Just a short stroke, now. Just a short stroke to the ball," comes this East Coast voice like a James J. Braddock jab through the crisp spring air. On a day dotted with the celebrity likes of Vinny Castilla, it's Gerry Rover from Bergenfield, N.J., who's turning heads.
Now a resident of Tempe, Ariz., Rover is up from the valley to watch his son's team triumph over Thomas Jefferson High School in the first round of the 2013 4A state baseball playoffs. It's the Panthers second time to make baseball's sweet 16 in Marty Rover's first three years as a head coach, and Dad's been there to witness both victories.
But then again, Dad's always been there for Marty and baseball.
"When Marty was six years old," says Gerry Rover, "I taught him how to score a baseball game. Normal parents would be reading their kids nursery rhymes and stories, but I'd say, 'Ground ball to the shortstop, how do you score it?' and he'd say, '6 to 3, Dad.' "
Marty remembers those days well. He says, "The first thing my dad taught me about math was how to count the players on the field as one through nine. I remember watching the Cubs on WGN and keeping a scorebook just to do it."
Gerry also put some forethought into young Marty's blossoming athletic skills. "Marty's first tee was a construction cone," says Gerry, "and I made him bat lefty. He played golf righty. I never wanted a baseball coach or a golf coach to complain that the other sport was messing up his swing."
More than anything, though, Gerry was passing down a love for the game that his own father passed down to him. "My dad really loved baseball," says Gerry. "We could only afford a black and white TV, but I remember watching Yankees games with him. His name was Marty, also. My wife forced me to name our son Marty because of my father. He was one of the greatest people in my life."
So for as long as he can remember, young Marty Rover has loved sports — especially baseball. "People always asked me what my favorite TV show was when I was growing up," says Marty, "and I'd tell them Baseball Tonight or Sportscenter. I still wake up and look at the box scores in the paper every day. My parents just put it in our blood."
For the Rovers, baseball has always been a family affair. Gerry played middle infield for Marietta College in Ohio back in the 1960s, and Marty's mom, Terri, played slow-pitch softball until she was 50.
"My whole family would go to the park and play," says Marty. "I'd take ground balls at short, my sister would be at second, Mom would be at first, and Dad would be hitting 'em. That's a pretty good description of us from about the time I was eight until I got into middle school.
"I've been to more ASU baseball games than I can count," continues Marty. "That's just what we did with our extended family. No one outside of my dad was a baseball freak, but it was just a time and place for us to get together. If all I had to do the rest of my life was watch a baseball game, I could do it."
Nowhere was the Rover family dynamic more evident than during the 2001 World Series. After all, it was Diamondbacks vs. Yankees, and Dad was a lifelong Yankees fan.
"It was interesting," says Marty. "We drew the tickets for Game 7 of the series from the law firm where my mom worked as a legal secretary, but we only got two tickets. My sister and dad let Mom and me go, but they sat outside the stadium and watched it on the big screen."
So, when Luis Gonzalez smacked his historic walk-off single in Game 7 to win the series for the D'backs, all four Rovers were somewhere close. "It was a classic situation," says Gerry. "I'm happy that the D'backs won, but if they ever play again, I'm rooting for the Yankees!
"Through the years, my dad was such a Yankees fan," says Marty, "and Mom and I would never pull for them. So Dad would tell my sister that all she had to do was act like she was cheering for the Yankees and he'd buy her $100 worth of clothes."
Talking the Game
"My dad definitely taught me to be a student of the game," says Marty. "I think that made the difference for me to get some of my schooling paid for. I had X amount of talent, but I always felt that if I thought a little bit more, it would give me an advantage. It was an angle for me. Without my dad, I don't think I would have realized that part of the game.
"We always watched so much baseball and talked the game," continues Marty. "You know, 'What if he'd done this? What if he'd done that?' My whole family would go, but mostly Dad and I talked like that. When I was playing, Mom wouldn't talk about the game unless I brought it up. She'd tell me, 'Win or lose, you better go wash the game off in the shower.' But Dad wasn't like that at all. He'd want to know why I did certain things."
All the talk paid off. Marty was All-Conference his junior and senior years, and All-City his senior year, at McClintock High School in Tempe, Ariz., before being recruited to play collegiately at Mesa State College.
Gerry Rover says, "He has never been the best player on any of his teams. Ever. But he was always the smartest. So Marty being a coach is a classic."
"When Marty was about 12," says Gerry, "he was a four handicap at golf and I said to him, 'Marty, couldn't you play baseball for about 10 years so I could relive my childhood?' And he said, 'Okay, Pops.' "
Thus, the second childhood of Gerry Rover got even sweeter when his baseball protégé signed to play baseball for Mesa State.
"In the four years I was at Mesa," says Marty, "my dad missed something like six games, and we averaged 52 or 56 games a year, so that's over 200 games. He didn't miss a day of school for 16 years, so he had a bunch of days off, and the year I went to Mesa he switched from social studies to the in-school suspension teacher. About the same time, one of his best friends got a job with US Airways, so my dad got to fly for free with his buddy to my games (under the airline's employee benefit)."
Like Father, Like Son
For 15 years, Gerry Rover ran Frank's Friendly Tavern, a neighborhood bar and favorite hangout of big-league umpires. Running the bar, however, did not afford Gerry the kind of time he craved to spend with his newly expanding family, so he went to work as a seventh grade social studies teacher.
Now, some 22 years later, Marty is following in his father's footsteps.
"About his junior year in college," says Gerry, "Marty says he's gonna get his degree in math. I say, 'Are you gonna be an engineer or an architect or what?' And he says, 'No, I'm gonna teach school and coach like you.' I said, "You jackass!"
But Marty sees it this way: "My parents didn't force me into anything. Did they give me opportunities? Absolutely. I look at my dad, and he had so much fun playing baseball that he saw that for me, but it was completely up to me. There was no forcing me to go out there.
"Anytime I wanted to go out and play," continues Marty, "even if it was the longest day my dad ever had at school, we'd go out there and play. That's how I want to raise my kids."
So, from the Bergenfield second baseman who idolized Bobby Richardson to his son, the current head skipper of the Delta Panthers who mimicked Mark Grace growing up, the love has been handed down. It's just simple genetics.
It's in the blood.blog comments powered by Disqus