In His Father’s Footsteps

If only Pepperdine catcher Chad Tracy’s father had been a physician.

Dad would have been just another face in the crowd, except, of course, in an emergency. You know, when someone stands up and asks, “Is there a doctor in the house?”

Or maybe if Tracy’s father had been a mechanic, with his head hidden under a hood. Or perhaps a plumber, stuck under some sink.

All are honorable occupations carried out in relative obscurity.

But Tracy’s dad has a very public profile in professional baseball. Jim Tracy is manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the latest stop of a managerial and coaching career that began shortly after his playing career ended (he was an outfielder with the Cubs in 1980-81) and most recently included a stint with the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers.

While other boys might be encouraged to follow in their father’s footsteps, Chad has been chided for riding his father’s coattails.

“There’s always that kind of shadow over you,” Chad Tracy said. “A lot of times it’s the first thing people will talk about, or they’ll give you extra grief about it. A lot of people think that you are given things because of this or that.

“As you mature and get older and you’ve heard enough of it, you learn to deal with it and just ignore it. It just comes with the territory.”

Tracy said he remembers hearing comments as far back as Little League and early on in high school.

“It’s only helped me to prove to people that I’m capable of doing things for myself,” Tracy said. “I don’t need my dad’s reputation to get me anywhere.”

His father’s occupation is not something Tracy brings up in casual conversation.

“The truth is you wouldn’t know who his dad is if you didn’t do some research,” Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said.

Jim Tracy has told his three boys–Chad’s older brother Brian is a pitcher at UC Santa Barbara and younger brother Mark is in high school–what they accomplish in life is up to them.

Said Chad: “My dad said, “I’m not going to give you any advantages. You have to earn what you get.’ “

Working His Way Up

It seems no one thought enough of Chad Tracy in 2003 to draft him out of Claremont (Calif.) High. Three years later he has made himself into one of the nation’s top 100 college prospects. In fact, Florida’s Brian Jeroloman is the only catcher rated above him.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Tracy emerged as a freshman for the Waves two years ago when he batted .320 with 12 homers. He was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year last spring after hitting .367-12-61, all league highs.

“A lot of it would be attributed to hard work,” Tracy said. “I was an average high school player . . . I definitely had some God-given ability, but it wasn’t enough to get me to where I am now. I had to put in a lot of work to get here.”

His father’s occupation has presented opportunities for learning the game that most youngsters can only dream about. Chad’s part has been taking that and making the most of it.

When Jim Tracy was bench coach for the Montreal Expos in the mid-1990s, Brian and Chad were able to come up for the summer.

“One year we actually skipped Little League all-stars so we could go to Canada and spend the summer with my dad,” Chad said. “Even at that age, we were smart enough to know that being around that was going to benefit us more than playing in all-stars could do.”

During Jim Tracy’s five years as manager of the Dodgers, Chad had the chance to get catching and hitting tips from major leaguers. But the real lessons came in simply observing what was going on around him.

“Just sitting there watching game situations, watching how they carry themselves, watching how they take batting practice and what their plan is, I look for all those things,” Tracy said.

“You can tell he wants to do things the right way,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing Chad brings to our team is the knowledge of the game.

“Even from a coach’s standpoint, he understands what it is we have to go through.”

Pretty Good Advice

And Tracy understands there’s someone just a phone call away who understands what he’s going through.

“I talk to my dad after every single game,” he said.

His father’s advice was especially helpful in mid-March. Tracy was hitting well over .300, but he came into a series against Dartmouth with only one home run in Pepperdine’s first 22 games.

It’s his junior year and the draft is fast approaching. As much as he tried to keep it off his mind, Tracy was afraid he might start pressing at the plate.

Dad calmed him down.

“He said people are going to watch if you’re going to start forcing at-bats and start swinging at pitches and try to do more than you’re capable of doing,” Chad said. “He told me to just stay with my approach.

“He said you can’t make a home run happen. They just happen on accident . . . Just keep doing your thing and at the end of the season you’re going to be right where you always are.”

Tracy homered in back-to-back games against Dartmouth.

Enough said.

Kirk Kenney covers college baseball for the San Diego Union-Tribune.