Richard Justice

On Father's Day, LaHairs recall path to bigs

Justice: On Father's Day, LaHairs recall path to bigs

On Father's Day, LaHairs recall path to bigs
CHICAGO -- Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair and his dad, Norman, were chatting near the batting cage Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field when a familiar face approached.

"Hey, Dad, do you know that guy?" Bryan asked.

That was the moment Norman LaHair saw his other son, Jeff, and that's when he knew how special this Father's Day was going to be.

"We hadn't all been together on Father's Day in 10-12 years," Bryan said. "It means a lot. It's a special day."

It was one more great day in a season that has been spectacularly fulfilling, not just for Bryan LaHair, but for all the people who care about him and waited so long for this opportunity.

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"He's been determined to be in the Major Leagues since he was like 7 years old," Norman said. "That was his ambition. Even though he played other sports, it was baseball all the way. Nothing was going to deter him. We kept him and his brother in sports all the way through."

After nine seasons in the Minor Leagues, including six at Triple-A, Bryan has gotten a chance to play full-time in the Majors this season. He has taken full advantage of it, with 12 home runs, which is tied with Joey Votto and Adam LaRoche for first among National League first baseman. His .940 OPS is higher than every other NL first basemen's except Votto.

This was Norman LaHair's third trip to Wrigley Field, but was made more special because it was Father's Day and because the Cubs were playing the Red Sox. Norman, a Budweiser distributor, raised the boys in Massachusetts, and because they cared about baseball, they naturally cared about the Red Sox.

There was a surreal quality to the whole thing Saturday night when Norman sat inside Wrigley Field as Bryan batted against the Olde Towne Team.

"He felt the energy in the crowd," Bryan said. "For him to experience those kinds of things, it's pretty special."

It was Norman LaHair's love of sports that set Bryan and Jeff on a course for professional baseball. Jeff played four seasons of Independent League ball.

"Ever since he was old enough to stand on his feet, he has been around the diamond," Norman said. "He always wanted to be out there. My boys didn't have toys. They had a glove and a ball. That was it. They didn't want toys.

"I'm a New Englander through and through. I enjoy the game of baseball. I've talked to my sons about baseball since they were old enough to really talk. We talked situations. They'd go to the park, and we'd talk about this and that. They knew it from a young age."

There was plenty of disappointment along the way for Bryan, who surely must have wondered if he'd ever get another shot to play in the Majors after a brief stay with the Mariners in 2008.

"My dad just continued to tell me to keep working," Bryan said. "He had the same questions I had. It got to the point I had no more answers. Being a dad, he was so frustrated with the system and how it was playing out for me. It put a little pressure on me at times, too, because I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what was happening. We all supported one another."

Norman said he sometimes didn't understand why Bryan wasn't getting another chance, but he never advised his son to give up on his dream.

"He's determined," Norman said. "He has been in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic. He played for Team USA and the Olympic Qualifying Team. He played for the team that beat the Cubans for the first time in 20 years. He just loves it. He thrives on it. He's put the work in."

Bryan is fifth among first basemen in voting for the National League All-Star team, and it appears manager Tony La Russa's decision for a Cubs' representative will come down to LaHair or shortstop Starlin Castro.

"I think it's just an honor for him to be mentioned," Norman said. "It would be a fantastic story. It would be storybook. At least he's being recognized by other Major League players and the fans."

Regardless, this Father's Day was a moment for the entire family to cherish.

"He disciplined me. He was tough on me. He pushed me," Bryan said. "At a younger age, I didn't do very well in school. He sat me out some games to make me focus on my grades. He taught me never to be satisfied with my success. To continue to want to do better. To work hard. I appreciate all the sacrifices he and my mom made so my brother and I could play sports."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.