Since following in his father's footsteps, University of Arizona alumnus Michael Lopez has seen his relationship grow stronger with his dad, UA head baseball coach Andy Lopez.
"When I played for him, I didn't really see him as my father, but rather more of a coach," said Michael, a volunteer assistant coach with the baseball team. "The first couple years when I started coaching with him, I could see more of a father-son type of relationship between us. I see him more as a father on the field now than I ever have before."
Initially, Michael didn't want to settle on coaching as a career.
During high school, he had dreams of someday getting drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Growing up under the wing of his father, a three-time national Coach of the Year, baseball came naturally to him, and he quickly developed into a promising right-handed pitcher with an above-average fastball.
Everything seemed to be going as planned until Michael suffered an injury to his shoulder. He underwent physical therapy, but when his shoulder wasn't responding to rehab, his father called Dr. Keith Meister, the current team physician for the Texas Rangers. Meister was one of Andy's former associates; the two worked together at the University of Florida.
Michael and his father flew to Arlington, Texas, and spent a few days with the Rangers before Meister performed surgery to get a better look at the condition of the shoulder and see if there was anything that could be done to repair it.
Not much could be done.
"He came out of the operating room and in a joking way said, 'Hey, I hope (Michael) can play another sport.' I remember saying, 'You’re kidding me,' and he said, 'No, that shoulder is a mess — it’s absolutely mangled,'" Andy recalled. "At that point in time, when his shoulder never bounced back and he never regained his velocity, I remember him mentioning to me a few times that he might like to get into the coaching profession and see what it’s like."
While his professional aspirations were cut short, Michael's passion for the sport continued to grow.
As a UA student-athlete, even though seeing limited action, Michael was known as one of the most tireless workers on the team. His final season with the Wildcats culminated in a national championship at the 2012 College World Series. Soon thereafter, he became serious about coaching as a career, and over the past two years he has served in his current capacity as a volunteer assistant for the UA.
Michael said coaching alongside his father has been a much more enjoyable experience than playing for him. Over the past two years, they have spent hours together working with pitchers and making sure they have similar of expectations of players.
"It's real easy for me to walk away from a bullpen session and know that he knows exactly what we're trying to do in the next 20 minutes if I get pulled away," Andy said. "Since he and I have talked about pitching since he was 13 years old and he's been working alongside me with the pitchers, he has a pretty good idea of how I want things to be done."
Andy said that his son's contribution to a national championship is valuable for the current Wildcats to see.
"He was in the program for three years before seeing what it took for a championship caliber team to take form," Andy said. "He wasn't a guy who walked in his freshman year and just suddenly won a national title. I don’t think you really understand what it takes when you do something like that. He was able to look back and remember all of the tireless effort it took to win a national championship."
Photos courtesy of Arizona Athletics
The Wildcats will host Rice University Feb. 20-22, then Oakland on Feb. 24 and 25.