Derrick May Jr.
of the Tatnall (Wilmington, Del.)
has all the necessary tools to succeed on the diamond. To start with, baseball is in his genes. Both his grandfather, Dave May, and his father, Derrick May Sr., played a combined 22 years in the major leagues.
Add in the fact that Derrick Sr. has been a hitting coach in the St. Louis Cardinals organization since 2005 and is currently the minor-league hitting coordinator for the Cardinals, and you have the perfect recipe for success.
Yet despite having a professional hitting coach provide everything from verbal pointers on the ride home from games to advice at the batting cages to a digital analysis of his swing, Derrick Jr. said the most important piece of advice he got from his father had nothing to do with his hitting mechanics.
"I'll never forget when I was 10 or 11 years old and my dad was the new hitting coach with the Palm Beach Cardinals," Derrick Jr. recalled. "The first day he went to his job, he came home and told us all about the life of a minor-league player and what it takes to be an athlete at that level. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn't realize you had to work to be a pro.' I just took him being a pro for granted. That conversation stuck in my mind more than anything else from when I was younger."
Derrick Sr., a 1986 first-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, is well versed on how to handle a young baseball protégé. His father, Dave, passed on plenty of advice to his son.
"I learned from my father to never put any pressure on my sons to play the sport," Derrick Sr. said. "I always let them try to do what they are comfortable doing. But they seemed to gravitate toward baseball."
Last month, Derrick Jr. officially became the third generation of his family to play baseball beyond high school when he signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Villanova University.
"I liked the campus and the level of education they offer," said the senior outfielder, who plans to major in biochemistry in pursuit of a future medical degree. "And I liked (head coach Joe Godri) and the other coaches."
A second team All-State selection last season, Derrick Jr. is having a spectacular senior year at the plate, where he's batting .414 with a .724 slugging percentage for the 9-2 Hornets. In the field, he's learning more and more every game.
"He is still learning the outfield position, especially how to run better angles to the ball," said Tatnall coach Jimmy Gray, who also coached Derrick Sr. in American Legion ball. "So I'd say he's a work in progress out there. But his work ethic is a sight to see. He is always trying to better himself."
Despite his pedigree and what people might think, Derrick Jr., the oldest of the three May siblings, said he never felt pressured to better himself to gain the respect of his father.
"I just went out every day trying to have fun," said Derrick Jr., whose younger brother Donovan May
is an 11th-grader and up-and-coming star at Tatnall. "Sure, it was in the back of my mind a little bit, but I just bypassed that. I just played like myself and never worried about it."
His father said he picks and chooses when to give advice.
"A lot of times we'll be in the car and talk about things," Derrick Sr. explained. "And if I see something on the field that he might have done or could have done better, I'll tell him about it. I'm still a coach. I'm a dad, but I'm a coach. And in order for him to do it better he has to be aware of certain things."
Derrick Sr. played in the outfield for 10 seasons in the major leagues and finished with a .271 career batting average as a left-handed hitter. Although Derrick Jr. is a righty, he said his father never pressured him to become a switch-hitter. It was a move, or in this case, a move not made, that has paid off.
"I'm a line-drive hitter, just like my dad," Derrick Jr. said proudly. "I've modeled my swing after his."
Like father, like son, Junior also approaches the mental part of the game like his pop.
"My father always played aggressively," he said. "But it was controlled aggression. I loved the way he played and that drove me to play like him."
Derrick Jr.'s drive is to one day play in the major leagues, and he said there is a good chance he'll be drafted in June. Neither his grandfather nor his father played in college, instead choosing to sign a contract right out of high school. Derrick Jr. wouldn't commit either way.
"I'm not sure what I'll decide," the soft-spoken young man said. "Time will tell. But either way I'm looking forward to the competition at the next level and having people who are there to help me improve my game. I'm always looking to get better."
His father's advice is simple: "He's got to go with what he feels passionate about and where his heart is. Pro baseball is a tough industry. You've got to be all in if you go. I can't make the decision for him, I can only offer advice."
That sounds like pretty good advice, even if it has nothing to do with how to swing a bat.Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.