Hall of Famer Dave Winfield Talks Baseball and Breast Cancer

Filed under: Sports, Celeb Parents, Celeb News & Interviews

Dave Winfield

Dave Winfield, left, stands with with his mother, Arline, and brother, Stephen. Photo courtesy of the Winfield family

Twenty-two years spent slugging home runs and earning Golden Gloves in the Major Leagues didn't slow Dave Winfield down.

Voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, his first year of eligibility, Winfield is now an executive vice president/senior adviser of the San Diego Padres, a commentator on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" and the founder of his own charitable foundation.

In 1988, Winfield's mother, Arline, passed away from breast cancer. This year, in her honor, he is working with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Ask.com to raise awareness about the disease. Winfield will appear at baseball events throughout 2010, including the Little League World Series where he threw out the first pitch Aug. 23, as part of the campaign.

Winfield lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Tonya, and their teenage twins, Arielle and David II. He also has a daughter, Shanel, from a previous relationship. He recently chatted with ParentDish about the campaign, his kids and why he thinks parents make better role models than athletes. An edited version of the conversation follows.

ParentDish: Why is baseball a good game for kids?
Dave Winfield:
Because there are so many life lessons to learn through baseball. There's competition, overcoming adversity ... (Baseball) doesn't come easy. (Laughs.)

PD: So how can parents get their kids interested in the sport?
The best you can do is expose them to it [and] find out if it's in their heart. Some have a love for it and some give it up after Little League. But if they have a love for it, they'll keep going.

PD: You've said throwing off a wall is a great way to learn baseball skills. Why is that?
In baseball, if you don't have anyone else to (throw a ball to), you throw it off the wall. And when you field it, you're working on your footwork, and you're working on your throwing. You can do it all day long, by yourself, and most people do not know that and they don't do it. You strengthen your arm, you strengthen your accuracy, you get your footwork together. You work your glove, which a lot of kids don't do nowadays. They just focus on "let me go to the batting cage and swing a bat."

Throwing off a wall is one of the best things you can work on. That's not just old school, this is the way you learn to play the game. And you can do it by yourself.

PD: I used to throw the ball off a wall by myself in front of my apartment when I was a kid, but most parents don't let children play on their own these days.
Correct. (Laughs) My kids, they've never been allowed to go off for three or four or five hours unsupervised, come back when the street lights are off. (Laughs) It's a different world.

PD: Are your kids athletic?
They're athletic.

PD: Have you encouraged them to get into pro sports?
To get into pro sports? No. I want them to play sports because there's a lot of life lessons to be learned (from sports). I say (to them), if you're serious about it, maybe you can get a college scholarship. But you have to be serious, because there's a lot of other serious people.

PD: No pressure to follow in your footsteps?
No. If (my son) wants to do it, fine, if he doesn't, that's fine as well. I would hope that he would try to (play baseball), because I think it's a great life, I had a lot of fun. But it's up to the individual kids.

PD: What can parents say to young sports fans when they hear about the various scandals involving professional athletes?
Well, first of all, professional athletes are like anybody else -- regular human beings. You've got good ones and you've got bad ones. Parents should try to be the best role model for the child, so they don't have to look to athletes (and) entertainers to be their role models. Parents should try to be the best they can be so that's who the kids will respect and emulate. So you just let them know that there are all kinds (of people) out there. There aren't many that I'd want my kids to be around and to learn from. (Laughs.) There are very few.

PD: How about Derek Jeter? I've read that you get along well with him, and that he was inspired by your charitable efforts to start his own foundation.
Absolutely. I got to know him when he first started his career in the big leagues. He told me many times a lot of his inspiration came from me and I appreciate that. He's one of the good guys. He definitely is. I like him a lot and what he does and how he gives back.

PD: Do athletes need to do a better job of giving back?
I can't tell them what they should do. A lot of them do very good things (but) the media doesn't talk about it. There are a lot of great guys. If I told you all the stuff that Jamie Moyer does, Trevor Hoffman, Jimmy Rollins ... There's so many people that do great things that you never hear about. I think there are a lot more good guys then troublemakers. But you don't read about them.

PD: Why not?
It doesn't sell papers (laughs). I want to say one example. I played baseball 22 years professionally. And one time, in one of the major national newspapers, they documented all the good work that every player did. And I thought it was so nice and I thought that I'd see it again, but I never saw it again. One time in 22 years.

PD: Well, maybe we can change that. Tell me about your involvement with Ask.com and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Ask.com and the Komen Foundation contacted me early this year, because they knew of my history. My mother had breast cancer and passed away. They wanted to partner with somebody who could help them extend their reach, educate and motivate people to become aware of breast cancer and what steps they can take -- everything from early detection to where to go to find answers. If you go to ask.com/forthecure, you'll not only find information, but Ask.com will make a contribution to the cause. We're looking to raise not only awareness for millions of people but raise millions of dollars and Ask.com is making a sizable contribution to make sure that happens.

I am at each key baseball event this year. The first one was opening day, (and then) the All-Star Game, and now I'm at the Little League World Series. Because that's where it all started for me -- youth baseball. And my mother was there for our games. And, finally, at the (Major League Baseball) World Series, I'll be at the game. I'm having fun with it. It's a lot of work, but it's a worthy cause and I know my mother would look down and say, "Way to go."

Related: Pregnancy Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors, Study Shows

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.