Ryan Lockwood was still a baby the first time a baseball bat was placed in his hands. And even today, 18 years later, his father Bill smiles as he recalls the moment.
That's because Ryan "immediately took to the left side," and that, as those in baseball will tell you, is a good thing.
"You're a step and a half closer to first base," Bill Lockwood said.
In the Lockwood house, the national pastime is a big deal.
Bill Lockwood, who coaches showcase baseball, played professionally in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization (he reached Double A). Ryan, a Jesuit senior, is a returning Times all-Suncoast pick who has signed a letter of intent with the University of Florida and is ranked No. 86 on Baseball America's list of the top national prospects for 2006.
Together, they form quite a tandem.
The father offers coaching tips. The attentive son arguably ranks among the most productive players in Jesuit history.
A rare four-year varsity starter - longtime Jesuit coach John Crumbley says there haven't been many Tigers who have done that - the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Lockwood boasts a career average well over .350.
He has been a consistent defensive standout, is on pace to challenge the school record for stolen bases (he has 44; the record is 61) and has played for teams whose combined record is 86-16.
"He lives baseball," Crumbley said.
Lockwood began his prep career with the junior varsity but was moved up after it became obvious his skills were more advanced than most his age.
While playing leftfield, he quickly made an impact, hitting in both the first and second spots in the lineup. Lockwood batted .364 and the Tigers, who featured future Florida State star Shane Robinson in centerfield, reached the final four.
The speedy Lockwood stole 15 bases as a sophomore. The following season, with power added to his repertoire, he blasted seven homers.
"I'm not that big so I try to make up for that size differential," Lockwood said. "I try to be faster, tougher. And I try to play harder. I want to be an all-around player. If I find a weakness, that's the first thing I try to go fix."
Aside from hitting at practice, Lockwood refines his swing at the family's home in Lutz during batting cage sessions with his father. Each day, the two spend 30-45 minutes working on mechanics. The focus is on quality, not quantity. Thus Lockwood never takes more than 200 swings.
"I'm pleased with where he's at," Bill Lockwood said. "Ryan is much better than I was at his age, that's for darn sure.
"I'm terribly proud of his work ethic. He's a very athletic kid who approaches the game very cerebrally. He has very mature plate management skills. He really works at it."
Lockwood's focus isn't all on baseball. He carries a 4.29 grade point average (he has one B in high school) and is a National Merit Scholar. For that success, the proud father is quick to credit Lockwood's mother, Tristan, who just happens to be a teacher.
"He's lucky," Bill Lockwood said. "He has the best of both worlds."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 226-3350 or email@example.com
LOCKWOOD: THROUGH THE YEARS
YEAR BA HR SB COMMENT
2003 .364 1 3 Started 16 games as freshman
2004 .370 0 15 Helped lead team to 30-3 record
2005 .398 7 23 Dramatic jump in power numbers
- TIMES STAFF