I caught up with Cardinals minor leaguers and fans to talk baseball, fatherhood, and swap dad stories. Happy Father’s Day.
Cory Spangenberg is an infielder for the Memphis Redbirds. He is the son of Ken Spangenberg and father to two-year-old daughter, Madison. His second daughter is due in the coming weeks.
Jose Leger is the manager of the Springfield Cardinals. He is a father of two, ages 13 and 11.
Jordan Walker is a third baseman for the Springfield Cardinals. He is the son of Derek Walker.
Gordon Graceffo is a righthanded pitcher for the Springfield Cardinals. He is the son of Gerald Graceffo.
Jack Banner is an 11-year-old center fielder for the Bolivar Titans and the son of Darin Banner. They attended a Springfield Cardinals game together this week.
Noah Carroll is an 8-year-old third baseman for the Ozark Bengals. He is my oldest son.
— What’s your favorite baseball memory with your dad?
Walker: “When we won our tee-ball games – back in tee-ball my dad and my grandpa were the coaches – my grandpa would get us a limo and we would celebrate by going to Cici’s Pizza.”
Graceffo: “So in college we were playing at Campbell University in North Carolina. Instead of spending his birthday with his parents and my mom, he came to the game because I was pitching on his birthday and surprised me at the game there. I saw him after the game, and it was really fun.”
Spangenberg: “Probably when I got called up for the first time (in 2014 with San Diego). All my family got to be there with me; that was just a really special moment to be able to share it with the people who got me there.”
Carroll: “When I hit my first home run, dad wrote it on the ball for me.”
— As a dad, what kid’s song or movie have you learned to love?
Leger: “There is a song, they like to dance – Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) by Silento. I have videos ever since they were little, and now they’re still dancing. That song – I had to learn; I even learned the moves with them. Every party that we have at home, they have to play that song.”
Spangenberg: “She has gotten into Baby Shark recently, within the last two weeks. And she’ll do the shark clap and the shark fin – that’s been kind of funny to see over FaceTime.”
— What is the best baseball advice your dad has given you?
Banner: “He’s always said to get back in the box. And to look at what the Major League guys are doing and try to add it to what you’ve already done and that will help you get better.”
Graceffo: “Control what you can control. One pitch at a time.”
Carroll: “To not swing down, you have to swing straight and out.”
— How about the best life advice?
Leger: “He’s such a humble man. The first thing that comes to my mind – he always preached to us – me and my brothers – how important it is that we share. Be humble, be nice, share with others – I learned that from him.”
Walker: “Appreciate what other people do for you. Appreciate others and be kind to others, that’s basically what he teaches.”
— What’s something your dad always says?
Banner: “Suck it up buttercup.”
Walker: “This is dinner.”
— What is your dad’s most “dad” habit?
Spangenberg: “He’s retired but he probably works more now… he retired from being a guidance counselor and now he cuts lawns and shovels snow off driveways. It’s kind of funny he reverted back to cutting grass, I think he has like 30 lawns now.”
Walker: “Out there in sandals cooking burgers on the grill.”
Carroll: “He give us all nicknames – Cheeseman, Tubs, Kaner and Sweet Pea.”
— Aside from baseball, what is your favorite thing to do with your dad?
Leger: “Play chess. He taught me how to play chess and every now and then we play online now that we don’t see each other because he’s home in the Dominican Republic.”
Banner: “We both golf, I like to golf with him a lot. He wins but I’ve only been doing it for 5 years and he’s been doing it for like, 20.”
Graceffo: “We golf a lot, that’s one thing we started doing a lot (during) COVID. Kind of got me into golf – I believe the first time we went out, he won. I beat him the next time and he likes to say that I used too many mulligans but that’s up for debate.”
Walker: “I like to play board games with my dad – Scrabble, a game called Boggle. He’s a really good competitor. We actually just taught him how to play (the card game) Presidents, which we play a lot here.”
— Baseball is central to so many father-son relationships. Why is baseball special that way?
Leger: “It’s the American game, you know? The American pastime. Coming from the Dominican Republic, it’s also huge for us. The first thing, when a father has a boy – in the Dominican, the first thing they think about is – is he going to be a ballplayer?”
Spangenberg: “For me, growing up it was always me and my dad. We used to go hitting every single day, take grounders every single day together. We spent a lot of our time together that way.
Banner: “A lot of fathers play it, and they pass on what they know to their sons, and then their sons just carry on the tradition.”
Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505