SEATTLE -- Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen will forever be linked with his dad, John, through Father's Day. Yes, they are father and son, but their connection runs much deeper on the annual June celebration.
John coached his son from the moment he stepped onto a diamond. He had a love for baseball and he wanted to share the game with his son. So he coached Tom through Little League, through Pony League, and through high school, eventually settling into the role as pitching coach at Tucson High School in Arizona. They would throw together, go to weekend practices together and talk baseball.
"I remember weekend practices, it was like you didn't have to show up or you did," Tom reminisced. "But he would pick everyone up in his van -- he had a big van -- he would pick us all up and we would practice. On Sundays, we would get to throw water balloons at him and the coaches, and then he would take us to the swimming pool and we would all swim on a hot summer's day in Arizona."
When he was 3, John remembers Tom picking up a bat with his left hand stacked on top of his right. He told his son he'd have to flip around and hit lefty if he held it like that. Tom would switch his hands and develop a bit of pop, enough that John thought his son had a chance to make it as a hitter.
But that wasn't in the cards. Instead, Tom developed into a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher. He was drafted in the seventh round out of high school in 2002 by the Brewers. It was a happy day for his dad.
After a couple years in the Minors, though, Tom was suspended for the entire 2004 season after twice testing positive for marijuana use. The following year, Tom wasn't in baseball. He decided he'd had enough.
He called to tell his dad on Father's Day.
"I was expecting a Father's Day conversation," John said. "I wasn't expecting a, 'I signed my retirement papers.' I was in the car in the parking lot and was like, 'Oh no.'"
Three years later, John received another Father's Day call. Tom wanted to go to the park for a catch.
"I wasn't thinking anything other than having a catch with my son on Father's Day," John said. "We had our catch and we had fun, and we talked a little bit. When we were leaving, he said, 'Let's meet here again in two days.' Two days later, I walk down there and he's waiting in his car, and he comes out and he's got cones and he's got a ladder. He wants to work out."
That's how John found out his son wanted to try his hand at professional baseball again. He had stopped coaching high school and American Legion ball that year, and jumped at the chance to work with his son, something he hadn't done in awhile.
The rest is almost an ending fit for a Disney movie. Tom earned a tryout with the Mariners, and he shot from the Minors to the big league club faster than one of his fastballs. The tall righty has now assumed the role of closer for the time being.
For John, there's really just one downside to his son's success: The two don't get to play catch anymore. But it's a tradeoff John would make any day. To see his son realize a dream is really a dream come true for himself.
"I still pinch myself," John said. "My mom passed away 30 years ago; she never got to meet Tom. She's the one who gave me my love for baseball. Because of Tom's success, I think of her and how much she would have enjoyed this, if she were fortunate enough to live this long. There's a lot of deep feelings in it. There's a lot of pride."