06/19/09 10:00 AM ET
Howell, dad have bond through baseball
Tampa Bay reliever says he's 'very close' to his father
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
"Very close," J.P. said. "I talk to him almost every day, or at least trade texts with him."
Close, maybe, but there's one event that J.P. just can't let go, which occurred when he played Babe Ruth League baseball in Sacramento on a team that he had talked his father into coaching.
"I was 13 years old, and we were playing our rivals, the Indians," J.P. said. "My best friend was on that team; all of my buddies were, too."
J.P. carried a perfect game into the seventh and final inning and had the hitter down, 0-2. His team had a 2-0 lead when he broke one of his father's rules, which was to waste a pitch when ahead in the count, 0-2. J.P. didn't, and the batter hit a long foul ball. Jim then reminded his son of the rule. "I said, 'J.P., what are you doing?'" Jim said.
J.P. answered: "Don't worry, I've got you covered."
Jim's next move came straight from the book on tough love and discipline.
"He pulled me out right then and put in Jason Roach," J.P. said. "They got a run. He gave up a hit and a run. I wasn't happy he gave up a run, but I was happy my dad looked wrong."
A chill spread between the normally close father and son afterward.
"He didn't say a word and neither did I," J.P. said. "We didn't talk for two days. We've kind of hashed it out since."
Still, J.P. had a perfect game and has never gotten close since.
"I can't let that one go, even today," J.P. laughed. "Who could?"
J.P. and Jim have a bond, much of which has been built on their love of the game of baseball.
"The main thing is, baseball has kept us really close," J.P. said. "There's been a lot of baseball."
Jim is a consultant for a recycling company in Sacramento and enjoys crunching numbers. When J.P. receives a text from his father, it can contain any number of messages.
"When I gave it up [a lead in a game against the Marlins], he'll say, 'You're flying open, you didn't give yourself a shot,'" J.P. said. "And that was a fact. As hard as it is to hear, it's all true.
"He watches all the games. He's on the Internet. He bought the MLB package. Any way they can get a game. My mother and he will go to a bar if there's a bar that has it. Any way they can get it, they try to get it."
Jim has always given support to his son, who struggled with the Royals before the Rays acquired him in a trade on June 20, 2006.
"When I first came over here, I'd been having a tough time in KC. I wasn't going to listen to anybody at that time," J.P. said. "I was kind of at a rebellious stage at that time. I had a tough time in KC. Now, I wanted to do it on my own. He was just pretty much there for me -- a shoulder to cry on when I was having a lot of tough days."
Jim had concerns about how J.P. would react to a lack of success since he had never experienced adversity at anything, including high school football when he played -- believe it or not -- middle linebacker.
"He'd never faced adversity at that time," Jim said. "In the Major Leagues, you're going to be up and down. He had to grow up."
J.P. said his father never gave up on him, even though he gave up on himself "a little bit."
"He would definitely give me a tip here or there to keep me going," J.P. said. "He'd say things like, 'Anyone in the situation you're in has succeeded before, so you might as well do the same. You have no excuses to fail now.' And that kind of kick-started me."
J.P. subsequently changed from being a starter to a reliever and emerged as a force out of the Rays' bullpen.
When Jim watches J.P. play and he does well, Jim will holler from the stands: "I love that kid like a son."
J.P. will get to see his father on Father's Day in New York when the Rays play the Mets.
"I haven't seen him in a long time, I'm looking forward to it," J.P. said.
Jim just chuckles at the mention of his son, who is one of the Rays' most popular players due to his even keel and always happy demeanor.
"He's a trip, there's no doubt about that," Jim said. "He's a great kid."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.