Butera always had mentor in backstop dad

Butera always had mentor in backstop dad

The moment is one that will forever be ingrained in Sal Butera's memory.

Driving north on I-75 toward Port Charlotte, Fla., this past Spring Training as part of his job scouting for the Blue Jays, Sal's phone rang and he immediately saw his son Drew's number on the caller ID. He had been waiting for a phone call since he knew a decision was coming on whether Drew would make the Twins' Opening Day roster as the backup catcher to Joe Mauer.

But it was around 10:30 a.m., and the call caught Sal a little off-guard since he knew that Drew was on the Twins' team bus heading to Tampa to play the Yankees.

"He calmly said to me, 'Dad, where are you starting the year off?'" Sal recalled. "I told him I thought I was starting off in Kansas City or maybe Detroit. And he said, 'I think you might want to change your plans, I'll be in Anaheim.' I almost drove right off the road, I was so ecstatic."

When Drew made his Major League debut for the Twins on April 9 in Chicago, it was almost 30 years to the day that Sal, a former Major League catcher himself, had made his big league debut with the Twins (April 10, 1980). And the two earned the distinction of becoming the first-ever father-son duo to play for the Twins.

"I told Drew that's great, you made me a trivia question," Sal said with a laugh. "Knowing that we're the first father-son to play for the organization, I said I don't know if that makes me feel old but it's a wonderful distinction."

Father and son have forever been intertwined by playing the same position and their roles even at the Major League level have been similar, as both embraced their jobs as backup catchers.

"I always tell him to carve his own name, his own niche," said Sal. "It's tough being the son of a former player. But he's a much better player than I was. He really is."

Sal was there in Anaheim to see his son's first series with the Twins, although Drew, 26, didn't play in any of the four games there. And he has been there for many steps along the way in Drew's baseball career. For the two of them, the game has become something special that the two of them share.

"The funny thing is people ask me how did you become such a good thrower, how did you become such a good defensive catcher?" Drew said. "I tell them that really I had the best resource, the best teacher, the greatest amount of knowledge sitting next to me watching TV."

Learning the game
Being around baseball is certainly nothing new for Drew. He was just five years old when his dad's nine-year big league playing career ended, so Drew said he doesn't have many memories of that time. But Sal hasn't forgotten watching Drew around the game even at a young age.

"My wife has a picture from the father-son game when I was playing in Cincinnati back in 1986," Sal said. "Drew was two or three years old at the time and he was dressed up in his Reds uniform. He went up to home plate in front of all the people, tapped off his shoes, tapped the plate and went through his routine before he hit the ball. I still remember that as if it was yesterday."

After Sal's Major League playing career came to an end in 1988, he went on to manage in the Minor Leagues for the Astros from 1990-94. During his first three years managing, Sal was in charge of the club's Florida State League team in nearby Osceola, Fla., not far from his family's home in Orlando. Over that time, he managed players such as Kenny Lofton and Brian Hunter, and Drew spent a lot of time at the ballpark shagging fly balls and taking grounders with the other players.

But it was always his dad who he relied on the most.

"As I grew older, whenever I needed help he was there," Drew said. "He would never force something on me or say, 'Hey, you need to do this or you'll never be able to something at the big league level.' He'd always let me find my own way to do what I wanted to do and if I failed or succeeded, he would be there either way."

Becoming a catcher
Drew grew up playing the middle infield and didn't start following in his father's footsteps at the catching position full-time until around his senior year of high school. Knowing that Drew lacked the speed required to play shortstop or second base at a higher level -- even college -- Sal suggested that his son switch to behind the plate.

The positions may seem very different, but Drew's strong arm, hands and footwork translated well behind the plate. Still, it took some time for Drew to get adjusted to catching after he first switched during a high school showcase.

The two have always had a competitive nature between them as well, and Sal used those techniques to help teach Drew some of the mechanics needed behind the plate as the two would challenge each other to little contests. All of it helped Drew, but more than anything it was the little things about being a catcher where his dad could provide help.

"It was stuff like calling a game, knowing when guys are going to run, hit and runs, how to control a pitching staff. He was there more for me on stuff like that," Drew said. "That was more of on-the-job training that I had to learn just by experience. I couldn't read a book and figure out how to do it.

"Whenever I had trouble in college or even in the Minor Leagues, my dad was always there for me. I could pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, I'm really struggling with this guy. I don't know how to get him through these innings.' Or if I was having trouble throwing, he knows me better than I know myself. So if my ball was kind of fading to the second-base side, he'd be like, 'Oh, yeah, you're probably just doing this.' Sure enough I was."

Like father, like son
With both Sal and Drew playing the same position, the comparisons between the two have followed Drew throughout his career. It only increased in July 2007 when the Twins acquired Drew, along with outfielder Dustin Martin, in a trade that sent second baseman Luis Castillo to the Mets.

Sal spent parts of four seasons with the Twins, including a stint in 1987 when he was a part of the club's first World Series championship team. He had come up through Minnesota's organization and knew the management well, having played for a short time with current Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

"No disrespect to the Mets since they drafted him, but I knew how the Twins operated, I knew most of the people in the organization," Sal said. "I knew if he was going to benefit and if he was going to prosper this was the perfect situation for him. If it couldn't be where I could be around him all the time, this would be the next best thing because I know they do things the right way."

Father and son have been known for their defensive prowess and not their offense. Like Sal, Drew is credited with having a strong arm behind the plate, an ability to stop an opponents' running game as well as being able to call a good game and working well with a pitching staff. For Sal, it led to a career that spanned parts of nine seasons and included stops with five teams.

"When I was in high school, I used to give him a hard time," Drew said. "As a parent, he's always biased and told me that I was better than he was. I'd say, 'Come on, you played in the big leagues and won a World Series so I can't be better.' So we ended up busting out the old tapes. Sure enough he'd bust out the good ones. But not any of the bloopers."

There aren't many tapes of Drew to watch yet, at least not in the Majors since he's only two months into his rookie season. He may not be starting often, but he's playing behind reigning American League MVP Joe Mauer and learning a lot along the way.

For Drew, the comparisons between him and his dad have become a source of pride and he says that he'd be lucky to have a career like Sal's. But no matter what happens along the way for Drew in baseball, he'll forever have the support of his family, including his dad.

"Whatever he's doing, he's doing well," said Sal. "I'm a proud dad, not necessarily only because he's a player but because of who he is as a person."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.