WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Last month, Kevin and Marcey Long stopped by the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches to drop off Kevin’s belongings for his first spring training as the Washington Nationals’ hitting coach. Before they left, Kevin asked Marcey if she wanted to see their son’s locker in the clubhouse. Then it hit her. They really were all there together, at least for a couple of months.
“It brought tears to my eyes thinking about it,” Marcey Long said. “Here they are. Same team. Same jersey. Same everything. It was pretty cool.”
After establishing his reputation as one of the sport’s premier hitting gurus and launch angle proponents in New York with the Yankees and Mets the past 11 seasons, Kevin Long interviewed with the Mets and Nationals for their managerial positions. The 51-year-old was the runner-up both times. He decided to come on board with the Nationals as hitting coach anyway.
Jaron Long, a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher, began his career in the Yankees organization when his father was still the big league club’s hitting coach. He reached Class AAA with New York before joining the Nationals following the 2015 season. This spring is his first in a big league camp.
“I think I’ve earned the right to be separate from him,” Jaron Long said. “At the same time, it’s obvious that people are going to connect us. But I was over here before him. I told him, ‘Hey, you’re coming over to my territory.’ ”
Jaron made his spring debut in the Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 23. That would have been memorable on its own, but there was more significance to the milestone. While his father spent springs, summers and the occasional fall with the Yankees, Jaron grew up back home in Arizona. The distance and schedules made it impossible for Kevin to watch Jaron play in high school. Jaron played summer ball in New York, but games were on the weekends, and the major league grind doesn’t cease on Saturdays and Sundays. So Kevin had to wait until Jaron reached college to watch him pitch in person. Before this spring, Kevin had seen his son pitch four times in a game — in his entire life.
Jaron vividly remembers the first time he pitched with his dad in the stands. The date was Feb. 17, 2012. He was a sophomore at Ohio State making his Division I debut after a one-year stint at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona. It was against the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Joe Girardi, the Yankees’ manager at the time, let Kevin leave work in Tampa early to attend. Jaron plunked the first batter he faced but regrouped to allow one run in 3 2/3 innings.
Nearly six years to the day later, Kevin Long finally watched his son pitch in a professional game against the Houston Astros at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Marcey Long was in the crowd with a group of friends from New York. They told her she seemed so calm.
“It was more like, “This is surreal,’ ” Marcey said. ” ‘Is this really happening?’ ”
Kevin Long wasn’t as cool in the dugout.
“I was a little antsy,” Kevin Long said. “My heart was racing a little bit. It was a little different there. … Watching him pitch was exciting but a little nerve-racking.”
That appearance began like the one in St. Petersburg, with Jaron, who prides himself on his command, hitting a batter. He then allowed a two-run home run. But he settled in for an otherwise smooth two-inning spring debut. He pitched again four days later, retiring the side with a strikeout against the Miami Marlins. He is scheduled to make his third appearance on Sunday against the Mets.
“It’s funny because Jaron said he wasn’t nervous for that first outing,” Marcey Long said. “But I’ve watched him pitch and with the first couple batters, I was like, ‘What? Who is this kid? He looks nervous to me.’ ”
Jaron earned the invite to big league spring training after compiling a 3.61 ERA in 164 1/3 innings across 27 outings, including 26 starts, for Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse last season. Marcey tries to watch all of Jaron’s starts during the season in person. Kevin must settle for grainy footage when available.
“It’s a lot better in person,” he noted.
One may wonder how Jaron Long is a pitcher when he had one of the world’s foremost experts on hitting baseballs at his disposal. He began pitching in high school. In his only season of junior college, he was both a middle infielder and pitcher. But Ohio State only wanted him as a pitcher. Marcey said Kevin encouraged Jaron to focus on pitching because he thought he’d have a better chance to reach the majors on the mound.
But Jaron admits there was more to it. He said he probably took his father for granted growing up. Maybe it was teenage rebellion. He always liked to hit, but he would gravitate to the pitching side when he spent his summers as a Yankees batboy.
“We share baseball, but sometimes it’s harder to listen to him when it comes to hitting than it should be, honestly,” Jaron Long said. “It’s one of those things. It’s your dad. You just think differently.”
This isn’t the first spring training the Longs have spent in proximity. Last year, with the Nationals moving to West Palm Beach from Viera and the Mets 45 minutes north in Port St. Lucie, the family spent ample time together. Marcey split her days between watching Mets games and going to the Nationals’ minor league side for Jaron’s outings. They would get dinner some nights.
But it’s different this year. The three of them are living together. Marcey doesn’t have to split her time between camps; she can be both a baseball wife and baseball mom any given day. Family dinners, incomplete for so many years during baseball season, are more frequent. And every few days, a father gets to watch his son pitch.
“It’s special. It does mean a lot,” Kevin said. “As a dad, it makes you proud.”
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