New crop of second-gen talent on horizon

New crop of second-gen talent on horizon

Dwight Smith Jr. had been to Wrigley Field before, but this time he was looking at things a little different.

It was 1993, and his father, Dwight Smith Sr., was in his fifth season with the Cubs. The younger Smith, as the story goes, took his first steps in the home clubhouse. Now, nearly 17 years later, junior was doing much more than stumbling along.

Smith Jr. was at Wrigley Field last Saturday to participate in the Under Armour All-American Game, a showcase of some of the best talent projected to be available in the 2011 and 2012 First-Year Player Drafts. The game capped off a summer of amateur showcases for Smith, who many consider to be a first-round talent. All of them paled in comparison to this opportunity to roam where his father once did.

"He played his first big league game here. It's truly an honor," Smith said. "I really wanted to play here. There's a lot of history. A lot of great players, Hall of Famers, played here. I just wanted to make my mark somewhere in that outfield."

While Smith didn't impact that particular game, it took nothing away from the father-son bonding at the Friendly Confines. Smith Sr. was a coach on the opposing team, so he got to be on the field that saw him finish second in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1989. It was a sort of unofficial passing of the baton to the next generation.

"I hadn't let him see it, but I got emotional," Smith Sr. said. "I told my wife, 'Man, he was a baby when we started here.' For him to come back and work as hard as he did as a young man ... he's a great kid.

"It so happened the Under Armour game was at Wrigley, where I played my first Major League games. To have me be a part of it, I can't even express it. We're going to take the uniforms and put them in a case. We're going to have them for a lifetime. This is an experience, it's unexplainable."

Other fathers who have played the game might not have the on-field experience the Smiths had last weekend, but they are certainly not alone in future Draft classes. Indeed, 2011 might aptly be named, "The Next Generation."

In the Under Armour game alone, Smith was joined by Dante Bichette Jr. and Lance McCullers Jr., the latter expected to be part of the Class of 2012. There also was top prospect Nick Delmonico, son of former University of Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico.

And that was just at that one game. Anyone at the East Coast Pro Showcase would have seen Derek Rodriguez, Ivan's kid. And the Area Code Games were a veritable who's who in the stands of former greats. Shawon Dunston, Bobby Bonilla and Bret Saberhagen all watched their sons compete. It wasn't just former baseball players, either. Right there alongside the big leaguers was hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, watching son Trevor on the diamond.

Scouts are keenly aware of bloodlines. Being the son of a former professional athlete doesn't guarantee greatness, obviously, but there's something to be said for genetics. The nurture side of the nature vs. nurture debate also has an impact. Growing up around the game or having a dad who can impart the Ph.D. version of baseball wisdom can make a huge difference.

"I can honestly say, if my dad wasn't in my life, I wouldn't be around [baseball] today," said McCullers Jr., whose dad, a pitcher, spent parts of seven seasons in the Majors. "He's taught me everything from how to handle baseball, the mental side, the ups and downs, how to stay even-keeled. On the mound, I resemble my father. He's taught me everything I know, every single pitch I know. He helps me hitting, along with my grandfather. He's very deeply involved in my baseball game."

Delmonico related a similar experience.

"He knows my swing better than anyone," Delmonico said about his coaching father. "If he sees something wrong, he's going to talk to me about it. After games, he'll talk to me. But he's never down on me. he's always there to help me. He's been doing that my whole life."

"We work on our game a lot, three or four times a week," Smith Jr. echoed. "Hitting, defense, every aspect of the game. When we go back home, we'll analyze 'Baseball Tonight' almost every night."

The younger McCullers, one of two underclassmen at the Under Armour game, was one of the highlights, pumping fastballs up to 97 mph. Senior was in the stands, playing the part of proud papa well. Unlike the Smiths, McCullers retired the year before his son was born, so he never got to bring junior to a big-league clubhouse.

"It's been really fun watching him," McCullers Sr. said. "We have a real good balance with it. A lot of times, I let him do what he does on the field and we talk about it. I don't try to be as hands-on with him. I let him learn from his mistakes and gain from them. We have a real good relationship and he listens really well."

Any father in any walk of life wants to see his child surpass what he accomplished, to have a better life. When he or she goes into the same business, nothing makes a dad prouder to see him or her perform at a higher level. For a son, having the benefit of a former big leaguer to teach him, as well as playing in these showcases that didn't exist in the past generation, seems to make that parental dream a reality.

"I think at this point in his life, he's way better than I ever was at 16 years old," McCullers Sr. said. "I think he has the chance to be a great player one day in the big leagues."

"With the knowledge he's got and that beautiful swing and what he's doing with his legs, I think so," Smith Sr. said about his son's potential to be better than he was. "The things he's learned at 14, 15 and 16 are out of this world. I didn't use a wood bat until I was in the Minor Leagues. I broke every one of them. I still owe the Cubs some money. I think he has the chance to be a lot better than me.

"As a father, that's what you do. You make sure that your kid has it better than you, if he can do anything that coincides with what you do, that he's going to be better than you. You're teaching him out of the gate. You're reassuring him that he's doing it right and that you love him and that you're not going to tell him anything wrong."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.