Father inspires freedom of choice in Flaherty
Distinguished baseball coach fostered environment of exploration, independence
BALTIMORE -- Ryan Flaherty's exposure to baseball began when he was a small child, maybe 2 years old, recalls his father, Ed.
Growing up in Portland, Maine, Ryan would play schoolyard pickup games with his brother, Regan, their older sister and with the neighborhood kids for hours.
Ed, the all-time pitcher for the block when he played, made very little effort to kindle that interest into a flame.
That had to come from within Ryan, said Ed, the baseball coach at the University of Southern Maine in his 28th year with the program. There may, in some cases, be tension between being a Division III coach, wanting to raise your sons through baseball, and being a father, just wanting what's best for your children.
That was never true of the Flaherty household, according to Ryan, whose younger brother Regan now plays ball at Western Kentucky.
"You see a lot of dads try to over-coach their kid and try to teach them this. You've got to find your own passion as a kid, you don't need someone to tell you what to do. You've got to find it yourself," Ryan said. "As I became older, I started to go to him for guidance and stuff like that, but mostly he was just there for me when I needed him."
The Southern Maine team Ed coaches recently played for the Division III championship. In falling just short, the elder Flaherty knows a thing or two about the game, but he never forced that on his kids. Instead, he allowed them the chance to grow by playing a variety of sports.
Ryan was the quarterback for his high school football team, and he quit hockey in high school in part because it didn't fit with his basketball schedule.
"I think playing all kinds of different sports helps you become a better athlete, helps you develop as a player and helps baseball-wise even," Ryan said. "There's a lot of kids now who specialize in one sport and just play it year-round. But I was someone who always liked to compete year-round in something. I didn't want to be stuck in a batting cage hitting, I wanted to be playing."
That competitive nature and athletic ability earned him a scholarship to play baseball at Vanderbilt, where he played four years. Then in 2008, the Cubs used the 41st pick in the Draft to select Flaherty.
"That was one of the great days for us," Ed said in his distinguished New England accent. "We all got fired up. And it was a special day, we had a lot of people over here, and it was a special day for Ryan, too."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has talked about the big strides he's noticed in Flaherty's defense at second base this season. Ed notices those changes, too.
"At second, he looks a little funny out there sometimes because he's so tall. But I get amazed at some of the plays he's made," Ed said. "And the ability to turn the double play between last year and this year is night and day."
But just because he's recognized those changes doesn't mean he'll call to tell his son about it.
"He wasn't someone who, after games, would want to talk about my at-bats," Ryan said. "[He's] more someone that, when something was going on, I could call him and say, 'Hey, this is going on baseball-wise, off the field,' stuff like that -- which was a great resource for me [at Vanderbilt]."
During a long MLB season, Ryan Flaherty, known as "Flash" by his teammates, said it's nice to pause and thank the ones who helped get him to the big leagues.
"I think it's huge," Ryan said. "Especially in my case, I can remember I was the bat boy for [Ed's] teams. I pretty much learned the game from him, learned to love the game from being around watching him.
"It's a little extra special, for sure, and I think Major League Baseball has done a great job putting the importance on that and Mother's Day, special people in your lives that helped you get to this point that deserve to be recognized."
Derek Wetmore is an associate reporter for MLB.com.. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.