In the News

Home run call? Local major leaguer chooses family over game

The Bakersfield Californian, April 21, 2011

By James Burger

The decision of Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis to miss a pitching assignment to be in Bakersfield with his wife during the birth of their second child has sparked a national discussion about where working fathers belong on big days.

Writer Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer slammed Lewis Monday for dropping one of his 30 scheduled pitching starts to make time for the birth.

"In Game 2, Colby Lewis is scheduled to start after missing his last regular turn in the rotation because -- I'm not making this up -- his wife, Jenny, was giving birth in California. To the couple's second child," wrote Whitt, adding later in the blog: "If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous."

Whitt was immediately hit by a national backlash from other commentators and regular folks who backed Lewis' decision to put family before his job.

"I understand that there are trolls out there trying to get a rise out of folks and that they might otherwise be fine upstanding people," Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports wrote on his blog. "But as a wise man once wrote, we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. If you write idiotic things, for whatever reason, sorry, you're an idiot. Which brings me to Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer."

In another sign of the interest, several news organizations including the Associated Press, Reuters and Inside Edition called The Californian Thursday looking for Lewis family photos.

According to the AP, Lewis made use of a new league rule activated this season that allows players to take 24 to 72 hours of paternity leave. The Lewises celebrated the birth of daughter Elizabeth Grace on April 13, the Associated Press said.

Lewis' high school teammate Cy Silver told The Californian that the major leaguer made the right call when he came home to be with his family. It didn't surprise him.

"I played T-ball with him. His mom coached us when we were six. I played on the (North High) team with him and my dad coached," said Silver, now North High School's baseball coach. "People that know him and understand what he values would never question it. I think people lose sight of what's important in life."

Silver said Lewis has been successful exactly because he is the kind of stand-up guy who would choose his family over a baseball game.

"Colby is a good character guy and I think the Texas Rangers want good character guys in their clubhouse," he said.

Silver's father, Tony Silver, coached the pair at North High.

"Family's the ultimate thing. I'm proud of Colby for coming home," the elder Silver said. "I got to watch him grow. It's neat to see kids grow up and mature and grow into men."

Lewis is declining to comment on the situation, according to a statement from the Texas Rangers franchise.

Whitt was far from apologetic after the negative feedback to his original blog. He restated his opinion in a follow-up blog:

"I don't care if Lewis is a good dad. If I wanted to root for a team of great role models, I'd renew my season tickets to watch the deacons at my Sunday church. I want -- always have, always will -- the Rangers to win."

He added later: "If the Rangers lose the AL West by one game -- and if it can be reasonably concluded that Lewis missing that start contributed to them missing the playoffs -- I'll be pissed."

Whitt did not return an email seeking comment.

Netsy Firestein, director of the nonprofit Labor Project for Working Families in Berkeley, a national advocacy group that pushes for laws that release workers to take time for their families, applauded Major League Baseball for the new leave policy.

"It shows that things are changing," she said.

And it is great to see a sports figure -- a role model -- choosing family over work, she said.

"It's important for dads to be there when a child is born, and for a while after, to bond with their children," she said.

She said many working families aren't aware of California's paid family leave law, which allows workers to take up to six weeks off of work, at 55 percent pay, in the first year of their child's life.

As for Whitt's opinion, she said, "it seems a total neanderthal attitude."