Children go into their parents' businesses all the time. But when the ``business'' is pitching baseballs in the big leagues, following in dad's footsteps has some unusual dimensions. Todd Stottlemyre isn't in the majors yet, but as the Toronto Blue Jays' top pitching prospect, the 21-year-old is just one step away from the chance to emulate his father Mel, who won 164 games with the New York Yankees during the 1960s and '70s.
The younger Stottlemyre belongs to a generation of baseball ``thoroughbreds'' exemplified by Dale Berra, Bump Wills, and Barry Bonds - three sons of famous fathers who have made it to the major leagues in recent years. Now both Todd and Mel Jr., who is with the Houston Astros organization but hasn't progressed quite as rapidly as his younger brother, are hoping to follow the same route.
``I know a lot of parents push kids to play a sport, but I didn't have to,'' insists Mel Sr., now a pitching coach for the New York Mets. After his boys started playing organized ball at age five or so, their dad had only to do what ``normal'' fathers do - attending games, hitting ground balls, and throwing batting practice.
Using Yankee Stadium as a playground, though, is bound to have a special impact. ``Being around the ballpark was like going to a baseball school,'' Todd recalls. ``... It's something that words can't explain.''
Expert TV analyst Tony Kubek, a family friend and Mel's former teammate, remembers Todd learning ``by osmosis.'' Adds Mel, ``He had his ear open when I talked with others.''
Along with his advantaged baseball childhood, though, Todd had to cope with having an illustrious father. ``Any time an athlete has a son playing a sport, people can expect too much too soon,'' Mel warns.
The expectations began in Little League, when coaches would ask Todd's advice on running practices. And his father's reputation followed him up the baseball ladder. ``Last year in the minor leagues,'' Todd notes, ``teams couldn't wait for me to pitch and say they could beat Todd Stottlemyre.''
Ironically, Todd was originally drafted right out of high school by the Yankees, his father's old ``firm'' and the team of his childhood heroes. But Mel was no longer on good terms with his old club and Todd was not quite ready for his new career. So after talking with his parents he opted for college ball, playing two years at Nevada-Las Vegas, then signing with Toronto.
``It was a little tough,'' Todd says. ``Growing up at Yankee Stadium, I'd always wanted to wear Yankee pin stripes. If the situation were different at the time, it would have been neat to put the uniform on.''
What Todd got from his father, he says, was more valuable than any bonus the Yankees could have offered him. ``When the talks were all over, the final decision was mine,'' he emphasizes. ``That was really something, coming from my father. It meant, `You don't have to do what I did. You're your own person.'''
Mel, now in his fourth year with the Mets, hasn't seen his son pitch competitively since 1985, but he still monitors Todd's off-season training. And why not? After all, he is both a concerned father and the coach who helped develop the pitching staff that carried the Mets to a championship last year.
Does this interfere with the teachings of Todd's coaches? Not so far, he says. ``We talk a lot about pitch selection and how to get hitters out, but he doesn't mess with my delivery or mechanics.''
Playing for his father would be another matter. ``I'd love for that to happen,'' Todd exclaims. ``There would be no problem working together ... Look at the Ripkens [manager Cal Sr. and shortstop Cal Jr.] in Baltimore. They don't seem to have any problems.''
Another possible scenario would have father and son opposing each other.
``We've talked about that,'' says Mel, who admits, ``We're a very competitive family, and we've always played to win.''
If such a confrontation were to occur, he adds, ``I'd pull for Todd to pitch well and leave the game with the score tied. We could win after he's left.''
Todd has less mixed feelings about playing his father's team. ``I'd want to beat them 10-0,'' he says.
Despite the father-son hoopla, Todd and his employers feel he is an emerging star in his own right. ``There are ballplayers who are prospects and those who are top prospects,'' points out pitching coach Al Widmar. ``He's a top one.''
Last year, dividing his first minor league season between Class A and AA, Todd won 17 games. He started slowly in Triple-A ball at Syracuse this spring, but has pitched well recently and is now 3-3. He could join the parent club later this season, and in any case will surely get a long look in spring training next year.
``He has the ability to win 15 games in his first year,'' says Widmar.
Todd stresses that he and his dad have different fortes as pitchers, ``He was a sinkerballer, and I'm a power pitcher.''
As for the inevitability of comparisons, he knows when to put all that aside.
``I take a lot of pride in my Dad's being great, but when it comes time to pitch, all this comes in second,'' he says. ``I'm Todd Stottlemyre and I'm going to beat you.''