a reason for that. [Hitting coach Tim] Tadlock does a great job."
Cam has thrived at Oklahoma, starting at designated hitter his freshman year (.323 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 20 games before breaking his wrist). As a sophomore, he earned All-Big 12 honorable mention honors after hitting 16 home runs, and continued his hot streak in the Cape Cod League, where he was named an all-star.
Garrett's Sooners career was even more improbable. The preseason All-American and Golden Spikes candidate enrolled at Oklahoma as a preferred walk-on.
"The colleges weren't lined up for Garrett," said Steve, a former infielder for the Rangers, Cubs and Pirates. "Oklahoma was kind of a last-minute thing -- I just wanted him to be comfortable and happy and have a place to play. They made no guarantees going in."
For a "last-minute thing," it has turned out spectacularly for Garrett. He was named the Big 12 freshman of the year -- Oklahoma's first -- after leading the Big 12 with a .396 batting average, 40 hits and a .479 on-base percentage in conference play, while committing just seven errors. He was named team captain both his sophomore and junior years and was named a second-team All-American after finishing second in Big 12 in homers (17) and ranking in the top five in hits, batting average, total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage.
"As a freshman, Garrett was just a sponge -- just outstanding," Golloway said. "He earned every bit of his scholarship and position and the recognition he's getting nationally. He's gone the long road to get there. Cam's road wasn't as long, but just as successful."
Kevin and Steve have found ways to watch their sons' development from afar. Steve gets to as many games as he can, but if he's not able to watch, he relies on conversations with Garrett for updates on how his son is feeling. "We keep in touch and talk about what he's done, but not every conversation is baseball-related," Steve said. "If there's a problem or anything he wants to talk about, I'm certainly there, but I'm not going over it pitch by pitch."
Having another coach in his life has been nothing but positive, according to Cam. "My dad has been my hitting coach since day one," he said. "He's been there for me, through everything, and gotten me farther than I ever imagined."
Modern technology has given Kevin insight into his son's game that would have been unheard of years ago. He can catch a game streaming on Oklahoma's website, and Sooners coaches have given him access to their game footage, allowing him to look closely at each at-bat. For a hitting coach, it's a gold mine.
"It's a tremendous asset," said Kevin, who talks with his son after each game. "I couldn't be more appreciative and thankful of the Oklahoma staff -- everyone's just been phenomenal."
Giving a parent that kind of access takes trust. "It would be really hard for a lot of Division I coaches to have parents that involved, but let's face it, this guy knows what he's talking about," Golloway said. "Everybody's checked their ego at the door and done what's best for the kids. I cannot tell you one time where we have felt like toes were stepped on or they feel like toes were stepped on. That's pretty remarkable when we're at this level, with the people involved. The student-athletes should get the credit: Those two young men have taken all of the resources and utilized them."
Being able to put each swing in super-slow motion may be a hitting coach's dream, but watching the real thing live is even more special to a father. That's why last year's trip to Omaha meant so much to Kevin, who traveled to Omaha on a Royals off day.
"It was pretty powerful. I get a little emotional -- the things I miss tear me up inside," Kevin said. "That's a dream for a child. Playing in the bigs might be the biggest dream, but playing in the College World Series is something few, few people get to experience. For him to get that opportunity, words can't express what it means to me."
Steve, who played in the College World Series for Stanford in 1982, got to see his son play in the final CWS at Rosenblatt Stadium against South Carolina, a team he faced in Omaha as a Cardinal.
"It meant the world to me that he was there -- I wasn't sure he'd be able to come -- and it was fitting that it was Father's Day," Garrett said. "I hit a home run in the eighth inning, and a fan gave me the ball, and I was able to give to him. He played there, and I got to play there the last year of Rosenblatt. I don't know too many fathers and sons who can say that."
Golloway understands the feeling. "When people asked me what my greatest moment in Omaha was -- and I was part of a title in '94 -- my answer is simple: last year's opening ceremonies," he said. "We're sitting on the field, during the fireworks, and my 11-year-old son, our batboy, says, 'Dad, this might be the greatest day of my life.' Tears started to swell. He's 11. Can you imagine these baseball dads watching their sons hit home runs in the College World Series? That to me is priceless."
Lauren Reynolds is a college sports editor for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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