Carpenters build Matt's baseball future together

Carpenters build Matt's baseball future together

ST. LOUIS -- The tale has become well-known and oft-told around the Carpenter household.

Matt Carpenter was still in diapers, his father, Rick, recounts, when he waddled over to a sliding glass door inside the family's Houston-area home. His eyes were affixed to a dowel rod, which was in place to prevent the door from being opened from the outside. Matt Carpenter picked it up and placed it on his shoulders.

It was as if the toddler was positioning it like a baseball bat.

"It was really kind of odd," said Rick Carpenter, then and still a high school baseball coach. "My wife would always bring him to my games, and I watched baseball on TV, but not even once had he been taught anything.

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"I immediately went to Wal-Mart and got a Wiffle ball, bat and a tee."

What Matt Carpenter may not yet have been taught, he picked up both through observation and inheritance from his father.

Rick Carpenter, a collegiate baseball player, and his wife, Tammie, once a softball player, settled in Texas before Matt was born so that Rick could pursue a coaching career. Matt Carpenter recalls some of his earliest memories coming at the La Marque High School baseball field, where his father spent seven years.

"We would sit in lawn chairs by the dugout, where my mom would always be," Matt Carpenter said. "I remember just playing around as a kid. We never missed a game."

Rick Carpenter later moved to Lawrence E. Elkins High School, where he built a powerhouse baseball program in a state where that is no small task. He doubled as a Little League assistant coach for every team Matt Carpenter played on, too. Rick Carpenter now jokes that had more to do with his son -- he was always peppered with coaching requests by head coaches who wanted to ensure that Matt would be on their team -- than himself.

While fostering his son's love for the sport, Rick Carpenter never forced it. He was also realistic, never assuming that, while Matt Carpenter was always an elite player in Little League and high school, his oldest son would find his way to the Majors.

Perhaps that's why neither Rick Carpenter, nor Matt Carpenter, ever found the father-son, coach-player relationship a challenge.

"I grew up with guys whose dads were so pushy," Matt Carpenter said. "For me, the love of the game was always there. I always wanted to go to the baseball field. I know for a fact that there was never a time when he said, 'Hey, let's go hit.' It never happened. It was always me."

During Rick Carpenter's 15 years coaching at Elkins, the baseball team won nine district championships, six regional championships, three state championships and a national championship.

He has had four Major Leaguers pass through that program, too. Along with Matt, James Loney, Kip Wells and Chad Huffman all played for Rick Carpenter at Elkins.

"Growing up and watching all the teams that he had and the success that he had, being on his team was like being in the big leagues," said Matt Carpenter. "I couldn't wait to get to high school."

Matt Carpenter was on two of his father's three state championship teams, including the 2002 club that went 35-1 en route to also winning the USA Today Prep National Championship. Rick Carpenter was recognized as the USA Today High School Baseball Coach of the Year after the season.

It was, Rick Carpenter insists, a secondary accomplishment.

"The highlight of my career is coaching my sons," said Rick Carpenter, whose other son, Tyler, is in the Mets' Minor League system. "That's the honest truth. It's not the wins. It's not the losses. It's being able to be close to my sons."

While Matt Carpenter said he firmly believes he wouldn't be in the Major Leagues had it not been for the coaching he received from his father, he interjects that, perhaps surprisingly, the greatest lesson his father imparted on him didn't come on the baseball field.

Rather, it came in 2007, when Matt Carpenter was starring on the baseball team at Texas Christian University. That spring, Tammie Carpenter, then a principal at Colony Bend Elementary School, became embroiled in a school district controversy over one of the school's teachers appearing on a reality TV show.

Believing that his wife had been improperly treated, wrongly disciplined and publicly slandered by the school district, Rick Carpenter resigned from Elkins High.

"This program that he had built up at Elkins was kind of a dream job. It was his baby," Matt Carpenter said. "To watch him up and leave for my mom, that really opened my eyes. You can do a lot of things in this game, but family has to come first.

"At the time, I was a sophomore in college, and I didn't understand it to the point I do now -- just what that took and what a great example he was to do something like that."

Rick Carpenter immediately landed a new head coaching job at Dallas-area Prosper High School. There, he has already begun to resurrect the program.

Matt Carpenter was drafted two years after his family's move. Last summer, he made it to the Majors. And, after all those afternoons and evenings Matt Carpenter spent watching his dad on the baseball field, this time, father was there to root on son.

"This still gets me a little emotional," said Matt Carpenter, now an important piece on the Cardinals' roster. "The first time I came into Busch Stadium, I looked into the stands and he was there. And there was this knowing that this was something we had accomplished together."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.