The Perfect Field: A Dad, His Sons And A Little Game Called Baseball

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The first time a child's bat makes a satisfying thunk as it cracks the baseball into orbit, stands full of Little League parents and siblings probably are not the ones cheering.

The person cheering, shouting "Good one! Now run!" is usually a dad in the yard or in the park who has taken the time to play ball with his son or daughter.

In the McMullen family, that dad is Craig.

"My dad's taught me how to hit the ball -- it's the most important thing you can do in baseball," 11-year-old Nick McMullen said.

Craig started playing catch and whiffleball with his children, Nick and 7-year-old Nate, when they were toddlers.

Now he coaches Nick's Little League team, the Diamondbacks.

Nick has played shortstop, first base and pitched in Little League.

His best pitch is the change-up.

My dad taught me the right grip and not to change my arm speed or motion when I throw, so the batter thinks it is going to be a fast ball but because of my grip, the ball is slow, Nick said.

"Make the routine plays, make some great plays and have fun," is the advice Nick said his dad gives the team before a game.

If the Little League Diamondbacks lose, their coach says, "We didn't play our best this game, but nice try."

Sunny afternoons will find Craig tossing the ball to his boys on their netting-enclosed trampoline, so they can practice diving for the ball.

When Craig finishes coaching Nick in the Little Major League, he plans to begin coaching Nate's team.

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Nick McMullen (center) is learning to hunt deer, elk, water fowl and javelina from his dad Craig. Nate is waiting to grow a few more years, so he can learn to hunt, too.

Nate plays on the Nationals right now.

He said the most important thing his dad has taught him is how to catch the ball, but Nate's very favorite thing about baseball is "offense-hitting the ball."

Until he was 3 years old, he batted as a lefty.

"Then I started wanting to bat righty, and I practiced and turned into a righty," Nate said.

When he is not practicing with his dad or his team, Nate likes to watch Albert Pujols, first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals for inspiration.

"Pujols hits really far," Nate said.

"We read an article about Pujols on our laptop about him having three kids," Nate said.

"(The article) talked about him being a really good dad, just like our dad," Nick said.

Baseball Hall of Famer and Boston Red Sox's, Cy Young, (1867-1955) is the pitcher who inspires Nick. He's read about him in books and on baseball cards.

Young won 511 games, almost 100 more than any other pitcher in history.

"When I'm pitching and I walk a person, that's who I think of," he said. "Cy had fun and he trusted his arm."

Nick and Nate said their dad has also taught them to have a good attitude, have fun and do not take the game too seriously and not to argue with the officials.

Wisdom Craig learned when he participated in America's favorite pastime as a semi-pro (farm team) baseball player for the Oroville Olives during his college years at U.C. Davis.

While baseball is not mom's (Mary McMullen) sport, she said she gets a vicarious pleasure from watching her husband and their boys in action on the field.

"I know it is a super-positive experience for the kids and I admire Craig a lot," she said.

When Craig and his boys are not playing ball, they jump on the trampoline together.

Nate's other favorite things to do with his dad is play Monopoly or Life.

Older brother Nick is learning to hunt with his dad.

"Dad dedicates a bunch of his time to us and he loves us as much as we love him," Nick said.

"I agree," Nate added.

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