ANAHEIM -- David Shoemaker has a pretty good feel for his son by now. He knows not to call immediately after the bad starts, and he knows to offer up only encouragement on the days that he does. That happened a lot through the first six weeks of this season, a stretch that included some time with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate and finished with Matt Shoemaker's ERA at 8.49.
Now that the struggles have passed and Matt has put together a five-start stretch in line with some of the greatest in recent memory, David keeps thinking back to something his son told him towards the end of those dark times: "Dad, the thing that's most frustrating is that I don't think I'm that far away," Matt said. "I really don't think I'm that far off."
Inside, David's heart was breaking. But on the outside, he consoled and assured. David continued to watch Matt's starts from the recliner of his Trenton, Mich., living room with nervous anxiety. But suddenly David began to see the action of Matt's splitter return. He saw his sequencing change, he saw more conviction with each pitch, and finally, he began to see the results Matt anticipated.
Entering his Friday start in Oakland, Matt has been charged with only eight runs over his past 38 1/3 innings, a stretch in which he has struck out 48 batters, and somehow managed to issue only one walk. He previously struck out 49 batters between walks, tied for the third-longest stretch in the Majors since 1974.
"Now are the times when you just want to go back and pinch yourself, and just enjoy it to the max," David said in a phone conversation. "He just couldn't seem to get over the hump. I don't know if he just really made a new concerted effort to just really bust his butt on every pitch or what, but something went on to change everything, that's for sure."
David, a devout Christian who has passed his faith on to his children, has been there everywhere baseball has taken Matt. He drove hundreds of miles in the summer so his son could play in showcases as a teenager, put a hand on his shoulder when he went undrafted in 2008, stuck by his side as he trudged through the Minor Leagues, and rode the elation of Matt's breakthrough 2014 season.
David coached Matt from T-ball to travel ball at age 12. That year, his team played more than 80 games in three months, traveling throughout the Midwest to squeeze in as much baseball as possible while the weather was warm.
"He was extremely instrumental in my development, my love for the game, and more importantly, the way he pushed me," said Matt, who also played basketball and football in high school. "He pushed me to be great. Not just in baseball, but in life. The biggest thing was the work ethic. He worked his butt off to provide for us as kids. And all of his vacation time was for us, going to play in tournaments."
Matt, 29, is now a father in his own right. His wife, Danielle, gave birth to a boy in January 2015, and she is due with a girl this October. Growing up, David recalls how Matt would get 96 percent on a test and negotiate with teachers for the extra four points. He wanted to be great at everything he did, which is why David was never surprised that Matt beat the odds to reach the Major Leagues.
But David believes being a father has given Matt an extra edge.
"I think he realizes how important his job and his career is, and he wants to provide for his family," David said. "He knows that this is not a career that you're going to do until you're 60 years old, so he's got to make the most of it while he can. I think that really drives him now."
David was uncommonly anxious as he watched his son pitch earlier this season. His stomach would turn, his heart would sink, and so he would pray. David spent a lot of time in prayer during those first six weeks, while Matt gave up almost as many runs as he threw innings, and began to lose grip on the Major League job he worked so hard to attain.
Right around that time, Matt tweeted:
Whoever has a voodoo curse on me, please reverse it now, thank you.
"Lately, since he's been on this run and everything's going so well, I'm afraid to get out of the chair," David said, laughing. "I guess it's crazy, because I've always said I'm not superstitious, but I find myself not moving."
Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.