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06/19/09 1:00 AM ET
Ball, fatherhood synonymous for Hairstons
Reds' veteran utility player a third-generation Major Leaguer
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Often in the Reds clubhouse, utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. has three-year-old son Jackson nearby -- whether at his locker or the team's indoor batting cage at Great American Ball Park. "Do you have ear plugs? Daddy's about to hit in the cage," Hairston joked to Jackson once last month. Jackson may or may not realize it yet, but he's the fourth generation from the Hairston family to walk through a Major League clubhouse. Hairston Jr.'s grandfather, Sammy, was a Negro League star and his brief big league stint made him the first African American to play for the White Sox. His father, Jerry Sr., was a big leaguer from 1973-89 -- almost all of those years with the White Sox. Therefore, it will be a particularly special time for the Hairstons when the Reds play the White Sox this weekend in an Interleague set. "I want him to get four hits, but I want the White Sox to win," said Hairston Sr., who as a current Minor League coach, wasn't yet sure if he'd be able to attend the series. On Sunday, it will be Father's Day but on Saturday, the two teams will be meeting in the third annual Civil Rights Game -- a showcase that honors the efforts for integration and equality -- something Sammy Hairston spent most of his baseball career working for. "It's fantastic they are looking back and recognizing the Negro Leagues from years ago," Hairston Sr. said by phone from Arizona. "And even though many are now deceased, recognizing the players' talents and that they were as good as Major League players at that time. They're finally getting their due. I think it's a fantastic idea to keep the memory of those men alive." There was no question for Hairston Jr. that the upcoming weekend would carry extra meaning for him and his family. "My grandfather was never a bitter man," Hairston Jr. said. "He always was thankful for what he had a chance to achieve. But at the same time, he was a great player and never really got an opportunity to play here. He won a Triple Crown in the Negro Leagues and didn't get much of an opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. That's why I have a little more passion and take it more serious. It's a rare opportunity and a privilege to play up here." Sammy Hairston, who died in 1997 at the age of 77, provided his younger generations glimpses of the life he lived in baseball. "He always told me great stories about playing in the Negro Leagues and playing with and against Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and obviously Jackie Robinson," Hairston Jr. said. "I knew all those stories growing up. I was extremely fortunate to have that kind of family." Like his son is doing now, Jerry Jr. and his two brothers (including current Padres outfielder Scott Hairston) and two sisters, were often inside the clubhouse with their Dad at old Comiskey Park, and often witnessed what it took to make it to, and stay in, the big leagues. "Back then, it was great, but now as I'm older, I realize I got a chance to be around Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Greg Luzinski and all those great players," Hairston Jr. said. "There was camaraderie they had on that team -- the older players with kids, too. Casey Fisk, Ryan Luzinski, my brothers and Doug Rader's kids, we always went out and played. "My father didn't want us running around wild in the clubhouse. He stressed that the clubhouse was a sacred area. Just make sure you respect everybody. He said, 'I'm your father but you have 24 other guys here that have to get ready to play.' I understood at a young age that those guys were there to do a job." Having a Dad as a Major Leaguer wasn't always easy. With Spring Training and a 162-game schedule, players are away for a majority of an eight-month period. Hairston was also aware that his peers knew who his father was and often both cheered and booed him. "There's obviously good and bad, and the good far outweighed the bad," Hairston said. "How many kids can say their dad is a Major League ballplayer? I got the chance to go on the field with him an awful lot and play baseball on a big league field. I really appreciated that as a kid." Whether it was at the ballpark or at home, Hairston Sr. was just Dad to his family, and not the guy that went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4 at the yard earlier in the day. "Family was most important," Hairston Sr. said. "Being a Major League Baseball player happened to be my job. I said to them, 'No matter what you hear about me or baseball, let them think whatever they want. You are my main concern.'" Hairston Sr. is still working in the White Sox organization as the batting coach with the rookie-level Appalachian League affiliate in Bristol, Va. Hairston Jr. was an 11th-round Draft pick by the Orioles in 1997 and reached the big leagues in 1998. By the time Hairston Jr. was in the Majors with Baltimore and playing alongside Baines, he already had benefitted from one of the perks of being the son of a big leaguer. "Other players were kind to my kids and they became just 'Dad's co-workers,'" Hairston Sr. said. "As they grew older, I knew it would help them in the long run. Players were just people like their Dad. They wouldn't be intimidated by the names or in awe on the Major Leagues. They know they put on their pants the same way you do." Now 32 and a father of two, including 1 1/2-year-old Kara, Hairston Jr. has two bonds he can share with Hairston Sr. -- big league baseball and fatherhood. "That's a great thing. We can talk about life," Hairston Jr. said. "Obviously me being a father now and raising two kids and balancing the baseball life, he's always there for me when it comes to that. If I'm half the father he is, I'm going to be a successful father."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.