Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Blue Jays News

Shapiro's son seems primed for family business

17-year-old Caden already showing signs he could be a 'baseball lifer'
@baseballexis
February 4, 2020

TORONTO -- He shows up almost when you least expect it. Mark Shapiro, the dad, briefly seems out of place in his office at Rogers Centre as he finishes up one meeting and gets ready to head into another. The Blue Jays' president and CEO turns to his guest. “Have

TORONTO -- He shows up almost when you least expect it.

Mark Shapiro, the dad, briefly seems out of place in his office at Rogers Centre as he finishes up one meeting and gets ready to head into another. The Blue Jays' president and CEO turns to his guest.

“Have you seen this?” the buttoned-up executive asks as he searches his phone for video of his 17-year-old son Caden doing an on-camera interview in the Indians' clubhouse years earlier.

Caden helps his dad find the video. Mark laughs. “His voice is the same,” he says, embarrassing his teenage son. When the interview ends, he plays it again, ensuring no one missed anything through the joyful laughter the first time through.

He still has a little bit of time, so Mark begins scrolling through the photos on his phone. He shares shots of himself and a young Caden standing together behind a massive trophy, after the Cleveland Spiders finished their season with a championship, one of the last times Mark would coach his son. He pulls up a shot of himself at 17 -- “probably about 100 pounds heavier than Caden,” he says, but looking remarkably similar to his offspring ... if you can see beyond the football uniform.

Then he offers a shot of an infant Caden, sitting in a basket surrounded by baseballs -- a perfect foreshadowing what the future might hold for a family whose baseball legacy looks to continue for at least one more generation.

The next in line

One of seven children born to Ronald Shapiro, Mark Shapiro is part of what the Baltimore Sun once aptly described as “the first family of sports management.”

Ronald spent much of his career as a sports agent, representing future baseball Hall of Famers like Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray and Kirby Puckett after graduating from Harvard Law School. In 1999, The Sporting News named him one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Sports.

That career path shaped Mark’s in much the same way Mark’s work in Major League Baseball has left an imprint on Caden. Mark, a Princeton graduate, had already ascended to the position of the Indians' general manager by the time Caden was born.

“There’s a huge amount of success in my family on my father’s side, on my mother’s side, so growing up, it was always going to be in the back of my mind,” Caden said. “Being around the success was always motivating. I just had to focus it in terms of my own perspective and path.”

First, Caden has to determine if he wants to follow in the Ivy League footsteps of his father and grandfather. In late 2019, Caden, who will begin college in '21, and his dad made visits to Dartmouth, Brown and Princeton. He’ll go back to Princeton this year for an official visit with the baseball team.

Mark played center field and offensive tackle for the Tigers during his college years.

“That was my first time ever visiting Princeton with him,” Caden said. “It was something that I could already feel a connection to, so that was pretty cool.”

Caden is even considering a history major -- just as his father did -- though he noted that his dad “has told me that there’s not going to be another major in history leading a front office, so I’ve probably got to go into analytics or something if I want to do that.”

But Caden isn’t completely sure about where he wants to end up. He once had dreams of playing professional baseball, but being around front offices and clubhouses his whole life has helped shape his perspective.

“I remember when I was 10, 11, 12 [years old], I thought, ‘I’m going to Vanderbilt,'" Caden recalled. " … I started to get a little older and realize some guys my age are throwing 95 [mph], and I’m throwing 85, so let’s tone it down a little bit.”

“His dad’s never brainwashed him in any way, saying that he’s the greatest player,” Caden’s coach and former Major Leaguer Andy Stewart said. “He knows that his son needs to work on his game like everybody else, and he supports him in that and doesn’t put too much pressure on him. … He’s just very realistic, and I love that about him.”

Mark doesn’t want to narrow the options for his son.

“I could see him working in baseball, I could see him teaching, I could see him coaching in baseball, or I could see him doing something in a totally other line of work,” Mark said.

Well connected

Outside of the campus confines, Caden finds his dad’s connections one of the most exciting aspects of his job. The outfielder and left-handed pitcher enjoys taking advantage of the environment of his father’s job and finds fun even in just “pulling up his phone contacts.”

But, of course, it’s not all impressive.

When "Moneyball" -- the film that chronicled the Athletics’ analytics revolution in the early 2000s -- came out in ‘11, Mark, who was with the Indians at that time, was portrayed in the film by actor Reed Diamond and received an advanced copy to screen. Caden was not quite 9 years old at the time, but both he and his dad can easily recall his reaction to watching his father’s big scene.

