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Cal Raleigh taught valuable lessons by father

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SEATTLE — Aside from the birth of each of his four children, Todd Raleigh experienced what he called “one of the greatest moments of my life” last fall when watching his son, Cal Raleigh, crush a walk-off homer that propelled the Mariners to the postseason and lifted the weight of a 21-year playoff drought off the shoulders of an entire region of fans.

“I’ve had a lot of good sports moments — state championships, conference championships, NCAA regionals and all that stuff as a player and coach,” Todd said. “But that was by far and away the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Cal’s big moment has been well-chronicled — a pinch-hit blast in the bottom of the ninth to break a scoreless tie in front of a sellout crowd, the situation countless kids rehearse in the backyard. And maybe that’s what was most surreal for Todd, because he recalls such scenarios throughout Cal’s childhood.

“What I didn’t anticipate was the reaction from the crowd and just being a part of it,” Todd said. “It was really cool being in the stands. The appreciation of the fans, and the passion of the fans, that was just an unbelievable feeling. For everyone on the East Coast who thinks the West Coast fans aren’t quite as passionate, I’m going to tell you, the Seattle fans are.”

For Cal, the 26-year-old catcher who’s emerged as one of MLB’s best power hitters at the position, it could be the first major highlight in a career that has the potential to be full of them. For the Raleighs, it was a culminating moment going all the way back to his diaper days.

A native of Swanton, Vt., who briefly played pro ball in the Red Sox organization then went on to become a college coach, Todd put a bat in Cal’s hands before he could walk. Baseball was an avenue to instill life lessons, discipline and work ethic.

“The sport of failure,” as Todd calls it, was used to teach perspective and process, attributes that can be found in all walks of life. It’s obviously reverberated to Cal’s siblings, too — Emma Grace, Carley and Todd Jr., a 12-year-old catcher who’s rising in the amateur ranks and who Todd Sr. coaches.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen a lot of how he has taught me, how I think about things,” Cal said. “Even how I try to help my little brother out sometimes, I feel like I’m turning into my dad in a way, and it’s kind of funny because I’ll try to have patience with my brother. I’ll try and teach him to help him, and I find myself saying the same exact things that he was telling me.”

Cal is only in his third season but his voice in Seattle’s clubhouse already carries weight. It’s the position he plays and the production he’s delivered, but even more so, the maturity he’s shown that has given him credibility. For a young team, it’s clear that Cal will probably be one of their longer-term leaders, if he isn’t already.

Those traits go back to his adolescence. Cal was a bat boy for Todd when he coached at Western Carolina University from 2000-07. He called Todd’s players “my heroes” and still regularly reaches out to many of them, some who are now themselves fathers. More than 100 of Todd’s student-athletes went on to play pro ball, including “dozens of big leaguers,” he said.

“I’ll see their kids wearing my jersey,” Cal said. “It’s kind of funny how it all comes back around. I’ll see pictures of them when I was little right next to them and now it’s like vice versa.”

The one constant text thread Cal has every day is with Todd. Sometimes it’s not even about baseball. After all, despite Cal’s immense passion for the game, it was never pressed on him.

“I didn’t ever feel like I was coddled or like I was forced to do anything,” Cal said. “I grew up and it was, ‘If you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it the right way,’ whether it was grade school, baseball, basketball, riding a bike — whatever it is.

“I think some of the most important things he’s taught me is doing things the right way, playing hard. Just kind of simple things, but the reiteration of, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it the right way.’”

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