For José Mota and Daron Sutton, Father's Day conjures cherished baseball memories

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For José Mota, the grass field at Dodger Stadium was like a playground, the concrete steps and plastic seats of the venue his own personal jungle gym.

For Daron Sutton, the Angel Stadium clubhouse might as well have been a classroom, an immersive childhood entry point to a lifetime spent around baseball.

They might be known now as former players and Angels broadcasters. But there is another elemental aspect to their identity, too. There is a part of both of them that will always feel like a ballplayer’s kid.

“My earliest memories are just running up and down the Dodger Stadium aisles and stairways, the family section, being in the [broadcast] booth,” said Mota, son of former Dodgers fan favorite Manny Mota. “Those are the best memories.”

Echoed Sutton, reflecting on the years he spent accompanying his dad, the late Hall of Fame Dodgers and Angels pitcher Don Sutton, to ballparks: “I’m super fortunate. That’s something we really shared.”

Both Mota and Sutton went on to professional careers of their own, Mota twice reaching the big leagues in a 12-year career and Sutton spending one season in the Angels organization in 1992. This season is their first working together on Bally Sports West’s telecast of Angels games.

Their earliest connection, though, came as kids in the Dodgers clubhouse, tagging along with their fathers when they were teammates in the 1970s.

“Daron and I, our schooling began way, way, way back, as to how to get to know players’ personalities and how to ask questions in the clubhouse,” Mota said. “Think about how lucky we are, how blessed.”

Manny Mota was traded to the Dodgers in 1969, four years after José was born — the second of eight children in the family — and remained in the organization as either a player or coach for the rest of his career.

After his kids got out of school each summer, the outfielder and pinch-hitting specialist would load them into the family’s wood-paneled station wagon and drive to Chavez Ravine for almost every home game.

“It served to keep us grounded,” Mota said. “Our parents were like, ‘Hey, you guys get to do this. We don’t know how long it’s gonna last. I could get released, I could get traded, I could not have a job. So you guys need to really appreciate it.’”

Mota said the kids of players on the team were always welcomed by Dodgers managers Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda and got their own stalls in the team’s old clubhouse.

In their younger years, they would lounge around in the snack room, devouring cold cuts and crackers and green bottles of Mountain Dew. As they got older, they helped out the clubhouse staff by sweeping floors and vacuuming the locker room and doing laundry — mundane chores in a setting that was anything but.

“It evolved from being the little boys to being like clubhouse personnel,” Mota said.

Some days, they would play around on the field, taking their own version of batting practice from the shallow left-field grass behind third base so they could actually get the ball over the fence.

During games, Mota gravitated toward the broadcast booths, helping track stats and even sometimes counting Vin Scully or Jaime Jarrín back from commercials.

And every fall, once the children went back to school, Mota remembers that some members of the team, such as Davey Lopes and Ron Cey, actually were disappointed.

“They’d be like, ‘Oh man. This clubhouse is going to be so quiet for the pennant race,' ” Mota said, laughing. “I treasure that in my heart. It was a premier team. World Series and playoffs. Personalities and big-time names. And we were involved in all that. Man, what more can a kid ask for?”

Don Sutton spent the first 15 years of his career with the Dodgers, but Daron’s most vivid childhood memories are from his dad’s three seasons with the Angels in the late ’80s.

A high schooler by then, Daron also chipped in however he could. He’d shag fly balls. He fetched chili dogs and sodas for players in the clubhouse. He worked in the dugouts during games, retrieving discarded bats or delivering balls to umpires. He loved every moment he spent near the field.

“You were very close to [former Angels manager] Gene Mauch, and you could look at the intensity of one of the game’s legendary managers,” Sutton said. “You were also right there with the action all the time, whether there’s close to a bench-clearing brawl or there’s a big home run.”

Sutton added: “The older I’ve gotten, the more I realized how unique it was.”

Indeed, the more time that has passed, the more Sutton and Mota have come to cherish their big league upbringings, finding renewed significance in those early lessons as they’ve gone through their playing and broadcasting careers.

“We understood these superstars that people clap for in the stands, they’re just people,” Mota said. “And they treated us as such. They treated us with so much respect, like, ‘Oh, these are Manny’s kids,’ or, ‘These are Don’s kids.’ We had that perspective.”

Added Sutton: “I think a lot of my comfort in doing this job comes from my youth, comes from my childhood, comes from being brought to work.”

The memories are especially meaningful for Sutton this weekend, as Sunday is the first Father’s Day since his dad died in January following a battle with cancer.

“We shared his job,” Sutton said. “There are very few who took themselves as seriously as my dad. So to be included in that, and as a parent now seeing how unique that would be to trust my children to come to work with me, it means even more as I get older.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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