Dad's hands-off style led Runzler to mound

Dad's hands-off style led Runzler to mound

SAN FRANCISCO -- A parent who stays in the background often influences a child tremendously. Dan Runzler's presence in the Major Leagues testifies to this.

Runzler's father, Terry, encouraged his son's interest in baseball, yet forced none of it. By the time Dan was 16, he threw so hard that Terry Runzler -- a left-hander like his son -- could no longer play catch with him. But while some fathers might have chained such a son to the mound, Dan didn't pitch regularly until his senior year at Chaminade High School in West Hills, Calif.

Terry Runzler remained a spectator and adviser, while leaving the coaching to others. He struck the right balance by supporting his son without pushing him. Now a rookie reliever with the Giants, Dan remains thankful for his father's approach.

"That was something that kept me motivated to play, because he never burned it out," Dan said. "He wanted me to play the game right, but he wanted to make sure I was having fun."

Terry urged Dan to focus on the journey, not the destination. Perseverance, effort, and respect were essential. Results weren't, and Dan heeded his father's advice.

"I know it sounds on the cliched side, but he never gave up," said Terry, 53.

The elder Runzler noted that Dan made only one All-Star team in Little League, and didn't play varsity baseball in high school until he was a senior. Dan concentrated on improving slowly, but steadily, one rung at a time -- reaching the Major Leagues was not an all-consuming goal.

"Everything was just to the next level," Terry said.

Dan accelerated the timetable last year by playing in five different professional classifications in the Giants' farm system: from low Class A Augusta to the Majors. He's believed to be the first Giant to accomplish that feat.

At each stop, Runzler took his father's lessons with him.

"I feel like he was a big part of my mental game," Runzler said. "Not how to throw or hit, but how to battle. Realizing you can't carry every at-bat, every appearance, everything with you, every time you'd go out there. Because I'd get upset at a young age if I didn't get a hit. He'd say, 'Well, you have a lot of at-bats coming.' We talked about mentally flushing the last appearance or the last at-bat that I had, whatever it was, even if it was good. You can't sit there and hold onto it, which is what I try to carry over into the game right now."

Growing up in Chicago, Terry latched onto the Chicago White Sox. He learned to love the game through the exploits of Tommie Agee, Gary Peters, Joe Horlen and Tommy John. Watching their professionalism taught Terry how baseball should be played. Later, that became clear to Dan.

"Hustling down the line was a big thing for him, that kind of stuff," Dan said. "He said, 'Don't disrespect the game.' "

Dan remembered being in the sixth grade when he jogged to first base after hitting a grounder. Afterward, Terry asked Dan if he ran hard on that play.

"I said, 'Yeah,'" Dan said, years later. "He said, 'Don't lie to me. I saw that. You disrespect the game, you disrespect your teammates.' He always made sure that I played it right."

Terry had no idea that Dan would become a Major Leaguer, but he wanted his son to conduct himself like one.

"When people look at you, they shouldn't be able to know the score of the game," Dan said, citing another of his father's lessons. "If you're getting your teeth kicked in, you should still look like you're winning 4-0, pitching with confidence."

Often, baseball was pure joy for the Runzlers. Now the director of billing at Torrance Memorial Medical Center near Los Angeles, Terry previously worked at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, where famed orthopedic surgeons Drs. Robert Kerlan and Frank Jobe revolutionized sports medicine. Terry Runzler was on good terms with Jobe, which came with fringe benefits.

"There were many nights at 5:00, when his secretary would call and say, 'Tickets are available,'" Terry recalled.

Terry and Dan would be off to Dodger Stadium .

"Me and my dad's fondest memories are of going to games when I was younger," Dan said.

The Runzlers didn't know it, but the baseball gods were seeding their connection with the Giants.

"I actually watched Will Clark's swing a lot when I was younger, which is crazy," said Dan. "My first team I played on when I was young was the Giants, so there was a picture of me pitching when I was like 7 years old with a Giants jersey on."

Terry's family moved from Chicago to San Jose when he was 12. He attended plenty of Giants games at Candlestick Park from 1967-73, but, he said, "I was never really and truly a Giant fan until Dan signed with them."

As important as baseball was to the Runzlers -- "It's such a staple in our family," Dan said -- it's just one of the ties that bind father and son.

"He's a huge part of where I am today. Not even as a player, but as a man," Dan said. "I learned a lot from him. He's just a caring, solid, good guy. I want to carry that on for our family, so I do really respect him. He's one of my closest friends. I'm very fortunate to have him and my mom, [Debbie], in my life."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.