By Bob Elliott
You won’t find Duane Cecil at many Blue Jays games to see son pitch.
“I get nervous flying without a parachute,” said the former United States Marine Corps corporal and father of Blue Jays lefty reliever Brett Cecil, one of the Jays best arms this season.
Duane has made 58 jumps at jump school in Fort Benning, Ga., Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Tex. or training for jungle war fare in Panama.
“We did water and tree jumps,” he said fittingly from a town called Dunkirk. Md.
A Marine from 1972-75, Duane was part of the group in full dress which guarded President Gerald Ford and diplomats at White House and Arlington, Va. ceremonies.
I have deep admiration for any soldier, but particularly those brave guys who jump out of planes, like my late uncle John Sheridan, who landed behind enemy lines on D-Day.
Duane coached Brett from age 4-to-10 in “recreation ball,” before the lefty joined travel teams, as “Brett had learned everything I could tell him.”
Brett was travelling at 10, playing Babe Ruth from 13-to-15 with the Bowie Bulldogs, then high school and the Greenbelt American Legion Post 136 before heading to the University of Maryland Terapins and the Cape Cod summer league with the Orleans Cardinals.
“The drive home from Bowie was 25 miles, we talked a lot on the way home about the things he needed to get better at,” said Duane.
Brett admits to not having a good memory of those conversations, saying: “most rides were good, sometimes I didn’t feel as well about my performance. He kept pushing, telling me to suck it up. He never let me quit.”
The most vivid recollection Brett has isn’t about baseball but wrestling, or rather sitting on his front steps crying at age six or seven, not wanting to go to wrestling practice.
“We’d do push ups and sit ups, run around the matt, then do jumping jacks and another exercise and run around the matt and start all over, it was tough,” said Brett. “He didn’t force me to go.
“My father told me life is going to be hard. It’s the person that pushes through that will be successful. You might not be the best but at least you will have completed the task.”
When Brett turned 13 he was booked Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights in the basement.
Brett brought two friends.
Duane brought two friends.
Duane designed a weight training program: free weights, bench press, universal, a treadmill, medicine ball and a rope for jumping.
“We had a sheet posted, they could monitor their progression,” the father said.
“The 13-year-olds would try to outdo each other, some nights a teenager would tease an adults,” the son said.
Duane says the turning point in his son’s career was between Brett’s freshman and sophomore year with the DeMatha High Stags in Hyattsville, Md.
“He excelled, I’m not sure if it was a growth spurt,” Duane said. “He always had the work ethic, always wanted to be No. 1 guy. He was motivated. They told him how tough it would be at college.”
Pitching for the Terrapins he was 10-12 with 23 saves and a 4.22 ERA in 74 games, making eight starts. He struck out 156 in 153 2/3, walking 72.
Jays scout Tom Burns made Cecil the 38th pick overall in North America in 2007, a pick after the Philadelphia Phillies chose Travis d’Arnaud.
Brett was one of five picks the Jays had before the second round choosing: Kevin Ahrens (16th, now at double-A New Hampshire), J.P. Arencibia (17th), Justin Jackson (45th, an infielder, now pitching at class-A Lansing) and Trystan Magnuson (56th, released from New Hampshire this year).
Brett made all the stops on the ladder: class-A Auburn, class-A Dunedin, New Hampshire, triple-A Syracuse and Las Vegas before his major-league debut May 5, 2009, against the Cleveland Indians. He worked six innings allowing two runs -- one earned -- and struck out six.
Ryan Mittleman of the Jays staff took scout Burns into the clubhouse for face-to-face congrats.
We recall Burns telling us that year: “When we came into the hall I met Brett’s father for the first time ... he was beaming, so full or pride.”
Duane and his wife, Linda, who has been to New York and Toronto, have two other children Brad 34 and Jessica, 27, plus three grand children, Nathalie 11, Bradley 10 and Bryton 3.
Duane makes games in Baltimore and Washington but not too many others after driving from when Brett was a youngster to every college game. Plus, it’s expensive to fly, then there’s that parachute thing.
Young Brett often sat with his father watching western movies.
“Ordered a whole set of John Wayne movies off Amazon one year, although he does have trouble working the controller,” said Brett. “For a lot of people John Wayne is a hero, I looked at my father as hero, he has always been my inspiration.”
Now, in his 34th year as a construction company estimator, Duane still loves Wayne movies.
“Rio Bravo,” Duane answers, rhyming off co-stars: Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson and Walter Brennan. "My favourtie scene is in the barn where they have the scuffle."
This is where the story should end.
Baseball is also about symmetry ... 90 feet between the bases, the foul lines go on forever and there are connections between one another when we don't expect it.
Cecil and I spoke about his father last weekend.
His father and I talked Thursday.
And this week my son sent my a picture of his first-ever father’s day gift: game-used cuff links from The Sport Gallery.
They were made from a ball fouled back off a Cecil pitch. Of all the players in the majors, or all the players with the Jays Sarah chose Cecil.
Happy Father’s Day, whether it’s your first or 34th.