Lo Duca appreciates father's support

Lo Duca thankful his dad was always there

NEW YORK -- Paul Lo Duca chuckles when he thinks about it.

The hairstyle.

The glasses.

The moustache.

While his father played a large role in the Mets catcher's development as a player, Lo Duca can't help but think about the look his father sported when he managed Paul and his brothers, Anthony and Frank, in Little League.

"He had this big ol' perm that looked like a 'fro," Lo Duca said, as he smiled and described it with his hands, gesturing out from his head about six inches. "I'll always remember that hairdo from Little League. Whenever we go through pictures from back then, it looks like that wig that everyone wears on Halloween."

His father's look gained such a reputation that Lo Duca's friends gave him the nickname, "Weej," after the "Luigi" character in the video game, "Mario Bros."

"One of my friends blurted out one day that he looked like him, and we just started calling him that," remembered Lo Duca, who was named after his father.

While his father's hairstyle has changed over the years, his relationship with his son has grown stronger and deeper. Lo Duca's mother passed away 10 years ago, and Lo Duca Sr. strengthened his role as a parent.

"He did a great job taking care of us and helped us deal with it emotionally," said Lo Duca, who writes his mother's initials in the dirt where he catches before every inning.

Lo Duca leaned on his father the most during his early years in the Dodgers organization. The 34-year-old spent four frustrating seasons from 1998-2001 being called up and sent back down to the Minors several times, so much so that he almost quit.

"I was getting sick and tired of it all, but my dad kept telling me to stick it out and things would work out," said the Brooklyn-born Lo Duca. "He was always my biggest supporter, and he said, 'You have to start playing like you love this game like you used to.'"

Lo Duca, who was drafted out of Arizona State in the 25th round in 1993, changed his approach in 2000, and he batted .351 in 78 games with Triple-A Albuquerque that season. He finished the year with the Dodgers, and then Mike Piazza was traded in 2001, and Lo Duca made the squad out of Spring Training. Lo Duca would go on to have his best year to date in the Majors in 2001, batting .320 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs in 125 games.

"I began to approach the game a lot differently, and my career really took off after that," said Lo Duca, who spent three more years with the Dodgers before being traded to the Marlins in 2004.

Lo Duca learned and developed his swing mostly from his mother, Luci, who tossed him lima beans in the backyard while he was growing up. Lo Duca credits the unorthodox training as a part of his success.

But he developed as a complete player from the influence and guidance of his dad, who managed him and his brothers in Little League in Sedona, Ariz., where the family moved two years after Lo Duca's birth.

"He really knows the game and he taught me the intricacies of the game," said Lo Duca, who also played soccer as a kid.

Lo Duca's father visits his son around every Father's Day, and this year will be extra special for the Brooklyn native.

"He loves every minute of it," said Lo Duca, who went to his father's favorite restaurant, Gargiulo's in Brooklyn, with his dad after he arrived in New York at the beginning of the season. "Now, he gets to come back to where he grew up and visit his family and go back to the places where he ate and the places where he used to hang out."

And, now that "Weej" has retired from the restaurant business, it will leave more time to watch his son play baseball.

"It'll be neat," said the father, who plans on helping Paul open and run a baseball academy in Phoenix. "Paulie and I are best friends, and I've enjoyed watching him grow and develop as a person and a player. It'll be a joy to be there and watch him play."

Just like old times.

Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.