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06/15/07 10:00 AM ET

Van Slyke enjoys sons' success, too

Tigers coach balances encouragement, parental involvement

It's a balancing act. A hard task for any father with children who are pursuing an athletic career.

No father wants to become too involved, but a father also doesn't want to appear too distant if his sons need advice.

Andy Van Slyke is no different, even if he is a bit more high profile than most dads. Van Slyke parlayed his success into a 13-year Major League career and clearly knows what it takes to make it at the highest level.

But he still encounters the same problems as any other father as he watches his four sons advance in their athletic careers. Should he impart his knowledge as a player? Or sit back and let his sons be independent and figure things out on their own? Even he doesn't know the answer.

"I don't know where the balance is, to be honest with you," said Van Slyke, who is currently in his second season as the Tigers' first-base coach. "I don't know where the balance is being a guy that has a pretty good idea about what it takes to have a Major League career. I experienced it. My only encouragement to them is to play hard and play smart and play every day like it's your last day, because it might be."

Simple advice, and it seems to have worked so far.

His sons A.J., 23, and Scott, 20, are both working their way through the Minors with the Cardinals and Dodgers organizations, respectively. Jared, 18, just graduated from John Burroughs High School in St. Louis and received a football scholarship at Southeast Missouri State. He will be a candidate to start at quarterback at the Div. I-AA program as a true freshman.

"Am I proud of the fact they they're doing what they want to do? Sure. But I don't think I'm going to be any more proud if they have big-league careers or my son Jared ends up throwing a football in the NFL," Van Slyke said. "I'll look at them as young men long before and after they wear any uniforms."

"I don't have to live vicariously through their lives like a lot of dads do, and are guilty of. Do I have anxiety? Absolutely. I am worried, like any other father, if they don't make it what's their future after? All those things I'm not immune to."

What makes it more difficult for Van Slyke is his busy schedule. Even though Scott is playing in nearby Midland, Mich., with the Class A Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League, Van Slyke has only been able to see Scott play a handful of times because of their conflicting schedules.

That leaves him with some anxious moments in the coaches' office after each Tigers game when he checks for the box score of each son's game.

"I go right to the Internet," Van Slyke said. "A lot of nights I'm shaking my head wondering what's going on and I call now and then, but I try to leave it up to them to call me."

For now, his boys have adjusted to life in the Minors well enough on their own. A.J. has a .261 average in 36 games with the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals while Scott has a .274 average in 36 games with the Loons. Van Slyke told his sons to be patient. Even though Van Slyke spent just 3 1/2 years in the Minors, he said a part of him wished he could have spent more time developing his game at the lower levels.

"If it takes five years to be prepared, to play five or 10 years in the big leagues, so be it," Van Slyke said. "It is always easier to make it to the big leagues than to stay in the big leagues. If you're going to get there, be prepared to stay there."

Having Major League careers is still a ways off for each of the Van Slyke children, but Andy said it is too early for any of them to worry about a contingency plan.

"We're not invading France with a Plan B if this doesn't work. We're just playing a sport," Van Slyke said. "I say put everything you have into it and if it doesn't work out, it's a big world, you can figure out something to do."

After all, it's only baseball, and Van Slyke hopes his boys have learned lessons to make them successful people in the future.

"You're a man all your life, you're only an athlete for part of it," Van Slyke said. "I'm proud of the fact that I think my boys have character and integrity. They want to do things right on the field, but more importantly, they want to do the right things off the field."

Tim Kirby is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.