MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Former MLB stars relishing family time

Recently retired ballplayers don't take quality time with kids for granted

Former MLB stars relishing family time

In the Hawkins' home, there is a ping pong table. It is a new addition, and 14-year-old Troi, daughter of longtime and recently retired Major League reliever LaTroy, is new to the game.

"My dad wins all the time," Troi said. "All the time. I don't like it, but he wins all the time. Once I get better, I'll be the one winning."

With Hawkins' 21-year big league career now in the rearview, there are plenty of opportunities for young Troi to beat her dad. And something that simple -- the bonding time between father and daughter, ping pong paddle in hand -- makes it easy for LaTroy to feel not even the slightest tinge of longing for the big league field.

"When you play, there is a sacrifice," Hawkins said. "It puts a strain on your relationship with your wife, your kids. A lot of times you can't be there for certain things that go on, if your kids are having problems or issues. You can pick up a phone or use FaceTime, but to actually not be at the house? That's tough."

And so, particularly with Father's Day here, there is an appreciation among retired-players-turned-active-fathers for the quality time that simply wasn't available to them in summers past.

#THIS: #FathersDay

That's not to say the shift to real life, to full-time fatherhood, is always seamless.

Jeremy Affeldt threw the final pitch of a big league career that touched 14 seasons last October, then came home to Spokane, Wash., where his wife, Larisa, and their three sons (8-year-old Walker, 5-year-old Logan and 3-year-old Kolt) were waiting. Affeldt admitted that being a more hands-on dad can sometimes be every bit as stressful as staring down a feared left-handed slugger on the postseason stage.

"It's been a good process," Affeldt said. "I wouldn't say it's been the easiest process, but it's a good process. You're dealing with what it means to be a father and a husband on a different type of level. Teamwork is different for me now."

For Affeldt, who was on three World Series-winning teams with the Giants, the toll of all those nights at the yard might be most evident in young Walker's unwillingness to play the very sport that made his dad famous.

"I don't know if there was a wound there," said Affeldt, "with me being gone all the time."

Instead, Walker played basketball this year for the first time. It was the middle child, Logan, who took a liking to T-ball. In his first year away from baseball, Affeldt would attend both kids' practices and help out in T-ball where he could, though he learned quickly that he might be an overly doting dad in that department.

"I think it's better for me to be in the stands and watching my son," Affeldt said with a laugh. "I could see in the practices, when I helped out, I tended to focus more on him than the other kids. I don't think that's what a coach is supposed to do."

Some former players have had no trouble making that specific transition.

At last week's Draft, the Blue Jays used their fifth-round pick on Cavan Biggio, and they tabbed his older brother Conor, who was drafted by the Astros a year earlier and now works as an intern in the Commissioner's Office, to call his name. Both of the Biggio brothers played high school ball at St. Thomas High School in Houston, where they were coached by a certain recent inductee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I had no idea I was going to be a high school baseball coach," Craig Biggio said. "I really retired because, having been gone for eight months out of the year, my oldest son was a freshman and I really just wanted to get to know him again before he went out in his own life. And the coaching thing, I just went over there, started helping out and then there was an availability. I said, 'Well, if I'm going to be here every day anyway and they want me to coach, I'm going to do it.'"

Biggio must have known what he was doing. Under his watch, St. Thomas won back-to-back Texas Association of Private and Parochial School Class 5A state titles in 2010 and '11.

Just as meaningful, though, were the strengthened relationships with his boys.

"We were always tight," Craig said. "We have a great relationship. But it probably made us closer, to be honest with you. You're around each other the whole day. You ride them harder than the other kids, but we had a lot of fun with it."

Elsewhere in Texas, Lance Berkman served as head coach and Andy Pettitte the pitching coach for Second Baptist, which just this year won the TAPPS Class 4A state championship. Pettitte's son, Jared, was on the team.

"I didn't think I would enjoy it as much as I have," Andy said. "I love working with kids. I love being in the dugout with my boy, talking to him and trying to share information that I have learned over the years with him, and to see him be successful."

The landscape is littered with recent retirees soaking it in on the sidelines.

There was Roy Halladay watching his son, Braden, pitch in a Perfect Game tournament:

Before Torii Hunter Jr. was selected by the Angels in the 23rd round of last week's Draft, his dad was a regular at his football and basketball games in those first few months after he retired:

And soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. is an especially proud pop. Whether it was son Trey's football games at Arizona (he was ceremonially drafted by the Mariners last week), daughter Taryn's basketball games at Arizona or youngest son Tevin's football or baseball games, Junior can often be seen on the sidelines with his zoom lens, capturing memories:

"Playing in the big leagues for a long time is a big-time commitment, and your kids pay the big price for it," Biggio said. "So the opportunity to be around, to be a shoulder to lean on when they really need you to be there, that's important."

Hawkins, who also has an older stepson, Dakari, is loving every minute at home with Troi and his wife, Anita. These days, Hawkins is an analyst for TuneIn Radio's MLB show on weeknights, allowing him plenty of free time to go swimming or hunting or, yes, play ping pong with Troi, who said it was strange but cool to have her dad driving her to school this year.

"But," Troi added, "I actually miss going to the games."

Hearing this, LaTroy started planning.

"We'll have to pick out a day," Hawkins said.

Turns out, the ballpark that once kept him away from his daughter will now just be another place for them to bond.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.