EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth was in Florida last week to do a series of stories from spring training as baseball players get ready to begin a new season.
JUPITER, Fla. (BP)–Cal Eldred grew up with five siblings, so he learned a lot about big families. It’s a good thing, because the St. Louis Cardinals’ relief pitcher and his wife Christi have five children of their own.
Eldred may be a veteran Major League pitcher, but he’s a family man before that. And although he may not know everything about parenting, he’s learned a few things along the way.
“What I’ve learned as a parent is the proper balance between love and discipline, and understanding that if you do love your children, disciplining them is a part of it,” Eldred said. “As soon as they start messing up, it’s usually because mom and dad are inconsistent.”
The Eldreds’ five children include two boys and three girls who range in ages from 9 to three months. Since they have both boys and girls, Eldred also has figured out something else.
“Raising girls and raising boys is totally different. I’ve learned that,” he said. “Probably our first daughter has some scars because I tried to raise her like a boy.”
Eldred’s family comes into play in most of the decisions he makes. For example, Eldred could have been a free agent after his 2004 season with the Cardinals. He earned $900,000 last year and posted a respectable 3.76 earned run average.
But rather than test the market and look for the top dollar, Eldred took a $300,000 pay cut to stay in St. Louis, which is only a few hours from his family’s home in Iowa.
One matter that factored into the decision-making process was a tragic one. Not long after the 2004 World Series, his wife’s mother, Shirlee Dufoe, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She died in February.
Fortunately, Eldred said, Christi’s mother was a Christian.
“That doesn’t make it easy,” he admitted. “It makes it easier.”
He told his children, “You follow in grandma’s footsteps, and you’ll see her again.”
That tragedy followed just months after Christi also lost her grandmother. As the spiritual leader of his family, Eldred thought it was important for him to be with his family during the difficult days. The Cardinals allowed him to do that, giving him permission to report to spring training a few days late.
He was comfortable in St. Louis, and that mattered a lot to Eldred. But his family mattered more.
Eldred explained that a man’s top priority ought to be his relationship with the Lord, followed by his relationship with the family. Career should come a distant third.
“At certain times in people’s careers, I think the owners or the general managers would love to have guys that maybe have the opinion that I have,” Eldred said. “Yeah, guess what, there are things that mean a whole lot more than money. My family means a lot more to me than making another $300,000 or $400,000 or $500,000.”
Spring training in Florida is a family affair for the Eldreds. After a recent exhibition game, Eldred stood behind a batting cage at the Cardinals training facility watching his sons C.J., 9, and Luke, 7, take turns hitting.
Early the next morning, the Cardinals weren’t practicing because they had a game that day in Orlando. Eldred didn’t make the trip, so instead he was on a practice field pitching to C.J. and Luke, teaching them the game that’s been so good to him.
Since the Eldred children are homeschooled, it’s a lot easier for them to make the trip to be with their dad.
The homeschooling experience has been a positive one for his family, Eldred said. He functions as both superintendent and principal. Since he and his wife both have backgrounds in education, the system has worked well for them -– both in and out of the baseball season.
“The freedom that you have and the relationship that you have with your children because of that is priceless,” he said.
Eldred says any parenting expertise he might have doesn’t come naturally. He reads the Bible faithfully for instruction. He reads other books on parenting, such as “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp.
“It takes time, and it takes love,” Eldred said of the parenting task. “It takes effort, and it takes discipline. I’ll be the first one to tell you that I fail at that a lot.”
Aside from Scripture, for some of the best advice on parenting, Eldred looks to his own parents.
“I take a page out of my mom and dad’s book, because they had six [children],” he said. “And they said, you just do it.”
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He writes a weekly column on sports and faith for BP Sports.