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« Chronicles of a Little League coach: A story told in 6 innings | Main | Bobble-heading »

The Rainbow Connection: My Interview with Ex-Cub Pitcher Steve Trout

Ex-Cub Steve Trout’s New Book Makes Pitch for Fun in Youth Baseball

By Randy Richardson

Steve Trout, nicknamed “Rainbow,” can’t seem to leave behind his first love: baseball.

photo-372Following in the footsteps of his father, Dizzy Trout, a major league pitcher for 14 years and two-time All-Star who led the league in wins in 1943 and in ERA in 1944, Steve became a big league pitcher himself, hurling for four teams – the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, and the Seattle Mariners – over the course of his 12-year career. His best year came with the Cubs, in 1984, when he went 13-7 in 31 starts, posting a 3.41 ERA, helping the North Siders to their first postseason berth since 1945, when they lost against a Tigers team anchored by Steve’s father. Steve pitched the Cubs to victory in game 2 in the 1984 National League Championship Series against the San Diego Padres, going 8.1 strong innings. That put the Cubs one victory away from their first World Series since 1945. But that one victory never came, as the Padres swept the next three games, stealing from Steve the chance to go to the World Series and face the American League champion Tigers, the team on which his father had pitched 39 years earlier against the Cubs.

Now 27 years after he pitched his last game in the majors, Steve shares his passion for baseball with youngsters by teaching instructional baseball clinics for youths at Oz Park in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. He’s been leading Trout Baseball Academy since 2011, and this summer he’ll be leading some of the camps at the beautiful new Kerry Wood Cubs Field.

Loosey-Goosey-by-Steve-Trout-and-Marlene-MatthiasSteve has also recently brought his love of the game into print, with the publication of a children’s book, Loosey-Goosey Baseball, co-authored by Marlene Matthias and illustrated by Steve Feldman. In it, “Coach Rainbow” teaches lessons about youth baseball not just for young ballplayers but for their parents as well.

“Steve feels that his father helped him make it to Major League Baseball because his dad attended his games in a supportive role and not a critical role,” reads the introduction to the book, which follows the base path of a youth ballplayer whose dad puts too much pressure on him.

It’s a touching story that will appeal to both Little Leaguers and their parents, teaching them that baseball is just a game that’s meant to be fun. Coaches of elementary school-age kids will also benefit, as Coach Rainbow demonstrates  some fun ways to get the most out of young players. To order the book, visit Trout’s website.

In a recent phone interview with Wrigleyville Nation, the former Cubs pitcher-turned-author fielded questions about his new book and his life in baseball. 

WN: What inspired you to write a children’s book about baseball?

Steve: First of all, my love for the game and the children that play it, and sometimes the lost meaning of what the game should be about, which is having fun.

The book is about a son and a father, and how they reconnect and change, especially how the father changes after the coach – Coach Rainbow – asks him to come back and play and also to show the kids how to play. By doing this…he comes to learn that Little League baseball can be a lot more fun than sometimes we (the parents) make it.

WN: So this is almost an instructional book for the parents more than it is for the kids?

Steve: I totally believe that, yes. There are some great tips in the book that are done in a fun way…It’s a good read. I think it’s fun. It’s a beautiful, colorful book. It’s got good meaning to it.

WN: You teach instructional baseball clinics for youths here in Chicago. What is your No. 1 piece of advice for young players?

Steve: The camp is about teaching the right fundamentals: the right way to throw; the right way to hit; the right way to catch. Because when you’re doing those things the right way you’re going to stay in the game longer and you’re going to have more fun doing it. The second part of that is making sure that the kids have fun at the camp. I’ve seen more kids smile when they finally catch a ball that they didn’t catch two days before. That’s a good feeling.

WN: You grew up in South Holland, a south suburb of Chicago. Did you grow up a Sox fan?

Steve: Oh, yeah, my dad was working for the White Sox at the time.

WN: You played for both the Cubs and the Sox. A lot of baseball fans in Chicago will tell you that you can’t be both a Cubs fan and a Sox fan. Do you agree with that sentiment?

No, of course not. I do think of course that it’s better to be a Cubs fan, especially now. But I truly believe that as citizens of Chicago we should all stick together and be one.

WN: Your father, Dizzy, was a major league pitcher as well, and, in fact, pitched for the Detroit Tigers in the 1945 World Series, which of course was the last World Series the Cubs played in. You weren’t born until 12 years later and your father passed away when you were just 12 years old. He must have told you some stories about that Series. Do you remember any of them?

Steve: He didn’t share a lot of baseball stories with me. I found those out on my own. I had a very lucky childhood. Ted Williams was his really good friend. Joe Dimaggio came to the house and told me what a great guy my dad was. Another was Billy Pierce, who died just recently. I always attended his golf outing, which was a fundraiser, and he told me that my dad took him under his wing when he was a rookie and he never forgot how nice he was to him. So those things make me feel good, and make me realize what a great man my dad was.

WN: You came so close to going to the World Series as a Cub in 1984. That would have made for nice symmetry since the Tigers were the American League champions that year. Had you thought about that at all at the time, having the chance to do what your father did 39 years earlier with the team he played against?

Steve: (Laughs). Thought about it. My mom and I were going to go on Good Morning America. We had everyone calling us. It was one of the greatest baseball stories to be told in a long, long time. It was one of the great, great stories…the Cubs back in the World Series playing against the Detroit Tigers, the last team to play them in the World Series – and the son of the guy who beat them would be playing for the other team. It was this incredible story that unfortunately never got to be told.

WN: That 1984 LCS still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Cubs fans from that era. The Cubs are up 2-0 and only need to win one more game to go to the World Series for the first time in 39 years, and then the Padres shockingly sweep them in the next three straight games. As a player, how long did it take you to recover from that? Did you recover?

Steve: I think everyone has gotten over it. But there are some residual thoughts of how nice it would have been. I think everyone has a feeling of regret, to some degree, that we didn’t go to the World Series.

WN: What was your greatest memory as a Cub?

Steve: It was the fan celebration after we clinched in Pittsburgh in ’84 and came home and we all went on the field and celebrated with all the fans. That was big. That was a great feeling. I just loved that particular moment. I felt invincible at that time. I think everybody did.

WN: What do you think of the current Cubs team that Theo Epstein has put together?

Steve: It really was the Ricketts’ family that put the team together, first and foremost. Without the ownership of the Rickettses, the leadership of Tom and the family, it never would have taken place. Then his decision to get a good GM such as Theo Epstein was a smart move. He’s a good evaluator of talent, and that’s what it takes. I think for a long time Wrigley Field is going to be a happy place to watch baseball where fans are going to be leaving the park and see that W flying in centerfield.

WN: What will it feel like for you personally if and when the Cubs win the World Series?

Steve: I’m going to be so happy for the Rickettses, for the people who work there, for the fans, for the players. I just hope to be in town for it…because there might not be any town left after that (chuckles).

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