PROGRAMMING NOTE: Watch the 2017 Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards this Sunday night at 9pm on CSN Bay Area.
OAKLAND — Like so many fathers, Gary Graveman took his perch in the dugout and coached his boys throughout their youth baseball careers.
That guidance set his youngest son on a path to the major leagues. But when Kendall Graveman discusses his father, the baseball wisdom isn’t what he focuses on.
“Off the field I feel like I’d be a little lost if I didn’t have my father in my life,” the right-hander shared on the most recent A’s Insider Podcast. “When we did do baseball, it was something we both loved to do. But we also spent quality time together. I think that helped mold me, not only as a person, but growing up, starting a family, I look at him as somebody I wanna be like as a husband and a dad.”
Graveman will honor his father during Friday night’s Coaching Corps Game Changers Awards ceremony in San Francisco. The third annual event allows an athlete from the Bay Area’s major sports franchises to spotlight a person in their lives who helped mold them into the athlete and person they are. Coaching Corps is an organization, founded by former A’s owner Wally Haas, that provides coaches and sports programs for kids living in underserved communities.
Talking to Gary Graveman on the phone is like talking to Kendall himself. The easygoing Southern accent is identical, and it’s apparent that common values have been passed down from father to son.
Gary always preached the importance of unselfishness. Listen to any postgame interview with Kendall, particularly after a good start, and he deflects most praise, going out of his way to credit his catcher, his coaches and the defense playing behind him.
But his work away from the field also reflects that mentality, and the seeds were sown long ago.
Gary Graveman is a longtime coach and physical education teacher in Alabama, and many of his students come from special-needs programs. Gary would have Kendall help out with his classes, opening his eyes to the fact not everyone had things as easy as he did.
“I think it was Knute Rockne who said, 'One man practicing sportsmanship is better than 100 men teaching it,'” Gary said. “I wanted him to see me working with those special-needs kids. Kendall seeing me work with those types of children is more important than me telling him to do that.
“He was always good with those types of children. I would always tell him, if you see someone at lunch who maybe doesn’t have any friends at the high school, go and sit and talk to them and befriend them. It’s all about you putting others first.”
Kendall was a multi-sport standout at Benjamin Russell High School who went on to play baseball at Mississippi State. In college, he got involved in Mississippi State’s ACCESS program, which helps the transition of students with intellectual disabilities into higher education.
“They started that program and I started getting involved in that,” Graveman said. “It was a lot of taking them to lunch. They’re on a strict schedule. Some of them would work at the library. Some buss tables and you’d need to get to these places. You’d have to drive them there, make sure they’re at their dorm at the right time of night and stuff like that. What that taught me is those kids can learn and do just as much as we can.”
Gary Graveman, who spent 33 years coaching high school baseball, put that pursuit on hold for roughly a decade to coach Kendall and his older brother, Kyle, in youth baseball.
A tragedy put things in perspective. He and wife Sharon lost their first son, Blake, who died at four months old from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That made Gary realize he wanted to spend as much time around Kendall and Kyle as possible. He quit a summer rec department job to watch over his sons while they were on vacation from school.
“I always wanted to look back and be thankful,” he said. “That’s probably what motivated me more than anything.”
Coming off an impressive 2016 season in which he led the A’s in wins and innings pitched, Kendall Graveman is glad he’s got a sounding board who’s outside the walls of the major league clubhouse. He and Gary talk on the phone after every start. The longtime coach isn’t interested in discussing pitching mechanics. Instead he’ll bring up a particular situation in a game, curious of what Kendall’s thought process was, always looking to help his son grow.
“He wants me to win, but he’s a father first,” Graveman said. “He challenges me to never be complacent. We have such a special relationship. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”