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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day at JetBlue Park

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Dazmon Cameron is one of the lucky ones. Born in January 1997, Daz turned 5 years old in 2002, about the time his father, Mike Cameron, was hitting his stride as a slugger for the Seattle Mariners. By the time Daz turned 10 in 2007, his dad had had been named to an American League All-Star Team and won three Gold Glove Awards.

And finally, when Mike Cameron retired in 2011 at age 38 after 17 years in the big leagues, Daz Cameron was a highly projectable 14-year-old who had the good the fortune of witnessing – and remembering – most of his dad’s long and successful career in Major League Baseball.

“It was a great experience going to different ballparks; that was fun,” Daz said. “Being young and being around the clubhouse was great. Just being in that atmosphere, it was just great. I miss going to the (major league) ballparks.”

That doesn’t mean Mike and Daz Cameron don’t ever get to a ballpark together. In fact, they were together at the perfect time this weekend, enjoying Daz’s participation in the Perfect Game National Showcase Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the latter Father’s Day 2014.

“For me, it was real important that I was here,” Mike Cameron said. “Part of the reason why I came out here was because (Daz is) going to be gone, leaving from here to go to North Carolina for the Team USA trials (Tournament of Stars). I’ve got three other kids back home, so I’ve got to go home and I wanted to see him for awhile.”

Father’s Day has always been a special day at ballparks, sandlots and in backyards across the country, or where ever it is dads and sons get together to enjoy the game of baseball. It’s interesting that this summer marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the iconic Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” where the ghost of the father of Costner’s character emerges from an Iowa cornfield and the son famously asks, “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?”

All father-son bonds are special, but the bonds between retired big-league ballplayers and their sons is intensified; many of those relationships have been front and center at the PG National Showcase in recent years.

This year alone there were at least eight pairs of top prospects and their former big-league dads in attendance, including the Camerons: Nicholas Shumpert and Terry Shumpert; Kody Clemens and Roger Clemens; Ke’Bryan Hayes and Charlie Hayes; Andy Pagnozzi and Tom Pagnozzi; A.J. Graffanino and Tony Graffanino; Griffin Conine and Jeff Conine; Elih Marrero and Eli Marrero. Happy Father’s Day, gentlemen.

“I think it’s great; it’s a blessing, you know,” Terry Shumpert, Nick Shumpert’s dad, said. “Of course we wish that mom and the sisters were here, but he’s got his big brother (Terrence) here and myself, and for me, what better place to spend (Father’s Day)? We – and when I say ‘we’ I mean me and Nick – have been waiting for this (PG) National (Showcase), because every year I’ve been to it, you see it and you see how great it is; I just love it.

“He’s having a blast doing it, and it’s great that he gets to hang out with the guys again, so this is something we’ve been looking forward to and this is fantastic, actually.”

Daz Cameron, a 6-foot-1, 186-pound outfielder from McDonough, Ga., has been the No. 1-ranked national prospect in the high school class of 2015 since December 2012. That top ranking assured that Daz would be the center of the attention at the PG National Showcase and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love being around baseball, so this is great, and for my dad to come down is just good. This is just great; I love this National thing we got going on down here,” he said.

“It’s been interesting since I retired to see (Daz) move up into the upper echelon of the talent of these young men that are playing today,” Mike Cameron said. “Some of it’s starting to payoff, a lot of the hard work that at least I’ve had the chance to put in with him on a daily basis. … It’s been a blessing, a blessing in disguise for me.”

Mike Cameron included the durable long-time batting practice pitcher Mike Mosley in this Father Day’s story. The 54-year-old Mosley is known in baseball circles as “Mr. 7,000” because the Guinness Book of World Records once recognized Mosley for throwing 7,003 hittable BP pitches in 8 hours, 33 minutes, a world record.

“If it weren’t for Mike, he makes sure (Daz) gets the proper swings every day,” Mike Cameron said. “When I can’t go somewhere with (Daz), he’s always with him. … He’s my set of eyes whenever Daz is away from me, but I have three other kids who are athletes and I have to make sure I watch them, also.”

