Carroll family united by baseball

Carroll family united by baseball

CLEVELAND -- Larry Carroll worked the midnight shift at the Alcoa aluminum plant in Evansville, Ind., so that he could coach his sons' baseball teams in the evening.

Carroll coached for 18 years.

He coached his eldest son Jason's team, and Jason went on to own his own insurance company.

He coached his youngest son Wes' team, and Wes is now an assistant baseball coach at the University of Evansville.

But because of the overlap in ages of his three boys, he didn't do much coaching for his middle son Jamey's teams. And Jamey, of course, is now a Major Leaguer, serving as an infielder for the Indians.

"I left him alone," Larry said with a laugh, "and he's the only one who made it!"

Now that he's made it, Jamey, 34, is never far from a little fatherly support or advice. Larry, 59, still lives in Evansville and watches all his son's games on the "MLB Extra Innings" television package.

"He sees things you do differently, changes and things," Jamey said. "I talk to him about it a lot. He's your typical dad, paying attention, watching and trying to be helpful."

But if anyone has been helped by this arrangement, it's been Larry. Because the baseball bond he's strengthened with his son in recent years has helped him endure some of life's harshest blows.

Rapid retirement

It was a typical morning after a typical shift at Alcoa, and Larry was headed home.

The drive quickly became atypical that day about five years ago when a car heading in the opposite direction crossed the center line and smashed Larry's vehicle head-on.

Larry was hurt, but he was alive.

"They were carrying me out of the car on a stretcher," Larry said, "and I remember thinking, 'Someone must have a lot more baseball for me to watch.'"

Larry would have plenty of time to watch it. The back injuries he suffered in the accident forced him to go on disability and retire.

Free time is a curse, not a blessing, to a man accustomed to working 80-90 hours a week at the aluminum plant or completing do-it-yourself projects around the house.

Baseball, though, became one of Larry's cures. If he couldn't go to work, he could go out of town to see Jamey in action, rather than watching him on the tube.

"It's actually been great, because I've been able to go and see a lot of baseball," Larry said. "I wouldn't have been able to do that. It's just funny how destiny works."

But destiny has not always been kind to the Carrolls.

Tragedy and togetherness

Patty Carroll, wife to Larry and mother to Jamey, Jason and Wes, went into the hospital in early December of 2005 with what she thought was pneumonia.

Three days later, Patty was dead of septic shock.

Her illness was brief, her loss was sudden, and the surviving members of her family were forced to carry on the only way they knew how -- together.

"That's definitely a bonding experience like no other," Jamey said. "I got to stay back home, because it was in the offseason. I got to stay with my dad just over a month."

When Jamey left his dad to go back to his home in Florida and prepare for the 2006 season, Larry told his son he was going to have a career year. Jamey would be playing with an edge, after all, and with a special person looking over him.

Larry was right. After a February trade from the Nationals to the Rockies, Carroll essentially grabbed the everyday second base duties in Colorado and batted a career-best .300 with five homers and 23 doubles.

And Larry, looking for a distraction after the loss of his wife, watched just about every minute of it.

"It got me through that first year," Larry said. "It was something to look forward to every night, knowing he was in the lineup and playing every day. And his uniform had purple in it. That was my wife's favorite color. At her funeral, we wore lavender shirts and purple ties. Then he gets traded to Colorado and has best year of his career."

Bonded by baseball

Patty's unexpected death taught the Carrolls to appreciate each day, for one never knows what surprises are lurking around the corner.

But their baseball bond has been a constant.

Larry might not have coached all of Jamey's teams, but he did introduce him and his brothers to the game at an early age.

"He was a dad that worked with us, got out there and got involved with it," Jamey said. "He loved to win, too. He would get fired up for games and be intense. It taught all of us how to win, be competitive and work hard. Obviously, that's where it all started. Looking back, you kind of laugh about how intense he was. But in a sense, he instilled something in us."

That's not all Larry instilled in Jamey. This Father's Day has added significance for the Carroll, because his wife, Kim, gave birth to twins -- son Cole and daughter Mackenzie -- in February.

"My dad used to always say that his grandfather did a lot for him, and he always wanted us to have a better life than he did," Jamey said. "And in just a few months, I see I definitely want to put that situation in front of my kids. I want them to have a better life than I could possibly have."

Larry always wanted the best for his sons, and he did his best to provide them with opportunities in sports. Larry was a pretty athletic guy himself as a youngster, and he always felt he had it inside him to become a ballplayer. But he never seriously pursued that interest.

He had other concerns.

"I chased the girls," he said with a big laugh. "I told all three of my boys, 'Leave the girls alone and play sports. That will take care of you.'"

The family likes to joke about Larry never coaching Jamey's teams, but the truth is that Larry was instrumental in all three of his boys learning the ins and outs of the sport.

"I would go out after working the midnight shift and hit them extra batting practice and extra ground balls," he said. "You have to spend that time with them. That's what it takes. Most any athlete who made it, made it because their parents spent time with them."

Now, whether it's in person or with the help of a broadcasted game, Larry and Jamey are still using baseball as a way to spend time together. And while their lives have proven unpredictable, the game has helped them carry on.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.