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07/12/10 6:13 PM ET

All-Star Capps pays tribute to late father

Nats closer credits dad with teaching him about life, baseball

ANAHEIM -- Nationals closer Matt Capps was having brunch with his family and friends Monday when he saw several All-Stars walking in and out of the restaurant. It was at that moment he was thinking about his dad, Mike.

Capps is convinced that his father would have been working the room and talking to the players who are participating in Tuesday's 2010 All-Star Game.

"I thought about him a little bit this morning," Matt said. "I think about him every day, but sitting in the brunch area and seeing the guys walk through, I was thinking about him. My agent even made a comment that he would be working the room right now and would have 40 new best friends. He would know before we would what was going on.

"They announced the starting pitchers this morning. Dad would have been in somebody's ear. He would have known 30 minutes prior. He would have loved it. He would have eaten this up."

Mike Capps passed away last October after a long illness at the age of 61. On July 4, his oldest son learned that he was going to be on the National League All-Star team for the first time. Matt was emotional when he received the news because he realized the man who taught him everything about life and baseball was not going to be there.

"Their relationship was awesome," said Kathy Capps, Matt's mother. "Mike stayed on him constantly. We were parents that were very involved in every ballgame. We knew where he was at all times. Mike really stayed on him. He would say to Matt, 'I know what you want and I'm not going to let you let go of that dream. He pushed him a lot."

It was Mike Capps who was there when things were going wrong on the field for his son. Mike was there when his son had his worst Major League season with the Pirates in 2009. Mike often told his son that would bounce back.

The father reminded the son that he had a bad year in '04 in the Minors and that he managed to bounce back and become a stellar closer for Pittsburgh.

"My dad was one of the smartest men I've ever met," Matt said. "He didn't have the degree or the education to back that up, but as far as common sense goes, he was a smart man."

But after Mike passed away, Matt was non-tendered by the Pirates and became a free agent. There were days when Matt would grab his cell phone and try to call his dad to tell him what was going on before realizing that Mike wasn't around anymore.

"As much as I leaned on him for emotional support, he really taught me how to stand on my own two feet," Matt said. "The last couple of years, he really taught me that aspect of life."

Capps learned his lessons well and was able to get through the offseason, signing a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Nationals, and it's safe to say that both parties are happy about the year Capps is having.

Capps is off to the best start of his career, saving 23 games -- third in the Majors -- with a 3.18 ERA. Capps' best month came in April, when he finished the month with a big league-best 10 saves, converting each of his save opportunities in 12 appearances. Capps, 26, posted a 0.68 ERA, struck out 15 and held opposing hitters to a .226 batting average in his first month with Washington.

"That's something he would be proud of and something he would try to teach," Matt said. "We have to be individuals. We have to stand on our own two feet. He made it clear a long time ago that he wasn't going to live forever. He certainly knew he was human.

"He taught us how to stand on our own two feet, how to support ourselves -- not just financially, but spiritually and emotionally."

For his All-Star appearance, Capps received a $50,000 bonus from the Nationals. However, he would give the money back in order to have his father with him.

"There is not a dollar amount on any one's life," the son said. "It's kind of fitting that I'm playing in my first All-Star Game almost a year after my dad dies at Angel Stadium. But he'll be there. I know he will be there in my faith. I know he is with me."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.