On April 4, Jacob May played the one game that can never be replicated – his major league debut. Normally, those games feature televised shots of family members in the stands, soaking in the day. But Jacob’s dad was not there in Chicago, when he played in center field for the White Sox.

Instead, Lee May Jr. was in Portland, getting ready for the Sea Dogs’ season opener as the team’s new hitting coach.

“It’s tough,” May Jr. said. “There are things that you miss because of your duties. I have a responsibility to the guys that are here.

“But I was there in spirit. It was a very proud moment. It took me back to all the hard work he put in.”

May Jr. always goes back to the W-word. You put your work in. It is why he was not in Chicago that day. He had work to do.


Lee May Jr., 49, played professional baseball and has worked as a scout. But he learned the demands of the game earlier than that. His father hit 354 home runs in 18 big-league seasons and later served as a coach. Lee May spent his days at ballparks across the country, because he had work to do.

“My dad missed my graduation,” May Jr. said.

The family life of a ballplayer is not routine, but a father and son can have a connection. May Jr. understands that, as both a son and father.

“You know what you’re getting into,” he said.

Of course, there were advantages growing up the son of a ballplayer.

“I was fortunate enough to watch some really good ballplayers. You emulate the way they play, and that style. You get to live out your dream,” said May Jr., whose first memories were of hanging around the Cincinnati Reds’ clubhouse alongside Tony Perez, Pete Rose and Hal McRae.

“The clubhouse was very kid-friendly back then. We ran around the clubhouse. We ran all over the ballfield. We shagged. It was my first taste of actually being out there in uniform.”

And who did young May Jr. emulate?

“Growing up, your dad’s always your hero,” May Jr. said. “But he was a four-hole hitting first baseman, and I was a leadoff type center fielder. I was probably in the wrong household in terms of who I should have been modeling myself after.

“But I learned a lot from him, about how you go about being a professional.”

His father grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He was 20 at the time of the infamous bomb explosion at the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls in 1963. The church was down the street from where May went to high school.

“The civil rights movement was very active and he was living it,” May Jr. said. “When he got the opportunity with the Cincinnati Reds, we moved there.

“There was more opportunity for my sisters and (me). They put us in good schools. Education was a priority.”

One sister became a doctor, the other a lawyer. May Jr. was supposed to go to Oklahoma State. But he could also hit a baseball – maybe not as far as his dad, but well enough to attract pro scouts. The New York Mets selected him with the 21st pick in the 1986 draft and swayed him from a college scholarship.

May Jr. headed to the minor leagues, a first-round draft choice with a big leaguer’s name.

“I wanted to earn respect from my teammates by how I played and what type of teammate I was. I shied away from the entitlement,” May Jr. said. “You work your tail off and play hard for your teammates. That’s how you earn the respect.”

Sounds like a lesson learned from dad.

“Absolutely,” May Jr. said. “From my dad and my grandfather. Their work ethic was my foundation.”

George Perdue, his maternal grandfather, did not play baseball. “He worked 24/7,” May Jr. said, smiling at the thought of watching his grandfather go from working in his yard – “he won beautification awards every year” – to delivering mail on his postal route and building a janitorial company from scratch, working into the night.

Then May Jr. watched his father prepare for every game, slugging for the Reds, and later for the Astros, Orioles and Royals. When May Jr. tagged along with dad, it was not a free ride. He had to clean shoes and help with the laundry.

When it was time for May Jr. to play ball for a living, he struggled. In his sixth season, in 1991, he was promoted out of Class A ball and batted a combined .218 in Double-A and Triple-A. Before the seventh season began, Jacob was born.

May Jr., then 23, knew he needed to make a decision soon.

“I gave myself a certain amount of years,” he said. Two seasons later, he retired as an active player.

“For me, the deciding factor was that my son was young. I was at a position where I wasn’t playing every day. I was thinking along the terms that I didn’t want to miss some of those developmental years with my son.

“I thought I wanted to get a 9-to-5 (job) and go back to Cincinnati.”

May Jr. laughs over that last line. Fate took care of him. The Mets had a scouting job open in the Midwest. May Jr. could live at home and scout games at night. Eventually, he became a batting coach in the minors. Soon, his sons, Jacob and Lee May III, were joining him in the summer, even taking some road trips – baseball and his kids.

“Because I was on the other side of it as a kid, I’m aware of how you have to balance it,” May Jr. said. “Just being a presence in their life. You know what’s going on. You stay on top of their activities, and the schoolwork. And you have all winter to have time to be together.”

Jacob developed into ballplayer. The Reds drafted him out of high school in the 39th round, but he opted instead for Coastal Carolina University. The White Sox drafted May in the third round in 2013.

Lee May III just finished his sophomore year of high school and, yes, he’s a ballplayer, too.

Meanwhile, Jacob’s back down in Triple-A, playing for the Charlotte Knights. He is likely to be back with the White Sox when rosters expand in September.

September is also when the Sea Dogs season winds down. May Jr. will be done taking care of his players – “these kids are just like my kids” – and he plans to get to Chicago. Call it a late Father’s Day gift.

“I’ll get a chance to see some games,” he said.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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