The Bellingers are celebrating a special Father's Day
There are few things more gratifying for a dad than seeing his kids reach their goals and achieve success, so this is a particularly special Father's Day for Clay Bellinger.
The former Yankees' utility player's son, Cody, made his big league debut with the Dodgers on April 25 and hasn't stopped crushing the ball. He led National League rookies in homers (18), runs (34), RBIs (40), slugging (.624) and OPS (.958) entering the weekend. As we near the season's midway point, the 21-year-old slugger is the leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
As if that's not special enough, this past Wednesday, Clay Bellinger's younger son, Cole, was drafted by the Padres in the 15th round. A month earlier, Cole had been the winning pitcher for Hamilton High School when it claimed its second straight Arizona State championship.
“It's been a great two months for us, really, with Cody and his call up to the big leagues and the way he's been performing up there, and then for Cole with his high school team winning the state championship and him getting drafted,” the elder Bellinger said Friday. “As a father, baseball-wise, it's about as good as it can get.”
The Bellingers are just the latest of well over 200 father-son combinations who have played Major League Baseball.
Cody Bellinger, a 6-foot-4, left-handed slugger, was drafted by the Dodgers in the fourth round in 2013, and quickly became one of the club's top prospects. The 21-year-old has fit right into the middle of an already powerful veteran lineup.
But it wasn't like it was the first time he'd been in a professional baseball setting. Clay brought his son with him to the ballpark as often as possible during his playing career, so there's been a little less awe and little more familiarity for Cody than most MLB rookies.
“In the minor leagues, I got to be bat boy whenever I was with him,” Cody recalled. “Then in the major leagues I got to spend time in the Yankees clubhouse. Being a young kid and hanging out in a big-league clubhouse with guys named Pettitte, Mussina and Jeter was pretty special.
“There's an advantage to having a father who was in the big leagues. I honestly can't put my finger on it, but I always felt comfortable around big-league players and a big-league stadium. Maybe that's all there is to it? I do know it definitely helped me.”
Clay Bellinger, still just 48, also believes the benefit to having a ballplayer dad was less about learning to play than how to conduct yourself.
“It helps to see how your dad carries himself around the clubhouse and to see the kind of people he associates himself with and how they handle themselves,” he said. “Can't hurt, that's for sure.”
But even if Cody had never been drafted and never reached the big leagues and never clubbed 18 home runs in his first two months, the Bellingers would both be savoring the memories of Cody growing up on the ballfield and in the clubhouse and learning from his father.
“Our best times were probably in the minor leagues where I could spend a little more time with him,” Clay said. “He was pretty young then, but he would dress up in our home jersey and he had his own little pants and we'd go play catch before games. I remember getting to the park a little early with him and hit out on the field and take some fly balls and ground balls – that sort of stuff.
“Any baseball dad is proud to bring his kid to the clubhouse and introduce him to the fellas. It's a great feeling.”
Of course, the Bellingers didn't need to be at a ballpark to be talking or playing baseball. It was always the center of their lives.
“It seemed like it was all baseball all the time growing up, especially between me and my brother (Cole),” Cody said. “We loved the game, so we always wanted to play. My dad was always just very supportive.
“He was my coach on every single team, I think. Probably the biggest overall thing he did for me was to teach me to respect the game. That advice really stuck out with me.”
There were other skills Clay was able to impart on Cody, as well, even if Clay was a light-hitting utility player and Cody is becoming one of game's most feared sluggers.
“I was always a small kid growing up,” Cody said. “I was short and usually one of the younger kids, so my dad always stressed the importance of learning to hit the right way -- with the proper technique and mechanics. Then as I got older and stronger having the right mechanics helped me hit the ball further.”
Clay Bellinger doesn't remember the exact moment he knew Cody had what it takes to be a major league player, but along the way he was gaining a sense of things to come.
“I remember knowing he was pretty special in Little League,” he said. “Cody was always one of the smaller kids and he was competing with kids a year older than he was, but he hung in there and he had one of the better swings of any of them.
“Then he got his height in his junior year in high school and he kind of took off from there. You always hope your kid can be a big leaguer but you can't count on anything. But his work ethic was second to none growing up. All he wanted to do was play baseball.”