Commentary

'I really believe he knows that it is me'

Joe Girardi on his dad, who has Alzheimer's, and a special Father's Day road trip

Updated: June 19, 2011, 11:07 PM ET
By Joe Girardi, as told to Andrew Marchand | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

On Father's Day, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi will wake up early to make the 2½-hour drive from Chicago to just outside his hometown of Peoria, Ill. There, he will visit with his father.

Jerry, 80, has been everything a son could want. Even as he provided for his family by working three jobs, he always found time for each of his five children. Joe's work ethic and commitment to his family emanated from the bond he developed from his strong, devoted parents.

In 1978, doctors diagnosed Joe's mother, Angela, with cancer. Joe was 13. His mom was told she had six months to live and instead survived for six years. Her last words to Joe were, "Just don't forget me." Joe hasn't.

During the 1998 World Series, Joe first noticed his father was having trouble remembering things. Jerry's Alzheimer's has only gotten worse since. He recently had a seizure and is unable to speak.

Just as his father did for him as a kid, Joe will find time Sunday away from work to be there for his father. Here is Joe Girardi's Father's Day story.


On baseball, basketball and fishing with Dad

My father is the one who introduced me to this great game and going to the ballpark. I was the fourth of five children and he always made time for us, even though he worked three jobs to provide a better life for us.

There are a lot of things my father has taught me. He has taught me the value of hard work. He has taught me the value of money.

But he also taught me the importance of time with your children.

He used to take me on sales calls during the summer. I was little. We would listen to Cubs games. When he was working for Brian Electric selling stuff, I would ride in the car four hours each way.

Wherever my dad went, I went. When we went fishing, I was right there next to my dad. He would catch the fish and he would let me reel them in.

He taught me toughness. I just remember playing basketball in the backyard and my dad playing like it was an NBA game, in a sense. I would shoot a shot and he would jab me in the stomach. He would box me out and he taught me how to survive in a sense. You have to fight for everything that you want in life.

A lot of times we didn't necessarily keep score or play games. He would just let me be on offense and just teach me the toughness. He was my basketball coach for the Catholic grade school team for four years. He was involved in all our lives and all of our athletics.

He used to cook the team meals before the football games in high school. My parents were really involved in our lives.

He must not have slept

Education came first for everyone at our house. The interesting thing about my dad -- and I don't know how he did it -- there were five of us and he worked three jobs. He would bartend at night, lay brick on the weekends, and he was a salesman. But he always had time for us.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
AP Photo/John BazemoreIn 1996, Joe Girardi won his first World Series with the Yankees. He gave the ring to his dad.

He must not have slept. He really must not have slept.

The fish fry

My father used to catch bullhead catfish. He used to fry them up and we loved them. We ate them always on Fridays and Lent. He and his buddy, Harold, used to always go fishing in the summer real early in the morning, like 4 o'clock in the morning; there was a lake they went to. They would bring them all home and put them in a bucket, and he would clean them when he got home from work.

So my buddy Rickey Blundell and I got together and decided we really wanted to help my dad out. We were about 7, maybe younger. We loved to fish and so we are going to clean them for him.

We got every cleaning agent in the house that we knew of. Ajax, Mr. Clean, Cheer, Tide, whatever it was, and poured it in the bucket. We thought that is how you clean the fish.

We destroyed every one of them. He wasn't real pleased when we got home. I did not get in trouble because he knew that my heart was in the right order, but we really tried to help out.

I was crushed because we couldn't eat them. He had this big iron pan as the skillet and then he would make the French fries in that grease and it was so good -- and we ruined it.

Northwestern and the restaurant

We started school the end of September, so I was, like, the only college kid home and there was no baseball going on. Every day, we would go take batting practice at Washington High School, which was two minutes from where our restaurant was.

He would feed the machine to me, hour after hour. We would hit in the morning and then I would help him out at the restaurant. He gave us a lot of responsibility at the restaurant. He taught me how to do a lot of things there.

We would try to relieve him. During that time, my mother was really sick. But he always found time.

I gave him my '96 ring

My dream as a little boy was to play for the Chicago Cubs. He used to take us to about four or five games a year. To have that come full circle was absolutely amazing for him.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesJoe Girardi spent two stints with the Cubs, the team he rooted for while growing up in Peoria.

Opening Day, my first day with the Cubs, was special. The World Series, him being at the games; I gave him my '96 ring when I was inducted into the Northwestern Hall of Fame. I gave him my ring that night.

When I was drafted by the Cubs, Pete Vonachen, the owner of the Peoria Suns, asked for me to play in my hometown. I didn't have to go to Short-A; they sent me right to the Midwest League. We had a lot of commuter trips. My dad, every day before he went to work, had a sandwich ready for me. He went to every game we were at home. He just made life easy on me.

I joked we were making $750 a month and that I was the only kid saving money because my dad was feeding me.

I'm so appreciative of my parents because I thought my parents did everything they could to give me a chance to succeed in life, whether it was through education or athletics.

On discipline

My father was a disciplinarian and he expected a lot from us. When I got in trouble, I got in trouble, but I would follow my dad wherever he went. I adored my dad and I still do.

I really believe he knows that it is me

He is near the end of his Alzheimer's. He is not doing too good. He just had a seizure, actually. He has had them before. He has come back. But when I call him, he doesn't talk. He doesn't open his eyes a lot. He does wiggle his hands and fingers when he hears my voice. I really believe he knows that it is me, but I don't know for sure.

Making time between work

I've got to find time to see him. I know we have a night game Sunday. I'm going to try to get up real early in the morning Sunday and make the 2½ hour drive to see him.

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