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Ozzie and Nikko Smith return home

Ozzie and Nikko Smith return home

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ST. LOUIS -- While there have been several father-son baseball duos in Major League Baseball history, it is rare to find a father-son celebrity duo connected by a city's love for baseball.

On Thursday evening, the Cardinals brought back two home-grown celebs to take part in pregame and in-game ceremonies of Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch while son Nikko -- a former competitor on Fox's "American Idol" -- gave a Stevie Wonder-meets-John Legend rendition of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.

"He's probably more recognized than me," Ozzie said, laughing at the thought of being a Hall of Fame baseball player, yet having a son who is more widely known. "It took me 19 years and it took him six weeks. He had 30 million people watching him a week."

For some Cardinals fans, the sound of Jack Buck's voice beaming "Go Crazy Folks" after Ozzie Smith hit a walk-off home run at Busch Stadium in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series against the Dodgers is still a vivid memory. But keep in mind that Nikko was just three years old at the time. These days, it's Ozzie who is clean-shaven, while Nikko sports the beard his father once did.

"I remember it, man," said Nikko, a St. Louis accent still thick in his voice. "I remember the black [batting] gloves [Ozzie wore while pumping his fists in the sky as he rounded the bases]."

"He was probably sitting on Mom's lap asking, 'What's all that noise?'" Ozzie said.

When Nikko (whose birth name is Osborne, named after his father) was a child, there was no pressure on him to be a baseball player from his father -- just pressure to pursue whatever he became passionate about.

"Sometimes kids don't even know when they go to college what they want to do," Ozzie said. "Nine times out of 10, what they majored in is usually not what they end up doing, so you never really know and I think its just one of those things you search for and keep reaching for, and hopefully one day it comes to you.

"We talk about searching for that one thing, that passion -- and he has that passion, that drive. As parents, you just cultivate that and allow them to do what they do."

As it turns out, Nikko's brother, Dustin, is the one trying to follow in dad's footsteps. He's playing baseball at Southwest Illinois University.

"He's up there perfecting his craft," Nikko said. "So y'all be looking out for him pretty soon."

Together, the two used to run out onto the AstroTurf that covered the Busch Stadium surface in the 1980s and do flips just like their dad did.

"It's incredible, man," Nikko said of being back at Busch Stadium. "It's kind of sad at the same time, that this will be the last days of Busch Stadium as we know it."

It's that type of family atmosphere that St. Louis -- also known as "Baseball City" -- is known for cultivating. The city is unique in that it has produced so many celebrities, yet is able to keep its small-town appeal, unlike New York or Los Angeles.

While Ozzie was preparing to throw out the first pitch, Nikko was being greeted by old-time friends who have worked at Busch Stadium long enough to watch him grow up.

Nikko said he felt that same St. Louis-hospitality while competing on "American Idol."

"Coming back, it's amazing how everybody comes together," Nikko said. "A lot of people were saying I represented St. Louis so well since I was so polite and nice [on American Idol], but that just comes from my mom and my dad and how they raised me. They just raised me to be a good person and have that family mentality. I just tried to be the best person I could."

So when the two came back to Busch Stadium together for Game 2 of the NLCS, it didn't seem like 50,000 baseball fans were there to cheer on their baseball team, but rather 50,000 Cardinal-red-wearing family members were there to cheer on their family and welcome home a couple of members, too.

"It's a great feeling inside, knowing that people care about [his success] so much and spent the time voting for him," Ozzie said. "It's sort of like the World Series in that him being on 'American Idol' brought the whole city together."

Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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