Washburn, dad share unique bond

Washburn, dad share unique bond

SEATTLE -- A father-son bond strengthened by athletics began nearly 30 years ago in a small Wisconsin town, grew even stronger in an even smaller Wisconsin town, and now flourishes on a farm in middle-America.

Jarrod Washburn's dad, Mike, has gone from police officer to husband to father to coach to factory worker to keeping the family farm operational while the Mariners left-hander goes about his business at ballparks around the country.

"Two years ago, I convinced my dad to quit his job and to come work for me," Washburn said, cracking a big smile. "I run a tight ship, and he's the kind of guy you want working for you, a real good employee, a guy who is always doing something to stay busy."

And Mike, now 56, never has to worry about company downsizing.

As another Father's Day arrives, Jarrod took some time recently to reflect back to his early years, when his mom and dad took he and his younger brother to co-ed summer softball games and the impact his left-handed father (and stout Yankees fan) had on his career.

"I owe him a lot for always being there for me, pushing me," Washburn said. "He always told me, 'Whatever you are going to do, try to be the best, no matter what it is, and don't ever quit on something you start.' Those two things I have tried to follow, and it has worked out well."

The best recollection the Mariners hurler has of his introduction to organized sports takes him back to when he was three- or four-years-old growing up in New Lisbon, Wis., a small community located near the center of the state.

His dad, a member of the New Lisbon Police Department, and mom, Dawn, were among the best players in the softball league. Their team won and lot of tournaments, and while they were playing their games, Jarrod and his brother were playing games of their own nearby with other kids.

Besides great fishing in the summer, whitetail deer hunting in the fall and snowmobiling in the winter, New Lisbon had a strong youth baseball program, including T-Ball for seven- and eight-year-olds. Well, except for one year, when a five-year-old was included.

"I think my dad talked me onto the team," Washburn smiled. "I was the pitcher, and it was the most strikes that I ever threw."

He laughed, no doubt visualizing another ball being placed on a plastic "T" at home plate.

When Jarrod was about eight years old, his father decided to change occupations, and the family moved to Webster, Wis., a 3 1/2-hour drive north of New Lisbon with a population 653, a place they would vacation during the summer.

There wasn't much of a youth baseball program in Webster when the Washburns moved in.

But with the help of Mike Washburn, the local high school baseball coach and other parents, the Webster Little League was expanded and a little lefty with skinny legs and blond hair would become a big-league star pitcher.

"My dad coached my team, the Tigers," Washburn said, "and every year at the Burnett County Fair, there was a Little League tournament. Webster never had done well, but more and more kids were playing ball and we kept getting better.

"When I was in the sixth grade, Webster won its first Burnett County Fair tournament, but my dad couldn't get off work to coach the championship game.

"So we grabbed the trophy and the whole team went down the factory where he worked and showed him the trophy and how proud we were. We were pumped, and wanted to let him know it. I think it might have brought tears to his eyes. I know it made him feel good."

The team, including the coach, was toasted during a parade down Main Street.

"It was pretty cool riding on the fire truck with the siren blaring," said Washburn, who went from Little League, high school, college at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and finally to the pros after being the Angels' second-round selection in the 1995 First-Year Player Draft.

Among the post-Burnett County Fair highlight was Game 1 of the 2002 World Series. Both of Jarrod's parents were in attendance on Oct. 19 at Edison International Field, where their son, an 18-game winner during the regular season, threw the first pitch of the Fall Classic.

Another memorable moment was supposed to come three years later, at Yankee Stadium, in Game 4 of the AL Division Series between the Angels and Yankees.

"My dad grew up a big Yankees fan and my parents had never been to New York City, so going there was a big thrill for them."

The frosting on the cake never came. Game 4 was rained out, Jarrod came down with strep throat and he was replaced by right-hander John Lackey.

Washburn pitched one more game for the Angels that season, in the ALCS against the White Sox, and then tested free agency before signing a four-year, $37.5 million contract with the Mariners.

And with things having turned out better than he could have ever imagined while growing up in rural Wisconsin, Washburn returned home and bought a farm, hiring the one person who deserves much of the credit for his success.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.