SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – I don’t know Chris Lincecum, but I know some fathers. And after you get your boy upright on the potty, then on the two-wheeler, and then in adulthood (which may be wobbliest of all), you one day realize a good portion of fatherhood is spent watching the boy fall.
You wish he didn’t fall so much. You run alongside as long as you can. But pretty soon the whole thing picks up a little too much speed, and your legs don’t go like they used to anyway, so the boy goes off and if he falls – and he always falls – it’s going to be somewhere where strangers will have to catch him or not and it will be you in the distant background with your hands on your knees.
There’s even a time when the boy stops looking around wondering where you are, when his uncertainty has instead become courage. And that’s good. That’s what you were there for.
It’s called growing up. For both you and the boy. All those falls after all those years, they do still sting and leave bruises and maybe some scars that won’t ever go away. For the boy, too. But it’s his fight now if that’s how he wants it, you know, since he’s pretty much mastered the potty and the two-wheeler, which means the rest must be easy, and sometimes it is and usually it’s not.
This isn’t to say that Chris Lincecum had it right and his boy, Tim, had it wrong. Or the opposite. It is to say that it is complicated. And it is to say that the story Tim told Wednesday afternoon in front of his locker here was first a sweet ode to the father and the boy and then, perhaps, a happy ending for the pitching coach and the pitcher.
Tim Lincecum arrived in San Francisco Giants camp wearing a trucker cap, his hair again shoulder length. He’d finished last season in the bullpen, and so deep in it he’d registered all of five outs in the Giants’ 17-game postseason run to their third championship in five seasons. Any deeper, in fact, he’d have been one of those tomato plants bullpen coaches are constantly nurturing to pass the time between pitching changes. Taken as a whole, Lincecum’s season was the third in a row that was not to the standards of his former being, that being the pitcher who’d won Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons and been generally masterful for two seasons after that.
He lost velocity. He lost command. Pitches came and went. So, too, by the end of 2014, did his place in the rotation. At just 30, his career had reached a dangerous place – he would get better or he would begin to flop around as the guy who used to be Tim Lincecum.
In those recent troubling seasons, Lincecum said, he’d cooled on his father, the man who’d engineered one of the strangest and – for a time – most successful deliveries in the game. Somehow, Chris Lincecum had turned his waifish boy into a ferocious power pitcher. He’d found miles per hour where perhaps no one else could have. Also, from these soaring, swooping, somewhat startling and wholly unique mechanics, he’d drawn precision.
The problem was, when the mechanics went wrong, there weren’t a lot of people who could fix them. And when they went wrong, the last thing the boy could bear was another anti-wobble lesson from the father. Tim didn’t describe exactly where his relationship with his father had gone, but made clear it wasn’t where it had been.
“We’re both stubborn,” he said.
So when the season ended on that cool night in Kansas City, when Tim had fallen over the course of the season and the Giants had stepped in to catch him, he called Chris, his father, and confronted his own failings. He apologized. He asked if he could come home to make his life, our life again, and so his mechanics, our mechanics.
“I went to him,” Tim said. “That was tough. It’s like a kid with a bad report card.”
He smiled. The numbers were the numbers. The results followed.
“You can’t hide your report card all summer,” he said.
They started over, rebuilt the parts that needed it and polished the parts that had gone dull. His father at his side, Lincecum threw, he said, about 50 times at something close to top-end effort. Sometimes they agreed on what would work and what wouldn’t. And sometimes Chris went outside to smoke a cigarette and Tim threw baseballs into a net by himself. And when they’d both had a minute, Tim said, Chris would remind him, “We’ve done this together. Let’s continue to do this together until I’m not here.”
It’ll work or it won’t.
“We’ve learned to love each other regardless,” Tim said.
By the end of his story, Tim had scooched up in his chair so he was almost in a catcher’s squat. He’d wrapped his arms around his knees and spoken with a happiness that was charming. He’s 30 and still looks hardly 20. The boys, they always look younger after they fall. And you, you finally get to catch them again.
“He was there to remind me I did what I did,” Tim said.
Chris arrived in Scottsdale this week. Giants manager Bruce Bochy is all for it. So is his pitching coach, Dave Righetti. Whatever helps Tim Lincecum, helps the Giants, and the Giants need Tim Lincecum, who, as of today, is their fifth starter.
How this goes, where this ends, is out there somewhere. Meantime, when the courage becomes uncertainty again, the boy won’t be alone.
“It’s never really the dad’s fault,” he said. “At least that’s what I learned.”
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