Two words that are constantly shouted throughout summer nights back in Jason Zgardowski’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
Zgardowski, 23, a right-handed pitcher for the River City Rascals, hopes he can hear that voice when he takes the field Sunday afternoon on Father’s Day. However, it will have be a voice in his head as he will spend his second consecutive Father’s Day away from his son, three-year old Jason Zgardowski Jr. Sporting a team best 1.88 ERA, the right-handed reliever will be approximately 1, 200 miles away from his son as his team takes on the Windy City ThunderBolts Sunday afternoon at Standard Bank Stadium.
“Last time I got to spend the holiday with “Little J” was when he was one, and he was not at the age obviously where he knew what it meant,” Zgardowski said after shagging batting practice fly balls Saturday afternoon. “He is at the age now where he realizes that I am gone. Luckily, he is going to spend the day with my dad, Alexander Zgardowski, which will be a real treat for him.”
Zgardowski has been used in 16 of the Rascals first 32 games and has combined for 14.1 innings, allowing five runs, just three earned on six hits while striking out a bullpen high 16. If he happens to make his 17th appearance in the series finale against Windy City, you can assure Little J will be locked in.
“My family and my son always watch the games when they’re not able to be there in person, Zgardowski said. “When I come in to pitch they will turn it up and call Little J over and he will just sit there and stare at the TV and say Dad, baseball.”
Despite being well over 1,000 miles away and missing five months of his son’s life for the past three years since playing professional baseball, there is no shortage of communication.
“He has a great mom (Sarah Allen) and grandmother (Becky Marino), who do a great job of letting me facetime him throughout the season. They are a huge help because they take great care of him and they are always able to find a time for him to talk to me despite the time of my game’s always changing and sometimes we are even in different time zones.”
Thankfully, the entire 96 game Frontier League season, or 140 game season when he was in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, isn’t 100% communicated through a 2 X 3 inch cell phone screen.
Zgardowski has been playing professional baseball since he was signed as a free agent by the Phillies on August 12th, 2014. His son was born nine months prior to that and every year, “JJ,” gets to see his dad play live at select times throughout the season. This year, he came to watch his dad in a series at the end of May against the Joliet Slammers, where to no surprise for the team, earned their first sweep of the year.
“I think he is 17-1 when he comes to watch us play, so everyone always gets a little more pumped up when he comes to town,” Zgardowski said. “I definitely love it, the rest of the guys on the team love it and of course Little Z loves it.”
One of the guys besides his dad that Little Z bonds with the most is third baseman Josh Silver. “I enjoy it when JJ comes to town and he loves being around all the guys and he always starts our winning streaks,” Josh Silver said. “I love to play catch with him and make him laugh. We do a lot of things, even turn off the lights in the clubhouse and have nap time.”
Following nap time, just like other kids throughout the country is play time. Literally, for Jason and his son.
“While we are playing, he loves to play on the playground down the left field line at CarShield Field but when he hears my name he knows that it means I am coming into pitch and he stops going down the slide or whatever he is doing and sits down to watch me.” Zgardowski said.
Besides coming to the games, Little Z loves to go to the St. Louis Zoo when he comes to town and Big Z gets a great joy out of that as well because it reminds him of when he gets to be with his son in the offseason.
“When I go back home, I try to spend 24/7 with him as many times as possible. Just taking him out to the park and watching him run, watching tv with him and making him breakfast are all joys to me,” the reliever said. “It’s the little things that count.”
It’s the little things, such as the game being played during the day, that will also make it easier, despite a hardened Father’s Day for Zgardowski’s manager, Steve Brook, who has two kids back in O’Fallon, Nolan and Caitlin with his wife Ellen.
“It’s going to be a tougher one for me, I lost my own father just this past spring and since I am on the road for Father’s day a lot, he would always come out and be here for it and spending the day with him was always special,” Brook said. “I brought him into the dugout a couple years ago in Schaumburg and he really enjoyed that. But, my day will be highlighted by talking to my kids in the morning and hopefully I can wake them up when I get home and spend some time with them.”
Father’s day is one of many holidays that baseball players have to miss but thanks to a strong family around them, Zgardowski and Brook will be able to deal with their presence being absent in their respective families.
“I just want to tell my own dad thank you for teaching me the game of baseball and taking the time out of his life to teach me how to be a dad,” Zgardowski said. “When it first happened, I had a ton of questions and he gave me a ton of answers during the process. I just want to tell him I love him and thanks for everything.”