For Small, father Art was big influence

For Small, father Art was big influence

NEW YORK -- Art Small wasn't always a big baseball fan.

The father of Yankees pitcher Aaron Small, Art actually didn't watch the sport much at all until he met his future wife, Laura, who happened to be a big Dodgers fan.

"My dad wasn't really a baseball guy growing up. He was a basketball guy," Aaron said. "Once they got married, he started watching."

It's a good thing that he did, since he would go on to help his son begin a love affair with the game that would eventually lead to the Major Leagues.

Aaron began playing organized baseball at the age of 8, and as he got older -- and better -- Art would do whatever he could to help his son improve his game.

"As I got older, he saw that I had an interest in baseball," Aaron said. "He never coached any of my teams, but he was my personal pitching coach. He would go out of his way to catch me and my brother, do whatever he could to make us better. He said, 'If baseball is what you want to pursue, I'll help you be the best you can be.'"

Art spent as much time as he could in the backyard, serving as Aaron's personal catcher of sorts. Of course, as Aaron got bigger and his fastball gained velocity, that task grew harder.

"Even in high school and in my first couple of years in pro ball, he still tried to catch me," Aaron said. "It got to a point where he said the ball was coming a little too fast or moving too much for him. He didn't want me busting up his thumb."

Since 1989, Aaron has made a career out of baseball, playing for six franchises in the Majors and Minors. Although Art enjoys going to the ballpark to watch his son pitch, he still finds it difficult to watch Aaron play on television.

"He can sit in the stands and watch me pitch, but he can't do it on TV," Aaron said. "For some reason, it makes him too nervous. I told him, 'Dad, you should watch. It doesn't affect the outcome of the game.' It's just his thing, I guess. He'll leave the house and go work in the yard or something. My mom will tape it and he'll watch later."

Aaron has his own pitching coach these days with the Yankees, but he still relies on his father to point out problems to him when things aren't going great on the mound.

"He knows me better than anybody," Aaron said. "He's seen me pitch longer than anybody. His input really helps, even today."

Aaron looked up to pitchers such as Nolan Ryan, Dave Stewart and Mike Witt when he was growing up in Southern California, but he says that his biggest role model was living in his own house.

"Whenever people have asked me who my idol is, I always say my dad," Aaron said. "I've always wanted to be the man that he is. I want to be the father to my children that he was to us. He's a good dad."

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