With first pitches, fathers show pride for sons
Swishers, Franconas, Brantleys, Alomars and McAllisters key opening ceremony
CLEVELAND -- The moment had arrived. Nick Swisher was set to make his Major League debut for the Oakland Athletics, and his parents had traveled to Toronto from their home in Parkersburg, W.V., to see their son don a Major League uniform for the first time.
They reached the ballpark, eager to see their son realize his dream and follow in his father's footsteps. Nick's father, Steve, played catcher in the big leagues for nine years and earned an All-Star Game nod in 1976.
Of course, there was one small caveat: Nick forgot to leave tickets at the gate for his parents.
Eventually, the Swishers found their way inside and watched their son tally his first Major League hit -- a double -- and draw a pair of walks in a 7-4 A's win.
"To see him that first day in a big league uniform on a big league field, I was very emotional," Steve Swisher said.
On Monday, the father and son were together on a big league field. The Swishers -- along with Terry and Tito Francona, Michael and Mickey Brantley, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Sr. and Zach and Steve McAllister -- participated in a family-oriented set of ceremonial first pitches at Progressive Field, with each father tossing a baseball to his son.
"It's like playing catch in the backyard again," Nick Swisher said. "This is something my father and I have shared my whole life. … I just told him, 'Don't bounce it. Get it there in the air.'"
All five fathers spent time in the Majors, in one manner or another.
Mickey Brantley played parts of four seasons with the Mariners in the late 1980s and has coached in the Giants, Mets and Blue Jays organizations.
"This is probably one of the best memories I've ever had on the baseball field," Michael Brantley said.
Sandy Alomar Sr. spent 15 years in the big leagues as a speedy infielder. He now does some work for the Blue Jays, counseling young players and running clinics. He flew in from his native Puerto Rico to toss a first pitch to his son, a longtime catcher.
"It's something unusual," said Sandy Sr. "It's something that hasn't been done before. It's something special for all of the fathers here."
Unlike his son, Steve McAllister never reached the big leagues as a player. He climbed as high as Double-A in the Pirates organization in 1985 and '86 but has since served as a Major League scout.
"I knew that a lot of the guys who were going to throw out the pitch were big leaguers," Steve McAllister said, "so I said yes before they could tell me no."
Tito Francona made the one-hour, 20-minute trek from his home in New Brighton, Pa., on Monday morning. He had less trouble along his travels than Terry had on his. The Indians skipper, who lives two blocks from Progressive Field, said he got lost three times on his walk to the ballpark.
The elder Francona, who will turn 80 in November, played 15 seasons in the big leagues, including six with Cleveland. He wasn't fully prepared for his first pitch.
"I was going to practice, but then I went out and hit golf balls instead," Tito Francona said.
Prior to Ubaldo Jimenez firing the first real pitch of the afternoon, Nick Swisher presented a check for $75,000 from his foundation, Swish's Wishes, to the Providence House, a local crisis nursery that protects children from abuse and neglect.
Following the national anthem, the fathers, clad in their sons' uniforms, all tossed a baseball to their sons. At Tito Francona's behest, the recipients of the throws waved their fathers closer to ease the burden on their aged arms.
"We got lucky," Mickey Brantley said. "[Tito] is throwing, so we don't have to go as far, so I can just toss it and be all right."
Steve Swisher's heave reached his son's glove without issue.
"I was trying to decide whether to throw the two-seamer or the four-seamer," Steve Swisher said. "Nick and his brother were giving me all sorts of ideas, like, 'Do this. Do this.' I said, 'It's all right, boys. I'll handle it.'"
When Nick Swisher originally called his father to extend the invitation, Steve first thought his son, ever the lively prankster, was joking.
"Having the opportunity to do something like this, it goes way deep," Steve Swisher said. "It means an awful lot to me. I want the people to know how proud I am to have the opportunity to do that."
Steve Swisher had no trouble gaining access to the ballpark this time. Now closer to home, Nick Swisher had plenty of family and friends in attendance. When asked how many tickets he had to secure for Monday's opener, his son supplied a simple answer.
"Enough," Nick said, laughing.