Many fathers and sons have unique relationships and Will and Tom Middlebrooks are no different. Tom is a long-time, legendary high school football and baseball coach at Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas and coached Will his entire life until he turned professional.
Things have changed a bit now that Will, 24, has made his way to the big leagues and is 1,588 miles away. Tom has now transitioned into a "full-time" dad role, leaving coaching behind, but that isn’t always easy for the elder Middlebrooks.
“Yeah, I try to (stay away from coaching Will), but sometimes it’s hard,” said Tom, when reached by phone over the weekend. “I’ve coached him pretty much my whole life and the more I’ve gotten into coaching the more I’ve tried to analyze and see flaws, etc. That’s just my make up. I could sit there and pick out good things and bad things in a lot of swings, not everyone is going to be perfect. I don’t want to mess with him.”
Lately, it’s been particularly difficult for Tom to keep his distance with Will going through the biggest slump of his short major league career. The father now offers support in subtle ways.
“I don’t try to bother him too much. We talk maybe once, twice a week, mostly text,” Tom said. “I’m a big sayings guy and if I find a saying that I think might help motivate him or lift his head up I’ll send it to him. I do it for all my kids basically.
“As a coach I can see some things, but as a dad I kind of bite my tongue because (Will) has some great coaches up there,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s not a quick fix sometimes. That’s just the way this game is. It will get better, but it could take some time.”
The new father role came into play again this past week when Will collided with catcher David Ross when both were sliding to make a catch on a foul ball, which Will eventually caught. Will did injure his ribs on the play and needed X-rays, a CAT scan and an MRI. Reports now say he’s dealing with a separated rib, which refers to tearing of the rib bone from the cartilage that connects it to the sternum. The condition leaves Will in considerable pain, but the medical staff says he cannot injure himself any more playing through the pain.
Tom called Will on Wednesday right after he got the MRI to check in with his son.
“That’s the reason I called him because I thought he was going to be out. He told me he was going to try and play. The parent kind of came out in me and I said 'do you think that’s a good decision?,'” said Tom. “They know best, they take care of their guys up there and I am never going to question them.”
Will played a major part in the city’s healing following the Boston Marathon bombings, having come up with the “Boston Strong” phrase, which is now seemingly everywhere. Tom and the entire Middlebrooks family really didn’t know the full effect Will had until they saw the Red Sox play in Texas two weekends ago.
“I didn’t realize he had a lot to do with the ‘Boston Strong’ quote until we had gone to Texas and [Will] got us on the field during BP and I was standing next to a guy who was in a suit,” Tom recalled. “I noticed he had a name tag on his suit and it had a John Hancock logo and I can’t remember the guy’s name, but Julie [Will’s mom] was wearing her ‘Boston Strong’ shirt and he mentioned to her how much he thought of Will for what he said and how he created the ‘Boston Strong’ quote because he said he was at the race near where the bomb went off. He had some tears well up in his eyes and it was a real strong and an emotional moment. It’s pretty neat that he’s tied himself into the community because he says that’s home for him now.”
Will isn’t the only star athlete in the family. His sister Lacey plays for the Division I Tulsa softball team and graduated from the school this past weekend. Tom retired from coaching baseball this year so he could see his daughter’s senior season as well as Will as much as he could. Lacey, who is very close to Will, will be coming to Boston this summer after finishing some classes at Tulsa and will be one of the ball girls at Fenway Park. This after a PR internship last summer with the PawSox. With two of the three Middlebrooks kids being in Boston this summer, it’s safe to say Tom will be spending as much time as he can in the area in his new role of being a dad, rather than a coach. Said Tom: “I’d like to be there right now to tell you the truth."
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84