PAWTUCKET – Professional baseball was a way of life for Kevin Boles and Travis Shaw long before they reached their respective posts with the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Both have their fathers to thank for lighting the way, giving them a model for understanding the game’s finer points. There’s no substitute for having a dad who understands the baseball culture because he’s lived and experienced it.
Unlike a pair of hand-me-down shoes that are already worn out upon changing hands, the information passed on from fathers John Boles and Jeff Shaw hasn’t lost its effectiveness. The words of wisdom from a dad who was on the front lines of player development have helped Kevin Boles, the first-year Pawtucket Red Sox manager, better understand the primary mission of putting minor leaguers in the only position that matters: Being ready for a call-up.
In the case of Travis Shaw, the PawSox first baseman also benefits from a father who understands that ebbs and flows are going to happen over the course of a long, taxing season. Jeff Shaw spent 12 seasons as a major-league pitcher, such longevity providing 24-year-old Travis with the helpful resource of someone who has “been there, done that.”
With the calendar showing that it’s the day of the 24-hour observance devoted specifically to fatherhood, Kevin Boles and Travis Shaw talked about having dads who lived and breathed baseball, and how they have served as guiding hands each and every day they arrive at the ballpark.
“I had the best childhood and upbringing in the world,” says smiling Kevin Boles before adding, “to be able to take over the family craft and trade, it’s very exciting. He’s the best father in the world.”
John Boles is also very accomplished. From managing the Florida Marlins to serving as the franchise’s inaugural vice president of player development, John’s baseball roots in South Florida run deep.
“From farm director to field coordinator to special assistant to the general manager, he played a variety of roles,” Kevin pointed out.
Before the Portland Sea Dogs switched over and became Boston’s Double-A affiliate, the club was affiliated with Florida. As the overseer of the entire farm system, John would frequently drop by Portland for an in-person checkup.
In 2011, Kevin began carving out his own niche in Portland. He managed the Sea Dogs for three seasons before stepping into the Triple-A spotlight last December. In keeping with the “like father, like son” theme, John skippered the Class AAA Omaha Royals in 1986.
“To be fortunate enough to manage in Portland these past three years … every once in a while I would look up on the wall and see (my dad’s) picture up there as part of the Portland Hall of Fame,” said Kevin.
To have a firsthand resource who lived and breathed the business of player development has helped Kevin better understand the on-field realm, one in which he's been on the front lines in this, his 14th season of minor-league managing.
“Just from an early age, I always knew that there was something about being on the field that was very important to me as far as staying in a uniform,” Boles said. “As far as the patience my dad showed the players as far as ‘It doesn’t end when the games or workouts are over,’ you learn to develop personal relationships with people. You respect what they’re trying to accomplish because it is a tough business. You want to make sure you’re there for them on and off the field.”
Having a father who was responsible for all the minor-league goings-on made Boles appreciate the message that's delivered from the top.
“When my dad was with the Marlins, they believed in what they were teaching as far as scouting and player development. They knew they had something special on their hands, and we feel the same way (in Pawtucket),” Kevin explained. “It starts with leadership at the top, but it’s all about these players.
“You need to have people who have patience and understand that it’s not going to happen right away.
“Player development … it’s fast paced because players are looking to get to the majors at a faster clip,” he delved further. “On the same point, you have to take your time, and that’s where the concentration and the focus on the player on a daily basis comes into play. You can’t take a day off in this job because it’s so impossible. There’s so much at stake for these players, and their careers are so short. You have to make sure you’re there for them 100 percent every single day.”
John Boles has a 1997 World Series ring with the Marlins. Kevin joined the family’s prestigious ring club when Red Sox officials last month presented him with a glittery memento from the 2013 championship. Kevin has already gone on the record saying he can’t wait to show John his World Series jewelry when he comes to Pawtucket in July.
Jeff Shaw didn’t mince words when the Red Sox drafted son Travis the first time in 2009.
“Straight up, he told me he didn’t think I wasn’t ready, especially mentally,” Travis recalled. “He thought college would benefit me more than signing right out of high school, and I think he was right.”
The Travis Shaw who went on to star at Kent State University was much more prepared for the rigors that awaited him when Boston called his name again in the 2011 draft. Looking back, his father’s message following the first draft experience represents the best piece of baseball-related advice that – to date – Travis has received.
“My dad smiled and basically said ‘This is it,’” Travis stated. “If I signed out of high school, I don’t think I’d be where I am right now. The mental side outside of just playing professional baseball, I don’t think I was ready for that.”
Travis has vivid memories of Jeff’s final big-league season. That’s because in 2001, Jeff was selected to his second National League All-Star team. A then-11-year-old Travis accompanied his dad to the mid-season festivities at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
“I was in the outfield during the Home Run Derby. Just being in the locker room and looking around at all the legends, it was pretty special,” Travis shared about a moment frozen in time – at least as far as he’s concerned.
Travis’ on-field experiences began in earnest when Jeff was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 4, 1998. For a period of five seasons beginning in 1997, Jeff was one of the premier and most dependable closers in the “senior circuit.” He registered 191 of his 203 career saves over that half-decade span, and led the NL in 1997.
“Looking at his numbers now, you realize how consistent he was, especially those last four or five years of his career,” Travis said.
The elder Shaw made a clean break from baseball when he hung up his cleats. Well, that might not be entirely true, especially when you ask Travis about his father’s influence as he sought to follow in the footsteps of the family legacy. Perhaps the area where Travis has a leg up is in recognizing what pitchers are thinking in certain situations.
Again, that goes back to a dad who made a livelihood out of flummoxing hitters.
“Now that I’m Triple A, he says that the way pitchers are attacking me is the way they should. Being able to sort of know what is coming, I would say I’m a very good guesser when it comes to that sort of thing because all we talk about is situations,” Travis noted.
He also indicated he touches base with Jeff on a daily basis. Jeff made a stop at McCoy Stadium this past week and plans to check out his son when the PawSox visit Columbus and Toledo next month (Shaw is a Ohio native).
“I sort of know what to expect because of all the stories he’s told me. Literally everything I’m going through right now is what he’s gone through,” Travis said. “Just having him there when times are down or good, he’s gone through it firsthand and that’s been good for me.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03