“He was very unimpressed,” Mark said. “I sat the kids down and played the scene with me in it, and they literally both said, ‘That’s it?’ That was their reaction. That’s all I needed to remind me that I’m not a big deal.”

What’s made more of a lasting impression on Caden over the years is the criticism his dad has faced in his role as a top executive.

“It’s tough,” Caden said. “I’m blessed with the inside scoop. I know what’s actually going on, because I’m proactive in asking him [about] his thought process. ... So when I see certain things circulating, or criticism, I’m his son, so I’m going to be defensive of him no matter what.”

“He asks me, ‘Why can’t you just tell them the truth? Why can’t you just say exactly what’s going on?’” Mark said.

“I want him to fire back,” Caden explained.

There have also been times when Caden disagreed with moves his father made.

“For the record, I will still light him up every once in a while,” Caden said. “Like when we traded Victor Martinez in Cleveland. We were turning the team over, trying to get a few prospects back, and he had a half a year left in his contract. But I let him know he’s my favourite player. … So for Halloween I wore a full Victor Martinez outfit.”

A clubhouse education

Tony Amato still remembers when Caden was a baby. Amato was in his 15th season as Cleveland’s home clubhouse and equipment manager when Caden was born in August 2002. As the years passed, Amato watched the boy grow up.

“Once he got older and was able to move around, Mark wanted him -- very respectfully -- to be around the clubhouse,” Amato said. “He always told him he had to work though, it’s not a free for all. He was always very inquisitive, which is a great thing. He always wanted to know why. He would sit and ask questions, and he would challenge if he didn’t like an answer.”

Among the things Caden learned to do in the Indians' clubhouse were how to fold towels and clean cleats. Clubhouse attendees also instructed him how he should carry himself in that environment. Caden took to it all. Being drawn baseball was clearly in his blood.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a baseball lifer,” Amato said. “Caden is on that path, whether it’s playing, scouting, coaching, front office -- he’ll be doing something in baseball. … You can see it in his dedication, his willingness to learn and to listen and just to do the little things that are necessary. He puts in the time. It’s his passion. Mark is a passionate person, and so is his son Caden.”

Caden was 13 years old when the Shapiro family moved from Cleveland to Toronto. Caden, who had played under his father for the Cleveland Spiders, joined the Toronto Mets organization after relocating to Canada. The experience gave both father and son an intimate introduction to the finer aspects of Canadian baseball and its tight-knit community.

“My interest in youth baseball grew from Caden and coming here, because of the additional layer of the national pride,” Mark said. “We’re not just impacting kids within 100 kilometres; we’re impacting kids within 1,000 kilometres, 2,000 kilometres. It’s crazy to consider that, but there’s completely, genuinely, authentically an entire nation of young people who can be impacted by how we play and by being fans.

“So I’m trying to contribute to the Jays winning more, and more kids will play baseball throughout the entire country. … There are going to be more fans for life. So we need to win, we need to build some fields and build lifelong baseball fans.”

A shared passion

As Caden works to finish the 11th grade at Upper Canada College, a private boys’ school in Toronto, he knows that he has at least another year of his dad cooking him egg whites before school, taking care of his laundry or joining him on the sofa to watch television shows together before bed. Despite Mark’s hectic schedule, Caden knows he can always count on his dad to show up to his tournaments and showcases, or be at dance recitals for his sister, Sierra.

“There are only two things in my life: it’s my work and my family,” Mark said. “So that makes it easier. I’m not juggling playing golf or going on a ski trip. I’m not juggling going to Vegas with my buddies. If I’m not working, then I’m with my kids. That’s the way I look at it. It’s not always a choice, but when there is a choice, I don’t want to look back 30 years from now and regret having missed the chance to watch him play or share an experience with them. I use that as the rule.”

It’s the shared experiences between a father and son that have offered the elder Shapiro a new lease on his life in the game. Ronald, Mark’s own father, gave him a unique glimpse into baseball decades ago. Now seeing Caden embrace the game in the manner he once did is something that continues to reignite his passion for baseball after almost 30 years in it.

“It makes me reflect on my dad and the bond around baseball that he and I had, which was way different but still pretty deep,” Mark said. “Then I think back to coaching him. We would go from sandlots in Cleveland with no mounds and rocky infields, and three hours later he would be shagging on a Major League diamond. And I love the fact that he was just as happy to be playing on a rocky infield with no mound and temporary bases as he was to be shagging in the outfield with big leaguers all around him.

“It’s a genuine passion for the game and something he and I could share.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.