USC baseball coach Chad Kreuter stood off the third-base line, peering down to the right at his designated hitter.
Kreuter’s team was trailing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 4-3, in the top of the eighth inning. His freshman catcher, Robert Stock, had just singled to centerfield, putting the team’s tying runner on base, but USC needed someone to step up and drive him in.
Only five outs remained between a series loss and a late-inning comeback.
Kreuter’s eyes were on the plate as a 6-foot-5, 190-pound freshman stepped into the batter’s box. But even though the 18-year-old right-handed batter was a new face to the team, he wasn’t a new face to the coach.
The hitter was Kreuter’s son, Cade.
The coach had enough faith to leave the young hitter in during a pressure situation.
When Cal Poly starter Kyle Anderson — who had cruised through a six-inning, two-run outing to that point — made a mistake on his next pitch to home plate, Cade knew exactly what to do with it.
Cade connected for a game-changing, two-run home run that cleared the left-field wall at Baggett Stadium.
The coaches cheered. The dugout roared.
And Dad looked like a genius.
It was a big moment for the Trojans, and it was a moment in which any dad would be proud of his son.
It’s even more special for a dad who gets to congratulate his son as he’s rounding third base.
“It’s a real cool moment shaking hands with your son when he’s coming around the bases,” the coach said.
Chad said he didn’t get to speak at length with his son until the ninth inning, when Chad returned to the dugout from his post as third-base coach. He was proud that his son made adjustments from an earlier at-bat in the game.
“He turned around a pitch he had struck out with and hit a home run,” Chad said.
Cade’s home run reminded his coach of another time the father and son got to shake hands at home plate after Cade launched a drive over the fence.
It was during Chad’s major league career, when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He remembers hitting a home run and sharing a high five with Cade, the team’s bat boy, as he headed back to the dugout.
“It’s like we’ve come full circle.”
Baseball represents a special connection between father and son. Often, the very first person a child learns how to play catch with is his father. And because throwing and catching a Wiffle ball is fairly easy, many children begin playing catch with their dads before they can even remember.
This has translated into many great father-son duos in baseball history.
Arguably the greatest father-son combination to have played professionally is the Griffeys. (The Bonds are a pretty close second, bar steroids.)
The most memorable father-son moment ever is probably when Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. played together in the same outfield on Aug. 31, 1990. Later that season, the Griffeys became the first and only father-son duo to hit back-to-back home runs in a Major League Baseball game.
Because of the age gap, it’s difficult for a father and a son to ever play together professionally. The Griffeys were an exception because Griffey Jr. made it to the major leagues at the young age of 19, and Griffey Sr. was at the tail end of his career in 1990.
It’s also rare for a father to be the head coach of his son’s team past little league and even rarer past high school.
So, for the Kreuter family, this is a special experience.
In Sunday’s game, Cade made Dad proud, belting a home run that helped the Trojans defeat the Mustangs, 9-4, and earn USC a season-opening series victory.
And although Cade’s role is still yet to be defined this season, it’s a memorable moment every time he and Chad put on the same uniform at the college-baseball level.
Griffey Jr., a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, said playing with his dad was more important to him than any other record he would go on to break.
The Kreuters should enjoy the time while it lasts.
“Soft Hands” runs on Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.