Scott Van Slyke, shown hitting a decisive three-run home run for the Dodgers… (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)
Scott Van Slyke had always been told by his father that he had this in him. He had long been told he was capable of producing the kind of moment he produced a week ago Sunday, when he became the latest of the Dodgers' unlikely heroes by launching a game-deciding, pinch-hit, three-run home run in front of a national television audience.
His father knew what he was talking about. Andy Van Slyke played 13 seasons in the major leagues, including eight with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in three All-Star games and a World Series. He was later a coach with the Detroit Tigers.
"I heard him talk about how quick my hands were, the leverage I had," Scott said. "But it was in and out."
That could be why the 25-year-old rookie outfielder was late to develop. Growing up in St. Louis, the sport was something Van Slyke enjoyed playing, nothing more. He never took what his father said too seriously.
"In high school, I kind of went to practice, came home, ate, did my homework," Van Slyke said. "I didn't really put in any time into it."
That wasn't because he was unaware of the perks.
He and his brothers spent their summers in major league clubhouses. He recalled how his father was once pulled over by a police officer for a traffic violation. The officer asked for an autograph and didn't issue a citation.
His father never forced baseball on him. One of Van Slyke's brothers was a minor league player in theSt. Louis Cardinalssystem. Another brother played football at the University of Michigan.
Van Slyke, who is listed at 6 feet 5, thought his future might be in basketball. He was part of the same St. Louis-based AAU basketball program that produced Tyler Hansbrough, the former University of North Carolina star who now plays for the NBA's Indiana Pacers.
Van Slyke was selected by the Dodgers in the 14th round of the 2005 draft and turned professional out of high school. But that didn't change his approach to the game.
"It was go to the ballpark, do what everybody else does, go out and play," he said.
The results reflected his attitude. In his first four years of professional baseball, from 2005 to 2008, he never hit more than five home runs in a season.
Late in 2008, Van Slyke's life changed: he got married.
"Having to think about someone other than myself, I got more serious about it," he said.
He started working with his father in the off-season and taking his advice. The next season, he hit 23 home runs and drove in 100 runs.
"When I had a little success, it helped spark my desire," he said. "I would have two or three good games a week. Then it became three and four. It felt good to be on base. It felt good hitting balls hard. I liked the feeling. I wanted to get better at it so I could have success more often."
In 2011, he was selected the Dodgers' minor league player of the year after hitting .348 with 20 home runs and 92 runs batted in for double-A Chattanooga.
Van Slyke is expected to be sent to triple A in the coming week, as Matt Kemp and Juan Rivera are scheduled to be activated from the disabled list. Manager Don Mattingly said Van Slyke will benefit from the time he has spent in the majors.
"I think this is going to be good for him," Mattingly said. "I think it's going to show him some of the differences between triple A and here."
Van Slyke will head back to Albuquerque with added motivation. His wife, Audrey, is pregnant with their first child, a boy. She is due to give birth June 20.