As Michael Bourn steps into the batter's box at Minute Maid Park, a man in the crowd leans forward, intently watching the pitches and swings, ignoring everyone and everything around him.

This man has watched every one of Bourn's games since the Astros speedster was five years old, and he knows the center fielder's habits and tendencies at the plate.

The man is Bourn's best friend -- and father -- Raymond Bourn.

Raymond coached his son in Little League and through junior high. And while he released the coaching reins when Michael entered high school, he still has a few pointers for the 25-year-old, although he tries not to butt in too much.

"I kind of backed off and realized he's grasped the things I told him, and now he must improve on this level," Raymond Bourn said. "I really can't help him too much on this level. When he steals bases, I get pumped. But I tell him, 'Just because you're on base doesn't mean you have to steal -- just be a nuisance.'"

The father and son feel they have a closer relationship than a normal parent and child, partly because of the important role Raymond had in Michael's life growing up.

Michael said he is lucky to have such a tight bond.

"He helped me become a man," he said. "I feel like a father is a big influence on a man's life. I can see it the older I get. I'm proud, because a lot of people don't have their father growing up, and he was there every day of my life."

Michael's mother, Carrie Bourn, said the two have been inseparable since Michael was young, and their activities usually involved sports in some way.

On top of baseball, Michael also played football and basketball and ran track in school, so they were always attending athletic events.

"It was sports all the time, but also we had church activities and different activities that he had at school," Mrs. Bourn said. "They did a lot of things together, because whatever he participated in, that's what we were involved in."

Michael and his dad did get into little fights when he was growing up, mostly, he said, because they were both competitive people and did not like to give in to each other.

He said they were both "feisty," and his dad would always let him know who was boss.

"With that in mind, you understand that he's there to discipline you at any given time, whatever it takes," Michael sad. "I learned that the reason he stays on me is because he cares.

"I was like, 'Why can't you leave me alone and just let me do what I want to do?' You don't understand it, but it really is because they want you to be the best that you can be."

Michael said being able to play in his hometown with his father watching every game from the stands has been very special for him.

When he found out on Nov. 7, 2007, that he was being traded from the Phillies to Houston, Michael called his dad to give him the news.

"I called him and said, 'Daddy, guess what: I just got traded,'" Michael recalled, laughing. "He said, 'To who?' and I said, 'Guess.' 'D'oh, I don't want to guess!' I was laughing so hard because he was so intense; he wanted to know so bad. He said, 'You coming back home? Oh, man!' He was so mixed up emotionally."

Raymond said the 15-mile trek down Highway 59 from his home to Minute Maid Park is preferable to taking vacations and making plane trips up north to watch his son play.

He gets to visit his son outside the clubhouse after games and knows that he will likely see Michael at home afterward.

Both father and son feel they have more of a friendship now than a parent-child relationship. Michael said he could not imagine not having his father to talk to about important things.

Raymond said the change came when he stopped coaching his son.

"When he reached high school, I just told him some days are going to be good in sports, some days are going to be bad," Raymond said. "I tried to be there for him for support rather than coaching.

"Before then, I guess I could be a little critical in things. I didn't want to show any favoritism whatsoever. I was making sure that Mike knew he could fill his role on the team. He earned it."

Now the two go out to eat and discuss life and current events. And while they still watch a lot of sports, they avoid talking about baseball.

"That's his job, so he kind of wants to get away from that," Raymond said. "We talk about what's happening in the world."

Michael said although he and his father used to argue a lot, the way his father raised him has turned him into the player -- and person -- he is today.

"He's competitive, too -- that's where I get it from," Micahel said. "He said I made him a better coach, but he made me a better player. He's done a real good job. I can't ask for anything more."