09/28/10 10:00 AM ET
Late father remains inspiration for Capps
Closer's best Major League season is bittersweet success
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
His father had been taken to the hospital and his mom told Matt, "I don't think he's going to make it through this."
Matt immediately started to pack to head home.Matt arrived in Douglasville the next day and was able to see his father in the hospital, although he was unresponsive. Mike Capps passed away on Thursday, Oct. 22. "I think he thought, 'OK, I can go now, everybody is taken care of,'" said Kathy. "He fought hard for several years to basically just stay alive and to be there for his sons. I think he felt comfortable enough to know they were going to be OK. And I think he finally just said, 'God, if it's my time, take me and let me go.' " A trying time Less than two months after his father passed away, Capps was struck with some tough news professionally. On Dec. 13, the Pirates did not tender Capps a contract because they were unwilling to pay the roughly $3 million he likely would have made through arbitration. For the first time since turning pro seven years earlier after the Pirates drafted him, Capps found himself without a home. He didn't have his dad to turn to for advice, and while the rest of his family was certainly supportive, it was a difficult and humbling time for the pitcher, who turned 27 on Sept. 3. "The way it ended is not how I would have wanted it to end," Capps said of his time in Pittsburgh. "But God has his plan for all of us and mine wasn't to be in black and gold anymore. As hard as it was to see at the time, the reason has come in pretty clear here the last couple months. I wouldn't change any of it if I could go back and change the circumstances of me leaving. "It's changed me as a person and my perspective on the game and what I want to do in the game. It all happened for a reason." When Matt was coming up through the Minor League system with the Pirates, his father had promised him one thing. Mike -- who despised flying -- told his son that whenever the callup to the Majors came, he would get on a plane and head to whatever city the Pirates were in to see Matt's debut. Unfortunately, Matt got that call in the middle of the night in September 2005 and wasn't able to make a flight for his family in time. Instead, his parents drove up to Pittsburgh the next season to see him pitch. Last year, when Matt tried to get his dad to fly to another city to see the Pirates play, Mike made him another promise. "He said, 'I'll tell you what, the next time and last time I'll ever fly will be if you make an All-Star team. No matter where it is, I'll fly,'" Matt said. Mike passed away before he was able to fulfill that promise, as Matt earned his first All-Star selection this season after signing a free agent deal on Christmas Eve with the Nationals. Capps, who signed on to be the closer, saved 23 games for the Nationals in the first half to represent Washington at the game. In Capps' view, the location of this year's All-Star Game seemed to be a sign that his dad was watching over him: It took place at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. "So he flew there," Capps said. "Just not the way we expected." Another new home Standing inside the home clubhouse at Target Field last Tuesday night as the Twins celebrated their American League Central title, Capps smiled as he watched his teammates jumping around, spraying champagne on each other before breaking into hugs. After years of pitching for a team with a losing record, Capps got his first opportunity to compete in a pennant race following his trade to the Twins before the July 31 Trade Deadline. The Twins were a game out of first place in the AL Central when Capps joined the team, and he played a big role in the club's second-half surge. He provided depth to the bullpen and gave the club a veteran closer to help fill the void left when Joe Nathan was lost for the season with an elbow injury in Spring Training. "The key to getting players at the deadline is making sure they're chemistry players," said Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson. "That they add to the makeup of the team ... and, shoot, he has more than exceeded what we expected. We had talked about him a few years ago, saying this is a guy with great makeup and stuff. He didn't disappoint us and has made our bullpen even stronger." It's been quite a ride for Capps professionally over the past year. He experienced what it was like to get non-tendered, earned his first All-Star nod and then celebrated a division title with the hopes of enjoying a few more scenes like that in the postseason. Capps has felt his father's presence with him on the mound this year, even if it's not something that he consciously thinks about while he's pitching. "It's like when things start to go bad, there is that calming presence that 'You can do this, all you've got to do is get this guy to hit a ground ball or get this guy to strike out,'" Capps said. "It's almost that sixth sense that's there." Capps has worked hard to be the best that he can be throughout his career. But now as he prepares for his first playoff experience, his goal is to do whatever it takes to help the Twins achieve their ultimate goal -- a World Series title. "I think that would mean the world to him," Kathy said. "It's been a stressful year for all of us, but an enjoyable one too with all that Matt has done. I wish his daddy was here to enjoy it with us. But I know that he's watching over him." Many players acknowledge a loved one in some visible way, but that's not for Capps. He knows he's not alone on the mound because of what is written on the underside of his cap: "Someone has to be." Why not him?
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.