Arizona's Chase Anderson living MLB dream by walking in his father’s shoes

LOS ANGELES – They had shared the journey for so long, so often just the two of them and tethered so tight they’d perhaps left a single set of footprints. Size 12D, by the ostrich-skin boots.

“Same size,” Chase Anderson said with a nod.

He wears his late father’s clothes; socks and tawny boots, oval cowboy belt buckle, faded Wrangler jeans and pink polo shirt, a single outfit that continues what they started.

He’ll explain.

“I like being in his shoes for a day,” he said. “For a little bit. Just to understand again that hard work will get me anywhere. Anywhere I want to go.”

A young Chase Anderson, right, with his father, Robert. (Courtesy of Chase Anderson)

Also, he said, “He always told me, ‘Grown men wear pink.’”

He smiled. It’s been three years, and coming up on a fourth Father’s Day. Chase hugged him one morning, told him he loved him and then he was gone, a heart attack at 58.

A right-handed pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chase dresses as his father, the same outfit every time, on the days he starts at home. He has for several years. He keeps the shirt and pants clean, ironed and hanging in the same place in his closet, the boots on the floor underneath them, the socks tucked into the boots. The shirt is a bit large. The shoes, though, fit perfectly.

“My dad,” Chase said, “was not just my best friend, but somebody I could count on. This career is as much a part of him as it is me. The clothes, they’re just kind of a tribute to him.

“I wouldn’t want to walk every day of my dad’s life, because some of those days were not that good. But, there were a lot of good days in his life. A lot of things he did were very influential for other people. I honestly feel honored to wear some of the stuff he wore.”

Chase Anderson’s father, Robert (he disliked “Bobby,” which a lot of folks in Wichita Falls, Texas, called him, except for the nice lady across the street, who called him “The Rifleman,” an allusion to the old TV show), welded fiberglass, mowed lawns, chopped trees into firewood and raised a boy, and that would be Chase.

Robert was 6-foot-4, maybe 220 pounds. He had big arms, huge, hard hands and skinny legs, which would tangle when he danced, and a deep, raspy voice that did no justice to the country melody on the cassette player when there was a pile of wood to defeat and an axe to swing. His favorite, especially when working alongside his boy, was by Garth Brooks: “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House.”

Robert and Chase’s mother, Michelle, divorced when Chase was young. Chase remained with his father. They mowed lawns and split wood together. They were the family side businesses. And sometimes during the water breaks, Robert would help Chase break in his new baseball glove, right out there on the lawn or the sidewalk, Chase developing into a skilled pitcher and throwing as hard as he could until one day his father said: “You need to slow it down. My eyes are bad. I can’t see.” They laughed. So Chase worked on his changeup instead.

At the end of the day Robert would crimp a sheet of tin foil into a tray and barbecue up 50 shrimp – 25 for him, 25 for Chase – all smothered in lemon pepper, lemon juice and teriyaki sauce. He’d season a couple steaks, barbecue those too, and they’d sit in front of the television and watch whatever was on, maybe a ballgame and maybe “The Andy Griffith Show,” Robert’s favorite.

Robert called young Chase, “The Iron Man,” which still makes Chase blush. The nickname was borne on the soccer pitch, where the tiniest kid would lower his eyes and set his jaw and run ’til tears were practically streaming down his face, and he would score dozens of goals and would not quit. There was ferocity in that kid, and Robert would marvel at all that determination, and after the game he’d hoist Chase to his shoulders and carry him to the parking lot.

“Like putting me on a pedestal,” Chase said. “Just really proud of me.”

Chase Anderson has a 2.84 ERA this season in 79.1 innings pitched. (AP)

Chase found he had a talent for baseball, and especially for pitching, and when he reached his high school years began to allow himself an aspiration to pitch in college, maybe more. Robert could see it, too, enough so that his boy’s budding dream became theirs together, like everything else. He wasn’t always good with money, but this was important, so Robert kept two compartments for cash in his wallet – one side for bills and food and whatever might come up, the other for Chase’s baseball trips. Sometimes there’d be $2,000 on the baseball side, hardly any on the other, but that didn’t change the plan. When the time came, there’d be money for the travel, for the motels, for the food, maybe even for some of that crawfish etouffee at Pappadeaux that was about Robert’s favorite thing in the world, outside of his children (his daughter, Abby, lived with Chase’s mother) and a good day’s work.

Chase was on the lean side (“I could hide behind a telephone pole,” he said). He didn’t throw with the kind of velocity that necessarily brings scouts in their rented Camrys. He went to community college, grew some, showed he could pitch some, and transferred to Oklahoma. In 2009, the Diamondbacks picked him in the ninth round. Five years later he was in Double-A, seemingly a long ways from the big leagues, and every day he thought about his father, how the people in Wichita Falls would call him the hardest-working man they’d ever known, and the talks the two of them had about that very thing over the drone of a rear-propelled lawn mower. The game was hard. It was harder without him.

“He saw something in me that nobody else did,” Chase said. “Including me.”

He continued the journey.

Chase sat recently in a restaurant in Pasadena, days before he’d take a no-hitter into the seventh inning in San Francisco, a week before he’d beat the Los Angeles Angels at home. In 13 starts, some undone by middling run support, he is 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA. The ERA is 10th in the National League, better than Cole Hamels’, Johnny Cueto’s, Madison Bumgarner’s and Clayton Kershaw’s.

“I don’t ever want to feel like I belong in the big leagues,” he said. “Once you get complacent with where you’re at, next thing you know the jersey’s off your back and you’re mowing lawns again.

“I feel like I can compete at this level. … Hopefully one day you wake up and you’ve put 10 years in.”

Father’s Day was coming. He’d go to the ballpark and see the boys and girls on their dads’ shoulders, all on their pedestals, all little Iron Men for the day, and that’d make him happy, he said. He’d have his own little boy or girl one day, he said, and he could start it all over again, the journey of footprints.

So, he was asked, what would he do with five more minutes? What would his dad want to know?

“Whew,” Chase said, “five minutes. What would he want to know?”

He lifted a napkin and dabbed at his eyes.

“For one, I think he’d want to know what it’s like to achieve a dream …”

He stared for a while and reached again for the napkin.

“I don’t now if he achieved his,” he said. “I don’t think he truly achieved it, because it was partially me. But I think sometimes he did achieve it. He got me where he did.”

He nodded, still in his father’s shoes.

“Good man. Yeah, he was. Is.”

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