Diamond minds: Baseball bonds generations of Shapiros

ABERDEEN, Md.  (JTA) – Standing on a hill on a glorious Sunday morning, Mark and Ron Shapiro are kvelling as they watch Caden Shapiro – son of Mark and grandson of Ron – pitching in a baseball tournament in this city near Baltimore after having been shelved for nearly two months by a broken ankle.

Mark Shapiro, the president of the Cleveland Indians, was back recently in his native area for the three-day competition as a coach for his boy’s Cleveland Spiders, not to see his Tribe play the Orioles at nearby Camden Yards.

The site for the tournament – a complex of beautifully maintained fields – was named for Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, the most recognizable client of his dad, an eminent sports agent.

At 11, Caden is the latest Shapiro drawn to baseball, a chain emanating from the 1950s, when Ron’s immigrant father, also named Mark, took his young son by train from their home in Philadelphia to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York

Ron and Mark Shapiro have combined for 62 years of baseball-related employment that began when the Orioles’ then-owner, Jerry Hoffberger, asked Ron, a lawyer friend, in 1975 to assist Brooks Robinson with financial problems the team’s All-Star third baseman was experiencing.

It launched Ron Shapiro into a lucrative career as an agent representing athletes in contract negotiations.

The work appealed to Mark Shapiro, too, but he blazed a different path to his baseball life. In 1991, he took an entry-level job with the Indians that included chauffeuring prospective free agents such as pitchers Sid Fernandez and David Wells from the airport.  From there he would serve as director of player development, assistant general manager and general manager before being promoted to president four years ago.

Their jobs, at least occasionally, would have pitted Shapiro the agent against Shapiro the executive. Instead, they recused themselves from face-to-face involvement.

“When it came to doing contracts, he delegated and I delegated,” Mark Shapiro said. “It just seemed like the right way, the honest way, to handle it.”

Ron Shapiro said he’s heard plenty of kind words around baseball about Mark’s integrity.

“What does a father feel other than unbelievable pride?” he said. “I look at Caden looking at his father, and the relationship continues.”

Mark and Ron Shapiro see each other five or six times a year – they had been together a month earlier at the New Jersey Bat Mitzvah of Mark Shapiro’s niece — but speak by telephone several times a week.

“Nothing happens of major importance where we don’t talk to each other,” said Ron Shapiro, 71.

“It makes me happy to see kids play and parents and kids interacting around baseball,” said Mark Shapiro, 47.

It was Mark Shapiro who co-founded the Spiders – a name the Indians had used in the late 19th century – two years ago to imbue youth baseball with values that he thought were missing.

In youth baseball, “the overarching opportunity is character development,” Mark Shapiro said, sitting with his father in the shade following Caden’s game. “Character is how do you respond to adversity [and] setbacks? Being a great teammate, showing respect – that’s at the core of what this experience provides for us as coaches and as fathers.”

They have the perfect role model in Ripken. The Orioles former star infielder, baseball’s ironman, had stood with Ron Shapiro not far from here surveying the acreage that would become a stadium and complex for the minor-league Aberdeen Ironbirds and youth leagues to draw the next generation of players.

At the Ripken facility, Mark Shapiro called over former major-league first baseman Sean Casey to address the Spiders. Casey, coaching his son Jake’s Pittsburgh club, stood beside his own father, Jim, who had enlisted Ron Shapiro as his son’s first agent upon his being drafted by the Indians in 1997.

Jake and Caden’s teams would square off that afternoon. Close friends Casey and Mark Shapiro would be in the coaching boxes.

“Take it easy on us,” Casey told the Spiders.

Coaching the Spiders helped Mark Shapiro overcome the temptation to attend the Indians-Orioles series. So was visiting with his father and stepmother, Cathi, at their suburban Baltimore farm.

Father and son exude warmth. Ron Shapiro, unable to stay for the afternoon game, told Mark upon departing, “Give me a kiss and a hug,” and through their embrace the men uttered their mutual love.

Their personal-baseball time together here was a weekend to savor.

“For me, baseball has always been relational – and nothing is more relational than family,” Mark Shapiro said. “My love for baseball has always been tied to my father. And to be able to see that relationship and love for the game shared with my son, and to have my dad here, is incredibly special.”

Caden gets the whole baseball-family thing.

“It’s pretty cool, passing down baseball generation to generation,” he said, grasping the white sphere. “It’s a great experience I’m living with my father and grandfather. Baseball just runs in our family. I’ll pass it on to my grandkids.”