Hurdle sharing joy with father
Clint Sr. extremely proud of son's drive, desire
DENVER -- Clint Hurdle, the powerfully built gentleman of 73 who lives in Merritt Island, Fla., is proud owner of a league championship ring. It was an impressive thank you from his son, Clint, who has managed the Rockies to this year's National League Championship Series, which starts Thursday at 5:37 p.m. MST.
"When he went to the World Series with the Royals, they didn't win it but they got American League championship rings," said Big Clint or, as he is known around Rockies functions such as Fantasy Camp, Clint Sr. "He gave it to me and already had it in my size."
It's also clear that the younger Clint, who played for the Royals when they fell to the Phillies in the '80 Series, thought more and better rings were coming. But he never made it back to the Fall Classic.
Now, father and son are together as much as possible in the pursuit of the next ring. The younger Hurdle is manager of the Rockies, who will face the Diamondbacks on Thursday in Game 1 of the best-of-seven NLCS.
Clint Sr. was in the clubhouse and on the field with the Rockies during their workout on Friday and before Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Phillies at Coors Field to complete a three-game sweep in the NL Division Series.
This heady time for the Rockies, who have won 17 of their last 18 games, has been huge for the Hurdle men. They're getting more joy now than they did 27 years ago.
Hurdle had his best season with the '80 Royals, batting .294 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs in regular duty. He hit .417 with a double, two walks and no strikeouts in the Fall Classic, also. Hurdle became a well-traveled bench player until he retired seven seasons later.
All in all, Hurdle played in 515 games over an 11-year period and learned from such high-level managers as Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson and Davey Johnson. But, partly because he had outsize expectations as a No. 1 Royals draft pick in 1975, stress blocked out some of the joy of playing in the Majors.
His dad, who coached him in baseball and football from his youth through high school, was there to share the stress and is with him on the other side.
"During my [playing] career, we didn't embrace it, we didn't enjoy it," said the manager, who turned 50 on July 30. "I probably didn't embrace it, I didn't enjoy it. When I didn't do well, he would worry and I would fret. When I would do good, I expected it of myself and he expected it of me and we didn't enjoy it."
Big Clint is enjoying the time with his son, visiting with his son's wife, Karla, two young grandchildren, Maddy, 5, and Christian, 3, as well as his son's 21-year-old daughter, Ashley, who arrived for some of the action. The games, he admitted, are a little harder to enjoy for an old coach who is watching buttons being pushed.
"When you're in that, it's easy to handle, I think, but when you're standing back watching, it's tough," Clint Sr. said. "After a game I watch, my nerves are wrecked. But this is fun.
"This is hard to put into words. To see the season they went through and have it come out like this, it's rewarding. My wife [Louise] and I are so proud this has happened."
Hurdle managed in the Mets system from 1988-93, his final two seasons at Triple-A Tidewater. But rather than a fast track to a managerial career, it turned out to be part of another journey. Hurdle and the Mets parted after the '93 season and he joined the Rockies the following year as a Minor League hitting instructor. Don Baylor brought Hurdle to the Majors in 1997. Hurdle said he talked to his father at that point and approached his aspirations differently.
"When I got the opportunity to come back here in '97 as a coach, we decided we were going to embrace the time and that ride and truly enjoy it," Hurdle said. "He is enjoying it, and I am truly enjoying it."
The elder Hurdle said his son's athletic talent and smarts came to the forefront immediately. Not only did he become a standout in baseball, but he was a good enough quarterback to be signed by Miami to play both sports. But it wasn't until later that Big Clint thought his son had the traits that would lead him to a Major League dugout.
"When he was younger, no, I didn't see it," he said. "But that's because you kind of lead by performance. They look up to you because you've always been fortunate to be outstanding in whatever you've done. It wasn't until he was a high school quarterback that I first saw he was really a take-charge type of guy.
"He didn't just focus on one thing. He had a broad focus. We had one of the best offensive coordinators in high school football, coach [Travis] Akin, and he told me Clint was the only kid he'd let call audibles on the field, because Clint could call plays better than he could.
"Then he learned a lot in his latter years. He spent more time on the bench and watching managers. He would absorb stuff. He can remember anything. So he had leadership qualities, but he took years observing other people."
Hurdle replaced Buddy Bell as Rockies manager on April 26, 2002, and entered this season with a 352-436 record (.447), with no winning seasons.
But Hurdle's tenure also included a complete philosophical overhaul by ownership, going from rolling dice with free agents to building from within. It included heavy criticism as ownership looked past the record and granted Hurdle and general manager Dan O'Dowd two contract extensions, despite objections from the outside.
Having a dad who had coached him from his youth levels through high school helped through tough times.
"I'm proud, not just of his baseball, but of him as a father and as a son," Big Clint said. "There's so much more to life than just baseball. He's had a lot of ups and downs, but he's hung in there. You take this and add it with everything else, and you understand that Clint is never a quitter. That's what's gotten him where he's at today."
The father still smiles at the memory of his son's gesture with his championship ring from so long ago.
"He never made a lot of awards like that," Big Clint said. "This is the way I think he looked at it, that, 'That's that. I've got to go forward, not rest on what I've done yesterday.'"
But, both men have learned there's nothing wrong with enjoying the present.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.