Even before he signed his first professional contract with the St. Louis Browns in 1939, Dave Garcia began his family’s connection to the game as part of the Knothole Gang at Sportsman’s Park.
“Yes, I was lucky–I grew up in a good era,” chuckles Garcia, who at 95 years old is the grandfather of St. Louis Cardinals infielder Greg Garcia.
Names like Jim Bottomley, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin, and Dizzy Dean–Garcia remembers them all fondly.
“Dizzy Dean was great, he was not good, he was great,” said Garcia. “He was very funny, he made a lot of people laugh and people loved him. He may have been the most popular ballplayer…he was a great competitor, he loved to win.”
Gifted in his own right, Garcia actually played professional soccer before he signed his first baseball contract. He would go on to play 15 seasons in the minor leagues but then made to the Majors as a coach before eventually managing both the California Angels (’77-’78) and Cleveland Indians (’79-’82).
And though he was on the road much of the time, Dave Sr. was still able to spend time with Dave Jr. and teach him the game.
“When Pop was managing in the minor leagues, it was around the time that I was 8-9-10-11-12 and so we never played Little League,” explained Dave Jr., who is Greg’s dad. “As soon as school was out, in order to get to spend some time with Pop, my mom would stay home with my sisters and I would go and stay with my dad and kind of become the 26th player on his team.”
“That was great,” recalled Dave Sr. “I was so happy that I had a son that loved to play baseball and was a good ball player.”
“During the games he would make me go sit down in the bullpen because he didn’t want me to hear any of their cuss words in the dugout,” added Dave Jr. “The guys in the bullpen, they used to give me a quarter to go to the snack bar and buy them a hot dog or something–and that wasn’t allowed. I told my dad about it one night, not to get them in trouble but just because I was happy I got a quarter. And he never disciplined the players because he didn’t want the players to know that I told on them.”
The days and nights together on the road allowed for the younger Garcia to learn the game from the ground up and lessons to pass along to Greg and his brothers.
“Team first,” remembered Greg. “Growing up with two brothers, we always kind of competed against each other but it was never crazy rivalries. We always wanted each other to do good so I think it kind of stemmed from that and always wanted to win for our teams.”
Drafted in the 1st Round by the New York Yankees in 1978, Dave Jr. also enjoyed a professional career–with one moment in particular standing out.
“My dad was managing at the time and he got fired my first season I was playing, so I think it was God’s will for that to happen because he was able to fly to Oneonta, New York–I was in the New York-Penn League and got to see me play as a professional baseball player,” shared Dave, choking back some emotion at the memory.
“That was probably the highlight of my playing career, was looking over at the stands and seeing my Pop….”
“It’s great Dave,” joined in Dave Sr. “I was proud of you. You’ve got to be a pretty good athlete to be a professional ball player.”
Fast forward twenty plus years later and it was Greg taking the third generation of the Garcia family into the big leagues–and back to where it all began with his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“When Greg called and said he was going to the big leagues for the first time, that really completed the baseball journey of our family because he’s the first one of any of us to actually play in the big leagues,” said Dave Jr. “And that it was the Cardinals, to me, made it even more special because I knew what that would also mean in addition to my dad–that he’s a big league player, but he’s also playing for my dad’s hometown team.”
There’s one goal left to accomplish–getting Dave Sr. to a Major League game to witness Greg play in person as it didn’t work out this season or last when the Cardinals were in San Diego.
“To get him down there for at least part of the game or something like that would be real special,” said Greg. “But I know he knows that I’m out here playing and I’m trying to play for him and play for our last name and everything like that, so it’s good.”
photo credits: The Garcia Family