Outfielder/firefighter/Home Run Derby pitcher Clay Bellinger is MLB's most sought-after dad

ByJerry Crasnick ESPN logo
Monday, July 10, 2017

Clay Bellinger played only four years and 183 games in the big leagues, but he made each moment count. He was part of World Series title teams with the 1999 and 2000 New York Yankees and 2002 Anaheim Angels, and he would have pocketed a fourth ring if the Yankees hadn't fallen victim to too much Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in October 2001.

Fifteen years after his retirement from professional ball, Bellinger has attained a different brand of acclaim as MLB's most sought-after dad.

Bellinger, 48, has been besieged with interview requests since Cody, the older of his two sons, arrived in Los Angeles and began peppering the seats with home run balls. He recently took a break from his job as a firefighter in Gilbert, Arizona, to watch Cody at Dodger Stadium, and he'll take center stage Monday night in Miami when he pitches to his son at the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby.

Bellinger shared the thrill of being an All-Star father in a telephone conversation with ESPN.com from Los Angeles.

What's it been like for you and your family to watch Cody have such an immediate impact?

Clay Bellinger: It's been fun to watch, obviously. You always hope, but you don't ever expect him to do quite this well so fast. It's been a crazy last two weeks, especially since the announcement of him making the All-Star team and being in the Home Run Derby and me throwing. He's been handling it the best he can. He keeps working hard, and when he's not doing well, he tries to battle through it.

As the Home Run Derby approaches, how ready are you for the big event?

CB: I throw batting practice every other day back home, but it's on a high school field or in the cage. That's why I wanted to come out to L.A. and throw to Cody at Dodger Stadium, so I did it a few days ago. I thought it went well.

What makes for a good Home Run Derby pitcher?

CB: Throwing strikes. Whatever speed he wants, I'll try to get it there. I'm sure every hitter looks for something middle-in. It's a lot easier to pull the ball than to hit it out the opposite way.

How do you like the family's chances of success in Miami?

CB: Cody's not a batting practice home run hitter. Hopefully, he can turn it up a notch, and we'll see how it goes.

How would you describe Cody to people who don't know him?

CB: He's a pretty humble kid. He knows he's good, but he's not arrogant or cocky about it. Some players can be standoffish when they're that good, but he's never been like that. Every time I talk to reporters and TV people, and most importantly his teammates and the coaching staff, they say he's doing a great job and handling himself well and going about his business. As parents, that's what my wife Jen and I love to hear -- even more than the stats on the field. Although that's nice, too.

What's been your biggest thrill from this whole experience the last couple of months?

CB: When we get that call late in the night saying he's going to San Francisco to make his debut and we're able to be out there. That's the coolest thing, to see your son's big-league debut. And it came against the Giants, the team I was drafted by and spent six or seven years in the minors with. That moment was probably the most fulfilling.

Cody was not a home run hitter in high school or the low minors. Did you see something to suggest he might have this kind of power?

CB: He was always a great hitter. You just envision a kid with 15-20 more pounds on him and that man-strength coming along, and those balls that he hit in the gaps carrying over the fence. He also changed his hands and his swing path. You take all those variables into consideration, and he's doing what some people thought he could do.

How much of an influence do you think you had on his approach to baseball?

CB: I coached him all the way up to high school and his club-ball teams. He didn't really have anybody else to work on his swing, so it was always him and me in the cage. The only time I let him go was after high school when he started playing for other people.

Was there ever a glimmer of hope that he might join your old organization, the Yankees?

CB: There really wasn't. He got invited to one of those pre-draft workouts [at Yankee Stadium] with a bunch of kids from the Atlantic region. He was the only kid from out West, and he actually hit a home run that game. But as far as the Yankees drafting him, there wasn't a whole lot of contact with them. So I would have been surprised if he was drafted by them.

For us, living out West, it's been a blessing that he was drafted by the Dodgers. Their spring training is 40 minutes away and most of their minor league teams are on the West Coast, so it wasn't too far of a haul for us to get there. It's worked out for the best.

How did you gravitate toward becoming a firefighter?

CB: After I retired in 2004, a couple of guys I knew from baseball started testing [for the fire department], and I did a couple of ride-alongs with them. It's a really fulfilling job, where you're not sitting behind a desk 9-to-5. You're out in the community helping people. No suit and tie. Every day is different.

Have you had any close calls or scary moments in the job?

CB: Not really -- knock on wood. We're a pretty safe organization the way we do stuff out West. You run across your bad medical calls and bad car accidents, but we don't have a whole lot of fire in Gilbert where I work. It's a newer town, which helps out. Hopefully I don't ever get in one of those situations where it's life or death staring you in the eye.

How excited are your co-workers and friends about Cody's success?

CB: Every day, I get texts from people. There are a lot of D-backs fans in Arizona and lot of Dodger haters, but they're watching the games and paying attention just to see what Cody does. They couldn't care less about the Dodgers. The support for us has been overwhelming.

Cody recently took some good-natured abuse for not knowing who Jerry Seinfeld was? What was your reaction to that story?

CB: Brandon McCarthy tweeted about Seinfeld being a big Mets fan, and Scott Van Pelt asked him about it on national TV. Cody is 21. He knew who Jerry Seinfeld was, and he knew about the TV show. But at that moment in time, he couldn't place a face with the name and it kind of rolled from there. It was actually pretty funny. He caught some ribbing from teammates. He doesn't watch a whole lot of TV, I guess, obviously. It was good. He ran with it.

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