Upon meeting Oriole Shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., SI staff writer Tom Verducci felt a kinship with him. "What linked Cal and mc was that we both had coaches for fathers," says Verducci, whose story on Ripken and the burden of his consecutive-game streak begins on page 40. "There's a special bond among people who have played for their dads. For one thing, children of coaches develop a deeper respect for the fundamentals of a sport once they see how hard a coach works after team practice is over."
Ripken's father is Cal Sr., a former Oriole manager. Verducci's father, Tony, was a legendary coach at Seton Hall Prep, a private boys' school in West Orange, N.J. In 33 seasons Coach Verducci led the Pony Pirate football team to a 214-75-16 record and 11 state championships. Tony, who died in 1988 and was later enshrined in the New Jersey High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, is one of only two coaches in state history to win 200 games in football and 100 games in baseball.
Tom played basketball, baseball and football at Seton Hall Prep, the last sport under his father's tutelage. "My dad never had great aspirations for me as a football player," says Verducci, "which may explain why I was a wide receiver on a team that ran the ball 99 percent of the time."
No matter, because baseball had always been Verducci's first love. His first heroes were New York Met ace Tom Seaver and, for some unknown reason, J.C. Martin, a bit player on the Mets in the late 1960s. Verducci remembers going to Shea when he was eight and waiting outside the clubhouse for a glimpse of his idols. ""All of a sudden Seaver came out," he recalls. "I was so excited. I told him my name was Tom, too. He smiled and put his arm around me. Then I asked him if Martin was coming out. I must have been the only kid in history to go up to Tom Seaver and ask him where the Mets' backup catcher was."
In seventh grade, while the other members of his typing class were tapping out stories about how they spent their summer vacations, Verducci was banging out copy about sports trivia and baseball. Years later, at Penn State, Verducci served two years as assistant sports editor for the Daily Collegian. After a brief stint at Today newspaper in Cocoa, Fla., Verducci, who now lives in Centerport, N.Y., with his wife, Kirsten, and their 10-month-old son, Adam, went to work for Newsday, where he covered baseball for nine years before joining SI in February. Although reporting on the often turbulent New York baseball teams can be a trying experience, Verducci handled the job with the aplomb of a well-coached athlete. It is a trait that is perhaps his father's finest legacy. "I never got the sense that what my dad did for a living was work," says the coach's son. "He did what he did because he loved his job, the way I love mine."