Father and son are the first to admit Jacob Stallings wasn’t talented enough to play basketball for his father Kevin in the Southeastern Conference.
“I was an OK basketball player growing up, but I wasn’t even close to being good enough to play for my dad at his level,” said Jacob, a catcher for the Double-A Altoona Curve.
“Not that his mother (Lisa Stallings) would have let him anyway,” added Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt’s head coach.
Perhaps it’s for the best. Father and son remain so close, talking or texting every day, that they consider themselves best friends. Jacob, 25, asks how his father’s day of basketball went. Kevin, who rarely gets the chance to see Jacob play in person, inquires how his son’s catching and hitting are progressing.
“We talk or text every day and have since the day he left for college at the University of North Carolina,” Kevin said. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t communicate somehow.”
That level of contact might be a bit much for some fathers and sons, but not for the Stallings. In fact, the pair are so close, Jacob asked his father to be his best man in his wedding three years ago.
“I was very fortunate and honored that he asked me to serve that role,” Kevin said. “He likes to follow what I do and I like to follow what he does. We’re very close and pretty invested in each other’s deal.”
Kevin said Jacob was a good high school basketball player, earning all-state honors his senior year. But Kevin knew the oldest of his three children had a future in another sport.
“Baseball was always the sport of his future,” Kevin said. “It was obvious to me that while he wasn’t an SEC-level basketball player, he was certainly a SEC or ACC-level baseball player.”
Dad admits the coach in him still comes out “probably a little more often than it should” when he and Jacob discuss baseball.
“I often remind him that I’m just a basketball coach and he should take what I say with a grain of salt,” Kevin said. “But there are things I see occasionally that I think I can help him with. It often has more to do with the mental side — of Jacob, not the game. I’m not a hitting coach, but I know him as well as anybody.”
Jacob said if not for his father’s support, insight and input, he may not have developed the work ethic needed to become a professional baseball player.
“My dad’s a big reason why I am what I am right now,” said Stallings, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound catcher batting .303 with eight doubles, two home runs and 16 RBI over 27 games with the Curve.
From the first day Jacob played sports, father treated son as a coach would.
“You’d think I’d outgrow it, but I haven’t,” Kevin said with a chuckle. “I want to know how Jacob’s arm feels. I want to know if he got in the cold tub after a game. As a coach, I’m used to wanting to know these things. Luckily, he sort of patronizes me and still lets me do it.”
Conversely, Jacob often serves as his father’s sounding board during the basketball season, especially when it comes to dealing with young players.
“The nice thing about Jacob is he’s not afraid to tell me if he thinks I’m off base with the way I’m handling a player or a situation,” Kevin said. “He has a much more diplomatic approach than I do when he makes a suggestion. And he’s almost always spot on.”
Regardless of the sport, growing up the son of a successful Division I coach — Stallings has led the Commodores to six NCAA Tournament appearances in 15 seasons — leaves an indelible mark.
“Jacob has been trying to please a coach every single day of his life,” Kevin said. “He understands that better than just about anyone, and it’s had a big part in molding him as a player and a person.
“He understands that different coaches are going to have different approaches, mostly as a reflection of their personality. He gets that as an athlete, you have to weave yourself into their personality and figure out what you have to do to be successful with what they want. It’s a lesson he figured out a long time ago, yet one that’s not easily learned by athletes.
Growing up the son of a coach at big-time basketball schools has its perks, but tough seasons can be rough on the entire family.
“My dad’s in the public eye much more than my friends’ dads are,” Jacob said. “When I was a kid growing up, it seemed like everyone wanted to talk about basketball. But if he wasn’t having a good season, it could be tough. I remember I got into with one kid in middle school a little bit because he said something about my dad. Over the years, I had to learn to just tune a lot of people out.”
Everyone that is, save for his biggest supporter — his father.
Above: Jacob Stallings and his father stay in contact on a daily basis, dad still coaching. (Photos courtesy Altoona Curve)