Mike indentified 14-year-old daughter T’aja as an emerging track star; 12-year-old son Mekhi as a standout basketball player and 5-year-old daughter Lillo, another track star in the making. The elder Cameron has become immersed in this whole fatherhood business.

“It’s been totally ‘it’, man,” Mike said. “Everybody asks me if I’ve retired and say, ‘No, I stopped playing baseball but I’ve got a real job now, running with these kids all the time.’ But it’s fun because they’re all athletic and it gives me a chance to instill some of the things that I was blessed with just in life and the game of baseball itself.”

The careers of Mike Cameron and Terry Shumpert intersected from 1995 through 2003, nine years in which Cameron was on American League rosters for eight seasons and Shumpert was on National League rosters for seven. They did know one another, however, and now share the distinction of having sons who could be first round MLB draft picks in 2015.

Nick Shumpert's father Terry played in the big leagues for 14 years.

Nick Shumpert, a 6-foot, 180-pound shortstop from Lone Tree, Colo., is the No. 4-ranked overall prospect in the 2015 class. He and Daz Cameron have combined to attend 51 Perfect Game events over the last three years and their dads have been there with them most of the way.

“We’re a baseball family and that’s what we do all the time, so it’s great to come out here with my dad and see all this great talent,” Nick Shumpert said. “It’s always an honor to come out here with him and have a good time. He’s had a huge impact on my baseball career.

“He was playing when I was young and so I grew up watching him, I grew up going to the ballpark with him and seeing all the big-leaguers … so that had a huge influence on me and my baseball career. Now he helps me with practice and everything like that.”

At Nick’s request, Terry Shumpert threw to his son during Friday night's batting practice session. Terry said he thought it was “the coolest thing ever” when Robinson Cano had his father throw to him during the home run derby at the 2011 MLB All-Star Game, and Cano won the competition.

“I’ve been throwing to him all his life, but it was kind of cool to get out there and do that last night, especially at such a big event,” Terry said. “I’ve thrown to him his whole life, why would I stop now? Just like Robinson Cano’s dad liked throwing to his son, I like throwing to my son.”

“Back at home he always throws to me so that’s who I’m most comfortable with,” Nick said. “I want to come out here and have good BP and I felt more comfortable with him throwing.”

Terry Shumpert said Nick had the job of bat-boy for the Colorado Rockies when Terry was in his final seasons of playing professionally and Nick was 5 or 6 years old. This was just before the famous incident involving Dusty Baker’s young son when Darren Baker was almost bowled over in play at the plate while retrieving a bat during the 2002 World Series. After that near-miss, kids under the age of 14 were subsequently barred from being bat-boys.

“When Nick was 5 and 6, he lived in the clubhouse with me and he was the bat-boy,” Terry said. “At that time, our coolest experience together was when I hit a home run against the Diamondbacks one time and when I circled the bases and came around he was standing at the plate as a 6-year-old and he high-fived me.”

Father’s Day 2014 at JetBlue Park had a special feel to it. While the weather in Southwest Florida in June can often get dicey in terms of rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon, the mornings are generally beautiful and this Sunday morning was no exception.

“It’s the stuff that you envision and then it comes to pass,” Terry Shumpert said. “I’m sitting here on Father’s Day and I’ve got (both of my sons) here with me, and we’re watching (Nick) do something that he loves to do.

“You envision things from your experiences being around baseball and you just envision that one day it will be your son if he develops. I think sometimes you kind of rush it and you kind of want it to get there too fast.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about the sons learning from their dads and, just possibly, the dads learning a little about themselves in the process.

 “There are so many kids, and it’s always cool to see that they’ve been engrained with some of the things that were taught to me early on,” Mike Cameron said, “and to be able to see them start to get some growth from it out here as young ballplayers who are aspiring to try to play big-league baseball.”

“He’s had a big influence on me, man,” Daz Cameron said of his father. “He’s taught me a lot about being respectful, he’s taught me a lot about the game and about having a good mindset and being humble. He’s really taught me a lot.”

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