"When it came to playing catch, he never said no," Ellis said. "I never forgot that. Now I have a daughter and a son, and I'm already putting into practice the way my Dad raised me and my brother, how he treated us around sports. He's the perfect model of how to be a father."
That would be Gary Ellis, plant manager at Smuckers' Uncrustables unit in Kentucky, father of the Dodgers catcher. Dad also was a two-sport star at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., MVP of the football team as a free safety, three-time baseball MVP as a pitcher and outfielder.
"His five minutes of fame," quipped A.J.
Dad spent a lot more time than that nurturing his sons on the wonders of play.
"I can't remember him not being at one of my games or coaching or assistant coaching," said A.J. "And he made sure he was with us every day we played, from T-ball on up. My mom made sandwiches, and she'd drive us to the park. My dad would be there, and I remember him changing clothes by the car and taking the handoff. It was time to play."
Dad raised two ballplayers. A.J. is four years older than Josh, who made it to Triple-A with the Arizona Diamondbacks before retiring. Their father made more sacrifices than just time back in the day.
"I remember when I was 9 and my brother was 5, I'd be pitching to my dad and my brother would stand in and try to swing my bat, but he was too little," A.J. said. "But he kept trying and, sure enough, foul tipped one and it hit my dad in the eye. It swelled so bad. Two days later was Father's Day, we got him a catcher's mask. From then on, he caught me with a catcher's mask."
In 2008, A.J. was playing with Las Vegas and Josh got called up to Tucson in time for the two teams to meet.
"That was the only time in my life we were on the same field for a game," said A.J. "Josh pitched two great innings, I didn't play. Teammates asked, 'What's he got?' Nope, can't help you there. Blood's thicker than baseball.
"My brother said he was going to drill me and I'd charge the mound and we'd be on 'SportsCenter' forever."
Ellis said his father taught him and Josh the finer points of the game, but always remembered it was a game.
"I never felt any pressure to play," he said. "When we left the field, we didn't talk about the game and he didn't coach away from the field. He didn't pick apart my game. He wanted us to play and have fun. I remember I loved that and still do. To this day, he rarely breaks down my game. He's always encouraging, supportive, not critical. That makes it a really special relationship, considering how much he knows about the game."
Ellis tries to remember that as a father of Ainsley and Luke.
"In May of '08, we had our daughter, and that changed me as a player and a person," he said. "I used to take the game home a lot more. I'd eat, sleep and talk baseball. Now I go home, she doesn't know if I went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. She just wants to be loved. She just wants to play with dad. She lightens the day, and that's huge for me.
"We had our son in May '10. It could be tough for him, the son of a Major League Baseball player with the pressure and expectations. But you see a lot of good examples of fathers and sons in the clubhouse. The fathers of our Major League sons did a good job separating the baseball player and dad, and that's what my goal is."
Ellis' dad will be in Los Angeles for Father's Day this year.
"It used to be that Father's Day was church in the morning and golf in the afternoon," Ellis said. "The last few years, it's meant baseball games."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less