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Many players embrace Red Sox’ kid-friendly approach

Red Sox pitcher Felix Doubront and his son enjoy some time on the field at Fenway Park prior to a recent game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

barry chin/globe staff

Red Sox pitcher Felix Doubront and son Noah enjoy some time on the field at Fenway Park prior to a recent game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Ah, the life of a baseball player at Fenway Park. Crisp white uniforms waiting in a locker inside the clubhouse and new baseballs fresh out of the box to play catch with. The field is always in perfect shape, just waiting for a session of batting practice.

Once your mom drops you off, it’s a lot of fun.

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Major League Baseball, so often grounded in tradition and slow to evolve, has joined other businesses in becoming more family-friendly. For players, the clubhouse has become a place to make up for time missed at home during the long season.

“If you don’t think the game has changed, look at all the kids we have running around,” pitcher Jake Peavy said. “It’s pretty great.”

Peavy is one of several players who take advantage of the team’s liberal policy regarding children being in the clubhouse and on the field. For up until roughly an hour before first pitch, the players can have their kids around, provided they don’t get in the way of pregame preparations.

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“All who play, you know you miss many days and kids grow up fast,” said manager John Farrell, who has three sons and is now a grandfather. “Any extra interaction you can get, that’s a good thing.
“You have to be respectful to those around you because people have to get their work in. But our guys know where to draw that line.”

Baseball wasn’t always so trusting. Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo broke into the big leagues in 1988 with the Detroit Tigers. Manager Sparky Anderson didn’t allow children in the clubhouse and no player challenged that edict.

‘When you’re at home, you want to feel like you’re really at home.’

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“There was so much respect for Sparky, and that was his clubhouse,” said Lovullo. “He was in charge. But over time, like a lot of things in baseball, what is acceptable changes.”

Peavy, as a rookie with the Padres in 2002, can’t remember any kids coming into the clubhouse beyond Brett Bochy, the teenage son of manager Bruce Bochy. Brett Bochy, now 26, is a righthanded reliever for Triple A Fresno in the Giants organization.

“That’s when you know you’re getting old — he’s almost in the big leagues now,” Peavy said.

In San Diego, All-Star closer Trevor Hoffman persuaded the team to allow the children in the clubhouse. For the Red Sox, it was slugger David Ortiz about six years ago.

“You never used to see the kids around. There were a lot of rules,” said Ortiz, the longest-tenured player on the roster. “I was one of the ones who changed it. I want to be happy, and I’ll be happy if my son can be with me. I miss so much time with him, so I want to make up for it.”

“The game has changed a lot. What the teams forgot was that we miss our families because we travel so much. When you’re at home, you want to feel like you’re really at home.”

D’Angelo Ortiz, 9, has a locker next to his father’s and his own uniform. Clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin works with Majestic, MLB’s official supplier, to get authentic custom-sized uniforms for the players’ children. There are kid-sized gloves, bats, caps, and cleats in many of the lockers.

Cheerful presence

The clubhouse is generally restricted to boys. But Clay Buchholz will occasionally bring his two daughters by early in the day. Former Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia did the same with his three girls last season.

“It’s a lot better now than it used to be,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “In Minnesota, early in my career, you could bring your kids around only on Sunday. Then when I got to Chicago, [manager Ozzie Guillen] was big on bringing your kids around.

“I thought that was cool. He used to tell us that it wasn’t your kid’s fault if you had a bad game. I think if you have a bad day, your kids can put a smile on your face at the end of the game.”

Pierzynski often brings 7-year-old Austin to the park with him.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play long enough so that he’ll remember this experience,” he said. “Every opportunity I have, I welcome it. He’s old enough to go out on the field and play with the other kids.”

Kazuma Uehara, the 8-year-old son of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, gained some fame during the playoffs last fall. When his father was named MVP of the American League Championship Series, Kaz joined him on stage and ended up answering a few questions from Erin Andrews of Fox Sports.

Kaz is a regular at Fenway Park, especially on weekends. Uehara’s family lives in Baltimore and visits often during the season.

“For me, it’s important that we allow children in the clubhouse because I don’t get to see him every day,” Uehara said. “That’s very helpful.”

Japanese teams do not allow children in the clubhouse. Not even the star players, Uehara said, have tried to bend the rules.

“It’s sad there’s no atmosphere like that there,” he said. “I know Kaz loves being here. I think it helps him to get better as a player because he plays all the time with the kids here. I’d rather him be outside playing baseball than inside playing a video game.”

Uehara joked that scouts should come watch the Sons of the Sox play.

