Japan trip extra special for MLB dads
NAHA, Japan -- David Duda leaned forward in his seat and went quiet, filming one of his son's at-bats. He had missed a video opportunity earlier in the game, when Lucas Duda hit an opposite-field double off Japanese pitching sensation Shohei Ohtani, and he wanted to make sure he caught the encore.
To David Duda's left, Jeff Beliveau was discussing the moments he will remember from Major League Baseball's Japan All-Star Series. The quiet ones, for example, like rehashing a game with his son, Rays reliever Jeff Beliveau, or sharing breakfast with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
"How do you explain that?" the elder Beliveau said. "I go home and say I sat and had coffee with Dave Winfield? And he talked to me?"
For so many of the 29 players who toured Japan this month as MLB representatives, the Japan All-Star Series was an unbroken run of unique experiences. For the plus-ones -- the wives, girlfriends, children, siblings and friends who attended -- it was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
But for the handful of fathers and sons who spent their days bonding in a way that life almost never allows, the trip was a throwback to simpler times. By making this a father-son outing to Japan, Duda and Beliveau, Royals catcher Erik Kratz and others did nearly everything with their dads by their sides. They dined together. They toured temples and castles together. They explored city streets together. They slept in the same hotel rooms, bunking up as if going on a camping trip.
All of MLB's All-Stars were allowed to bring one guest on the trip, free of charge. For those who brought their fathers, it was like going back in time.
"It's been a while since I've spent this much time with my dad," the younger Beliveau said. "It's something I'm going to cherish forever."
"I'm definitely thankful for the time," Lucas Duda said. "It's been quite a while."
During the winter, Beliveau still lives in Rhode Island, where his father has worked as a truck driver for 35 years. The summer is a whirlwind of planes and buses and hotel rooms on the road; Beliveau sees his father on trips to Boston and New York, and at times in Florida. But it's always fleeting -- a meal here, a morning there.
Duda recently moved to Florida to focus on his training, leaving little time to spare back home in California with his parents. Theirs is also the typical story: David Duda might see his son when the Mets play the Dodgers, and around the holidays, plus a few times a year on the East Coast. But those moments are sporadic.
The MLB All-Star tour gave those fathers and others windows into their sons' everyday lives. When Rays third baseman Evan Longoria watched via smart phone last week as his fiancee, Jaime Edmondson, gave birth to the couple's second child, Michael Longoria shared the moment with him. When Kratz made a trio of appearances against Japanese pitchers, Floyd Kratz was present to watch. When Drew Butera stepped into the box for pregame batting practice, Sal Butera was there to throw it.
In so many cases, the fathers had been looking forward to this trip even more than the sons. David Duda, who worked 40 years in construction before retiring, said he would have had to save for years for a vacation like this had his son not been a ballplayer.
"I couldn't ask for a better trip," the elder Duda said.
"He was researching Japan for about two or three weeks," Jeff Beliveau said of his father, who signed on when Jeff's younger brother was unable to attend. "He was just really excited, really gearing up for the trip. It's definitely something we'll never forget, being on the other side of the world for two weeks, sharing a hotel room, eating all the different types of food."
Estimating he has not spent this much time with his son since before he left for college, Floyd Kratz noted that Erik was a boy then, dependent on his parents. Now he is a man with his own schedule and concerns. Things like coming home rehashing what happened in a game, as Jeff Beliveau did the night he injured his lat muscle, just don't happen under normal circumstances. Life gets in the way.
"It's been like a dream come true for me," the elder Beliveau said. "I've had the time of my life here. To see him pitch was incredible. I feel a little terrible that he got hurt, but you know what? Just the bonding that we've had together -- eating, going out, seeing temples and then watching him hang out with Major League guys -- you sit here and say, 'Do you remember when they played T-ball? Look at where I am right now.'"
A few days earlier, Beliveau and Duda stood in foul territory during batting practice at the Tokyo Dome, snapping pictures and gathering autographs as the players they had befriended walked off the field. Former big leaguer Jose Cruz, on the trip as a Players Association representative, approached the two of them.
"This," Cruz told them, "is what it's all about. It's about fathers like you."
Japan All-Star Series schedule
• Exhibition: MLB 8, Hanshin-Yomiuri 7 | Box
• Game No. 1: Japan 2, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 2: Japan 8, MLB 4 | Box
• Game No. 3: Japan 4, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 4: MLB 6, Japan 1 | Box
• Game No. 5: MLB 3, Japan 1 | Box