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Gazette Premium Content Klee: At the ballpark, every day is Father's Day

5 photos photo - Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki tosses his bat after he is walked during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco, Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach) + caption
Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki tosses his bat after he is walked during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco, Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
By Paul Klee Updated: June 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

DENVER - His parents blew up the photo, made it more pronounced, so visitors are reminded of what this is truly all about it.

That wasn't necessary, really. To the kid, the moment already was larger than life. Twenty years later it remains that way to Charlie Culberson: an enlarged snapshot of his youth and the man who defined it.

"My dad, he got out of playing baseball in the late 80s," says Culberson, an infielder with the Rockies. "The one thing I remember is that photo. It's my first memory."

Charles Culberson, his father, became a coach with the Birmingham Barons, an affiliate of the White Sox. "I remember running out on the field, taking that picture with him," says Charlie, and his parents enlarged the photo so it highlighted their home.

How do you strike up a real, heartfelt conversation in the Rockies clubhouse?

Ask about Dad. Ask Culberson about his father introducing 9-year-old Charlie to Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones. Ask D.J. LeMahieu how his father, Tom, would knock ground balls in his direction until 12-year-old D.J. gloved 10 out of 10.

Ask Chris Martin how his dad, Matt, "worked his ass off," in his son's words, to make sure that Chris would be able to suit up for the Little League opener.

"He's my hero," Martin says. "He's exactly what I want to be."

Sunday is Father's Day. At Coors Field, that's everyday. Look, there's Troy Tulowitzki lifting up his infant son for the clubhouse to see. Cute kid? Try impossibly adorable.

First pitch for a Rockies-Braves game last week was set for 6:40. Around 3:30, Tulo umpired a pitching matchup between Rafael Betancourt's son and Eric Young's son.

Strike. Ball. Strike. Ball. Ball. "Mr. Tulowitzki said it's a full count!" one shouted.

Their game of catch entered Hour No. 3 when it was finally interrupted - by Brock, the youngest son of Walt Weiss. The skipper has four boys.

And we think managing a pitching rotation at altitude is tough?

"My dad, he was a big Roberto Clemente and George Brett fan. He loved George Brett," says Nolan Arenado, the third baseman, of course. "He liked the way he played the game, that he was a line-drive hitter. He always told me to be a line-drive hitter."

On May 23, Arenado sustained an injury when he dove into second base.

What did Dad say when you broke a finger?

"Other than, 'Don't slide headfirst?'" Nolan says.

George Brett would have.

"That's true," Arenado says. "I should tell him that."

With Dad, listening usually is the better option. LeMahieu lamented the times he butted heads with his. "He was always right. Still is," he says. "That's why it bothers me." Arenado says the same: "We got in so many arguments about baseball."

"If I wasn't working hard, or doing it the right way, he'd say, 'Hey, you're not helping yourself out. There's people working harder than you,'" Arenado says. "But the truth is the truth. It's hard to take. But he's right. And he watches every game."

Fatherly advice comes in all forms, from helpful to harmless.

"I'll talk to him after a game," says Jordan Lyles, a starting pitcher. "He'll say, 'Try to keep them off-balance.' I'll say, 'Thanks, Dad.'"

"Basically, when I was a kid, we'd argue because I just didn't listen. And he's still right today," Martin says. "That's probably the frustrating part. He's always right."

For Culberson, whose father played pro ball in the Giants organization, his prized possessions weren't the helmets signed by Chipper and A-Rod.

It was an Easton Redline bat, his own name engraved just above the grip tape.

"My dad gave it to me when I was 10," Charlie says. "I thought that was pretty cool. Still do."

See, Dad, we remember. We remember everything you've done, everything you taught, every game of catch. Maybe we waited until Saturday afternoon to find a card. Yes, those dozen dry flies should be four dozen, a sleeve of Titleists should be a lifetime's supply.

But we remember.

"Besides my fiancee," LeMahieu says, "He's my best friend."

On the green, grand diamond at Coors Field, they look like men. First, they are sons.

"My mom, she tells me that my dad's got three computers set up," Martin says. "He's got the Rangers game on, he's got my game on, he's got another game on. I mean, it makes sense. In baseball, he never missed one of my games."

John Klee never missed a Little League game, a DCHS basketball game, an Overland Park golf tournament. He never missed ground balls in the backyard, Vance-Johnson-sideline catches in the front. He's never missed a day on the river.

Dad was, and is, larger than life.

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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