John Smoltz

by Julie Bookman

Just in time for Father’s Day, retired Atlanta Braves pitching star John Smoltz brings us Starting and Closing, a memoir about failures, faith and determination, and finding fulfillment in his career and as a family man.

“The greater I fail, the more I learn,” Smoltz says in his new book, written with the assistance of Don Yaeger.
Smoltz answers “six” when asked how many kids he has. Those six are one son, 20, and three daughters – ages 12, 14 and 18 – from his 16-year marriage that ended in 2007, plus two stepdaughters, ages 13 and 16 – that his current wife Kathryn Darden brought to their home plate. (Smoltz met Darden on a blind date at Taco Mac and believes her to be a “miracle” from God, a reward for his taking time out for self-examination.) 
Smoltz writes: “I found myself in a circumstance I deeply regretted, and one that I honestly never thought I would contribute to: the staggering statistics of divorce in professional sports.”
It was a sad jolt to the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher who helped the Braves win 14 pennants and one World Series when he could “no longer walk down the hall every night and make the rounds” through his children’s bedrooms, “tucking stray feet under blankets and securing closet doors to ward off monsters.”
Smoltz spent a year making a conscious effort not to get romantically involved. Instead, he zeroed in on himself and starting anew. He relied on his strong faith and a circle of close friends. Smoltz and his former wife found they were able to “put our children’s best interests before anything else.” The kids, he said, were “incredible” at adapting to their ever-changing environment.
Atlanta Parent spoke with Smoltz, now 45. Here are the highlights:

AP: Wow, six kids underfoot? Your household is almost a ball team.
JS: It’s pretty active. But we have a whole week on with all the kids, and every other weekend we have no kids because the stepdaughters go to their dad’s. So maybe it’s not ideal, but I think we have figured out how to do the best under the circumstances.

AP: You’ve spent thousands of hours with guys. And then you live with a lot of girls. Big difference?
JS: Oh, I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like. Sometimes I’m just numb, I’m overwhelmed. Ours is a female-loaded home that runs a little different than a dugout. A bunch of guys just get together and that’s about it. But females know everything and everything takes a lot longer – and you just have to wait it out!

AP: What are your best times with your family?
JS: My greatest times are the big holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, whenever we can all just be together and celebrate the moment of family. I think of my daughters and how much I love it when they just run around the table and dance.

AP: What’s your favorite thing to do for your kids on Father’s Day?
JS: I cook ’em pancakes. I cook a mean batch of pancakes. I use vegetable oil and I like them a little crusty. I’m a flat pancake kind of dad.

AP: You have a strong faith that you did not embrace until 1995. How has that faith helped you in your role as a dad?
JS: Honoring God has made me a better parent, all the way around. The biggest thing of all is that for a while I was consumed by a lot of things. My strong faith has helped me gain perspective and has led me to believe in myself – those things help me as a parent. I think for a guy who loves his family as much as I do, you do the best you can. I argue that I see my kids more than a typical nine-to-five dad because I have three months off. When you have the opportunity, that’s when you do it and that’s the way life has prepared our family.

AP: Any lessons learned from your own father?
JS: My own dad worked a lot, but he knocked himself out to get to my games, and I always, always remember that. I know that when you get home at 4 a.m., it’s still important to get to their games.

AP: Are you watching or coaching any of your kids in baseball or softball?
JS: Soccer and volleyball, those are the sports in our house.

AP: What’s a lesson you strive to teach your kids?
JS: That I’m not the one who can make them happy. I can’t make my kids happy, I can’t make myself happy. That understanding has allowed me to embrace my life and my faith with consistency. I want my kids to understand that you need to stay true to who you are more than anything else.

AP: What is your strongest desire for your kids?
JS: That they find their passion in life, whatever it may be. Finding a child’s passion can be very difficult, but once you find it, you can harbor it and give them the opportunities to pursue it. That’s the greatest gift we can give our kids. When they can find their passion, they stay out of trouble. My parents had no idea I was going to be a ballplayer. They only knew and saw what was best for me, and then helped give me the opportunities.

AP: You talk a lot about the importance of failure in your book. What’s your message to families about failure?
JS: Kids stop too short on pursuing their dreams. Way too short. One, two, three, four failures is not enough. To me, failure is just another rung on the ladder that you climb toward success. I want my kids to dream and dream big and pursue their dreams. Too often, the world is telling kids they cannot achieve their dreams – and that’s a shame.

AP: Do you hope your book will inspire other dads?
JS: I hope that they will see that they have an opportunity with their kids. It’s very difficult to look at your kids and trust someone else’s point of view, but I am hoping they see a living example of what someone went through and that that can translate in some way into their own lives as they follow their hopes, dreams and desires and help their kids in doing the same.

AP: Any other advice for dads?
JS: There’s no manual and it ain’t easy.

Starting and Closing: Perseverance, Faith, and One More Year
by John Smoltz, with Don Yaeger
William Morrow, $26.99