Father’s Day – A broken baseball record and a special bond between dad and son

Josh Silva loves his dad, Lenny, but they don’t always see eye-to-eye. He didn’t understand the need for so many rules, like why he wasn’t allowed to hang out with his friends on the other side of town. Or why curfew was so early. Or why his grades were never good enough. He didn’t remember his older brother, Jake, getting this kind of treatment. And because he couldn’t just grin and bear it, Josh and his dad argued a lot.

Their relationship has been tough sometimes, Josh said. He’d turn to his mom, Susanne, and complain, and she’d roll her eyes. “You guys are the same person,” she’d tell him.

“So we butt heads,” he said.

Which is why baseball and a moment they shared in March in Auburndale, Florida, was so special. As father and son embraced between innings, celebrating a milestone more than two decades in the making, it was as if all those stupid little fights fell away and what was left was only joy.

There, on the baseball diamond, they could always speak the same language. That’s where dad’s lectures felt more like advice; they made the most sense. Because his credentials were impeccable: Lenny was a standout middle infielder at Rhode Island College from 1984-87 with lightning-quick speed on the basepaths and a sharp eye at the plate that led to him posting a .362 career batting average. In 2008, the Seekonk, Massachusetts, native was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He even has a wing at the school named in his honor.

The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Lenny a tryout following his senior season, and he hit a home run in his first at-bat. They offered him a contract — not much money but an opportunity, which is more than most people get. And had it not been for Susanne and the possibility of a future with this woman he loved, he might have gone west to chase his dream and who knows what would — or wouldn’t — have happened. Instead, he went to work at General Motors and built his family. He’s emphatic: no regrets.

In 2017, he got to watch his son follow in his footsteps by joining the Division III college in Providence. Josh finally gave up his first love of basketball to focus on baseball full time, which made dad doubly happy. Josh played the outfield, but otherwise they were mirror images of one another: both right around 6 feet tall, both skinny, both with a penchant for slap hits and stolen bases. Lenny says he once ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. Josh hasn’t run the 40, but says he once ran 60 yards in a blistering 6.29 seconds.

Lenny laughs when he’s asked who’s faster. “My son,” he conceded.

Even so, no one could have imagined that Lenny’s school-best 64 career stolen bases could be in jeopardy. The record had stood for so long. Considering they play only about 35 games a season, it seemed borderline unattainable.

Before every game, Lenny would tell Josh, “Go get those bases,” and after a slow start as a freshman, he did. He stole base after base after base until he was beginning his senior season. It was no longer a question of whether he’d break his father’s record, but when. During the early season trip to Florida, he would pass 64 career stolen bases and go on to pad his lead for future generations to chase.

Then came March 12 and the growing concern over the coronavirus. Josh’s coach, Frank Holbrook, projected optimism that morning, but who could forget the night before when it came out that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive? Minutes later, the entire NBA season was suspended and college basketball tournaments across the country began shutting down.

Emotions were high as the baseball team waited for more definitive news and played the first game of the doubleheader against Penn State Altoona. Josh got a hold of a pitch in the first inning and sent it screaming toward the left field fence. He trotted toward first base thinking he’d just done the impossible — hit his first home run ever, little league and high school included — until the outfielder made a leaping catch. “The kid robbed me,” Josh said. He went back to the dugout, spiked his helmet in disgust and Holbrook immediately benched him the rest of the game.

Josh argued briefly but knew better. Joe Vigeant, an assistant coach who played with his dad, put his arm around Josh and told him not to worry. If there was a Game 2, he’d play.

Between games, players ate lunch in the dugout and checked social media. Scrolling through all the cancellations happening around college sports, it became clear to them that by the next morning, their seasons would be over. The seniors didn’t expect to get another year of eligibility. Josh remembers the tears that followed.

“We thought, ‘That’s it. It’s over,'” he said.

Joey Coro, a sophomore, went up to Josh between games and told him, “Dude, you know you gotta do it.” He had to get that record.

So when Josh came to the plate in the fourth inning, he practically stood on home plate hoping to get hit by a pitch. Instead, he walked and the third base coach didn’t even bother going through the signals, giving him a thumbs up instead.

On the first pitch, Josh went for it. He didn’t get the best jump, he said, but he slid in safely for record-breaking steal No. 65. As his teammates went ballistic in the dugout, he asked for timeout, snatched his helmet off and walked aimlessly toward the outfield grass.

He was feeling so much — not just the exhilaration of all those years of hard work paying off, but the realization that it all was probably over and his college career was going to be cut short, which felt like a sucker punch to the gut. He bent over, crying.

Between innings, instead of going back into the field, he went into the stands where father and son embraced.

“There wasn’t really a lot of talking,” Josh said. “Just tears and hugging.”

Josh extended the record to 66 with one more steal in the sixth. Lenny was one proud papa. There was never a question whether he would make the trip, never a doubt that he’d beg off work in order to see Josh play for his old team. They both love baseball and Rhode Island College and one another so much.

As it turns out, the NCAA is granting seniors an extra year of eligibility, and Josh is leaning toward coming back to school for one more year. He was all set to move to Venice Beach and soak up the sun, but maybe he’ll extend his lead over his father instead.

“Records are made to be broken,” Lenny said, “and what better way than for your son to break yours?”

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