“D’Angelo is a very good hitter,” he said. “My son can pitch, too. Maybe better than I do.”

Rules and guidelines

Peavy’s sons — Jacob, Wyatt, and Judson — are in Boston this weekend for Father’s Day and will be around Fenway and in uniform. Peavy believes 12-year-old Jacob has become a better player by following him to work.

“He’s going back to play in the [Alabama] state tournament when they go home,” Peavy said. “There’s no doubt that the talk he hears or the instruction he gets in the batting cage from the coaches has helped him. He’s had major league players give him tips on his swing.

“He also understands how hard the best players work to be as good as they are. He’s a hitter and he pitches some, too. He understands he needs to work if he wants to be a player at this level. He says he wants to get here, but we’ll see.”

Peavy does not bring his boys in the clubhouse before games he pitches.

“You have to find a happy medium, because this is a workplace,” he said. “You have to get your work in and make sure your children aren’t going to be in somebody’s way. You want to be careful and conscious of that. My boys are older than most of the kids around the team so they understand a little more. They cherish the time they do get.”

Major League Baseball, in the interest of safety, prohibits children under the age of 14 to be on the field during batting practice. Individual teams have the discretion to raise that age limit.

The Sox generally adhere to those guidelines. The team helps out families in other ways, too. There’s a brightly decorated room across from the clubhouse for the players’ wives and younger children, and when the Sox are on the road, the flight back to Boston on the final leg of the trip is open to immediate family.

Recruiting tool

Being accommodating to children is more than a simple act of compassion; it’s a recruiting tool for free agents.

“You recognize there’s a small circle within the game, and how organizations treat players beyond what is required spreads around,” Farrell said. “There’s value there.”

Said Peavy, “The Red Sox as a whole really preach the family aspect. The guys on the team, we feel like a family, and the Red Sox understand when you treat people like that and make it your culture, it helps. Being kid-friendly takes some of the tension off and some of the stress away.”

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has three sons, 4-year-old Dylan, 1-year-old Cole, and newborn Brooks, who arrived on Friday. Dylan regards Fenway as almost a second home in Boston.

“Obviously we travel a lot and we spend a lot of time at the park,” said Pedroia. “I like that Dylan can grow up around the field. He comes in now and goes right for the gumballs. I love it. He thinks he’s one of the guys.

“He goes in the batting cage and hits off the tee. He’s funny, he’s sees me do it and he tries to do the same thing I do.”

When the Red Sox won the World Series last fall, Jon Lester carried his son along for the raucous postgame celebration. Hudson Lester, 3, wore goggles to keep the champagne out of his eyes.

“I just wanted to share the experience with him,” Lester said. “That was a special moment for me. I know he loves being around the team.”

For the players and coaches with older kids, being with them on the field also presents an opportunity to do some parenting.

The outfield at Fenway Park is far removed from the distraction of cellphones, television, and video games.

“You can have an informal conversation with your son at the ballpark or a serious one,” said Lovullo, whose son Nick now plays for Holy Cross. “It’s different than if you’re home.”

Like any parent looking to connect with a child, Peavy uses what he has at his disposal to smooth the path. In his case, it’s baseball.

“There’s no doubt that what I do for a living helps me a little bit in the eyes of my oldest,” Peavy said. “A lot of his friends are getting to that age where their parents really aren’t the coolest thing in the world and you don’t want to tell them everything, whether it’s about your girlfriend at school or some problem you’re having.

“Some of the time I spend with him at the ballpark is when we have a different bond and we can talk about things.”

‘Special days’

Pierzynski has a well-earned reputation for being the kind of player willing to do anything to gain an edge on the field. Polls have found him to be the most disliked player in the game, something he finds amusing.

When Austin is around, the hard edges soften a bit. The Red Sox played poorly on their recent road trip, but Pierzynski was smiling Wednesday as he played catch with his son before the game in Baltimore. Austin was trying to throw a knuckleball and his dad the professional catcher was playfully swiping at it.

“We have a job to do, and that’s the most important thing,” said Pierzynski. “Nobody wants to win more than I do. But in the grand scheme of life, kids and family are really the most important thing. I love seeing the kids around and getting to know them and seeing them grow up.”

Peavy, 33, will be a free agent after the season and isn’t sure how much longer he will play. His sons have a different opinion.

“When I talk to them about daddy’s career winding down, they talk to me about playing as long as I can because of those special days we have at the park,” he said. “It means the world to me and it does to them.

“Some of the fondest memories I have are being with them on the field. That’s priceless.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.
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