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Father and son pair have grown relationship through baseball at MSU

May 18, 2016
Many baseball teams must work together closely, but the Spartans are more of a family than most. Jake Boss Jr., right, is the head coach for the Spartans while his father, Jake Boss Sr., is a volunteer assistant coach.
Many baseball teams must work together closely, but the Spartans are more of a family than most. Jake Boss Jr., right, is the head coach for the Spartans while his father, Jake Boss Sr., is a volunteer assistant coach.

Jake Boss Jr. has always been around baseball. And to be around baseball is to be around his father. There’s an old adage in the American lexicon about the father and son relationship, which states the relationship, more often than not, is cemented by a ball game. For all his life Jake Boss Jr. has shared the greater part of the game with his dad.

“I grew up his bat boy when he was coaching high school baseball,” Boss Jr. said. “I played for him in high school, I coached against him when I was a head high school baseball coach, I coached with him, we were assistants together at Eastern Michigan and then he worked for me for four years here.”

Jake Boss Sr., simply put, is a baseball lifer. The former coach has garnered an extensive list of baseball awards and victories since he began as a head coach in 1973, including multiple coach of the year awards at the conference, district and regional levels. Eventually, it earned him a spot in the Greater Lansing Hall of Fame in 2009.

But for his plethora of wins and knowledge — knowledge so respected he’s been an associate scout for two MLB teams during the course of 25 plus years — the chance to coach alongside his son at MSU hangs above any plaque.

“To cap my career off coaching with him, being an assistant to him at a Big Ten university and winning a Big Ten championship together, my gosh, you can’t write a better story than that,” Boss Sr. said. “That was icing on the cake, there’s no question about it.”

The chance for Boss Jr. to play for his dad was the first step into a long career of taking the diamond together that culminated in a Big Ten Championship. But under his father’s guidance at Lansing Everett, it would be cliche to say he excelled, but this relationship hasn’t always fit the cliche.

“Playing for him was no easy task for many different reasons,” Boss Jr. said. “Mostly because I wasn’t very good.”

Boss Sr. benched his son midway through his junior year, an action Boss Jr. said was done “rightly so.”

“I think I learned a lesson there, though,” Boss Jr. said. “I mean, it’s about what’s best for the team. That was a valuable lesson for me to learn.”

And it was lessons like that which helped Boss Jr. in his career to following on his father’s path. Boss Jr. took over the reigns as head coach at Webberville High School in 1995 before heading off to assistant coaching stints around the country. Eventually he ended up at Eastern Michigan University where he and his dad held assistant coaching positions. After three years as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan, he was named head coach of EMU in 2007. After a successful season he was hired away from EMU to MSU.

And that’s where Boss Sr. began to work for his son.

“I did not expect that, not at all,” Boss Sr. told The State News five years ago about being asked by his son to coach alongside him. “When he told me, what could I say? To have an opportunity to work with your son in coaching — something that you’ve done forever and loved so much — I jumped on it. I said yes before he changed his mind.”

The two were supposed to be cohorts in the dugouts in Ypsilanti first but Boss Jr.’s decision to accept the MSU job landed them together only miles from the ball fields where their relationship was first cemented.

It was new for both of them, and it would come with unfamiliar ground. And after three years in the Spartan dugout, Boss Sr. decided 2012 would be his last season. Winning the Big Ten title together is a memory both will share for a lifetime.

When MSU secured the final hit, Boss Jr. said the first person he saw was his dad standing next to him. For the eldest Boss the emotions ran high.

“I stayed back in the dugout, just watching my son participate in all that, and it got very emotional for me to see him have that type of success there, and that was a memory I’ll have forever,” Boss Sr. said. “Nobody can take that away.”

Now Boss Sr. can a take a “backseat” as he calls it. Boss Sr. moved to the radio booth alongside play-by-play man Scott Woodward to provide color for Spartan Sports Network’s broadcast of Spartan baseball. Even there he’s still coaching in a sense.

Known for not mincing words, Boss Sr. brings the same kind of honesty to the booth that he brought to the field.

“I do, and sometimes I take a lot of shots with that from my son and others who listen to it but they said — well, I apologize to them — and they say, well you know, we like that,” Boss Sr. said. “You tell it the way it is and so forth. That’s the way I am, that’s what you get.”

While he no longer takes the field with him, Boss Jr. doesn’t do much searching for his dad among the faces in the crowd or ever look up at the booth.

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“No, believe me, I know he’s there,” Boss Jr. said. “We talk after just about every game, and he — even in the booth he doesn’t hold anything back — he’s as honest as they come, and he’ll tell you exactly how he feels, whether that’s a good thing or bad thing for us.”

The booth has provided Boss Sr., ever the coach, to remain around baseball and see his son through a different baseball lens.

“I was coaching for about 45 years or so, and it was an opportunity for me to stay close to my son and to the ball club and Michigan State,” Boss Sr. said. “It’s just kept me close to the game, it’s kept me close to the kids. I’ve got great relationships with those players, and I love it, I really do.”

In his new role, Boss Sr. can provide a different look now that he’s no longer in the thick of the action. It’s something Boss Jr. will call on from time to time.

“He’s just very supportive, in that role,” Boss Jr. said. “He may not like the result sometimes on the field and sometimes none of us do, but he’s not going to second guess what we do. He supports us 100 percent in everything that we do.”

But as much as their relationship was formed by baseball, it wasn’t about baseball. Put the two into any other sport and the results would be the same, and the support would still be unwavering. Their relationship was merely channeled through baseball, and the experiences they have will always be the takeaways from the game.

Calling it his dream job and maybe even more so for his dad, Jake Boss Jr. became emotional talking about it.

“As a father, I know when my kids do something that’s special. I know how proud I am of them, and they’re 16 and 14 and 7 right now. I can’t imagine feeling,” Boss Jr. said, fighting back tears. “I can’t imagine what he felt at the press conference here when I got the job. We’re close man, we’re really close, you know. He’s my best friend, my hero really.”

Asked about the love and emotion, Boss Sr. summed it up.

“When you love each other, you’re almost as one, you know what I’m saying?” Boss Sr. said. “You know, when he hurts I hurt. When they go into and lose a series someplace, I hurt just as bad as he does.”

The old adage of the father and son never really states how the love is bonded together. It just happens. Long after their respective careers at MSU close, it’ll exist then, too. Because it’s never been just about baseball. 

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