For some reason, as a parent you often feel more invested in your child’s feelings and emotions than your own. You take the good and bad in your own life, and you roll with it. But, when something impacts your child, you tend to feel it more deeply. As a father myself, I find this fascinating. It was the driving factor in me reaching out to a friend and coworker for her story in this crazy time in her son’s life (and her own).
In 2011, I began a new job and work alongside four other individuals, with facilities spread across the state. One of my colleagues lives and works out of the Cleveland office. As coworkers do, we bring up our loved ones and speak about what’s going on in our lives. I recall my coworker Theodora (Teddie), talking about how proud she was that her youngest child was playing football. He even earned some varsity playing time on the field as a freshman. I thought nothing of it, aside from being impressed, since that’s not an easy feat to accomplish, and one that I certainly didn’t attain back in my day.
A little over a year later, her son had now earned a starting spot on his varsity team and, from her stories, was doing well. Teddie is a sincere, kind, and humble person, so her stories were rarely boastful. No stats or scores. No, “and then he did this” stories, just the basic, “Oh, he’s having fun and seems to be doing well” sort of thing.
It wasn’t until I stumbled across an ESPN article with her son as the focus, being a diehard Buckeye fan and recruiting follower, that I realized that her youngest was quite the athlete. From that point on, (and, yes, I obviously grabbed my phone and called her immediately after quadruple checking that I had read the name and school right in the article), I tried to be a friendly, supportive coworker, while also hoping that her son would end up at Ohio State.
We talked about his initial college commitment, which didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped (though I did remind Teddie to avoid wearing blue or red to his announcement press conference, as people would speculate accordingly, believe it or not). Eventually, thank goodness, we spoke about his switch from Gainesville back to Columbus.
Meet Mrs. Baker
If you haven’t guessed it, Teddie is the mother of former Ohio State Buckeye linebacker Jerome Baker. She was kind enough to share her experience, since the parent side of things is one that doesn’t always get mentioned as much as it should.
With regards to her son’s future, I wondered when she first thought that the NFL might be an achievable goal for “Rome” (his father is also Jerome, so this is usually how she differentiates between the two in stories). As you may have guessed, since it was probably the same for many OSU fans, that moment for his mother came early on in his sophomore year. Huge plays in sold-out, nationally televised games tend to do that!
The youngest Baker would have many big plays, including another crucial interception against Michigan in that same season. However, he also took a fair amount of criticism from some fans in his junior year due to a perceived drop off in production. In this day and age, with social media allowing everyone to voice their opinion and share it with almost anyone, Teddie noted that she learned to stay off the internet and ignore the negatives.
Instead, she, and other parents, leaned on each other. No matter the outcome, she said that the Buckeye football parents are a tight-knit group. They support each other through it all, knowing better than anyone the stresses of having sons on the team. It’s those relationships with the parents, coaches, and fans that she’ll miss most in the 2019 season.
When the Cotton Bowl ended, the Baker family faced a choice that few are good enough to encounter. Rome had a chance to leave school early to become a professional in the sport that he loves. With so many factors impacting the decision (draft uncertainty, degree, potential for injury, etc.), the family relied on prayer and positive support to get them through it.
They put the choice about his future on his shoulders, but with the assurance that it would be met with their support and blessing.
With the decision made, a realization sunk in: their son now had to prepare himself for a future in football. This would include training, agents, interviews, and a very stressful draft process. Once his Ohio State Pro Day on March 22nd ended, most of the draft testing and preparation had concluded for Rome, but it was just beginning for the family.
Naturally, they wanted to be sure that he would be wise with his money. They instructed him that he was to have a say in all matters pertaining to his finances. In other words, hire advisers, but remain actively involved. On top of the usual examples of parenting advice, there was the issue of the actual, approaching draft day.
Draft Day Preparations
Ever have just a few neighbors over but feel the need to vacuum, clean countertops, sweep the floors, etc.? Imagine knowing it was one of the biggest days in yours and your son’s life! I braced as I asked the question, knowing it could be a tough subject, but Teddie let me know what they had done to prepare for guests.
The list included, but was not limited to: interior cleaning of the house, interior painting, pressure washing the exterior, landscaping, finding a caterer, getting a vendor to arrange tents, placing tables and chairs for everyone, and setting up televisions to ensure that nobody missed the action. There would be no official camera crew at the house for the party (though WEWS would arrive after his draft selection).
However, with everyone armed with a smart phone, there would be no shortage on documentation of the event.
Most projections had the young man slotted anywhere from the second round to the fourth. Discussions with teams and his agent led the Bakers to believe that Friday would be the day (Rounds 2 and 3). With that, they scheduled the draft party! Attendees would be family, friends, a couple of teammates, Cleveland Muny League coaches, and his Benedictine High School football coach.
At last, after what seemed like ages, the day was upon them. Guests poured in and greeted Rome, Jerome, Teddie, and all of the other familiar faces. They ate, socialized, and settled in to watch, wait and pray that their host would hear his name called… and sooner rather than later. Excitement turned to nervousness. For some, anxiousness and annoyance crept in when the second round passed without mention of the Buckeye linebacker.
Teddie talked to Rome throughout the day, but kept it to other topics, avoiding the draft. She sensed that he was on edge from not being selected in the second round. She managed to grab some of the catered food when she could, but only enough to keep her going.
And then the Miami Dolphins were on the clock with the ninth pick in the third round, 73rd overall. Rome’s phone rang and his future began to unfold in front of him. As he spoke on the phone with the team, Reshad Jones, a current Dolphins player stepped to the podium to make the pick known.
The announcement caused a house full of Bakers and friends to erupt in joy, with screams probably heard in Columbus. Teddie was overwhelmed with happiness and excitement for her son, hugging him for about two minutes without letting go.
In the brief time since the draft, I’ve spoken with her about her plans. Their life is in Cleveland, but a thrilling portion of it will also be happening in Miami. They hope to stay in Cleveland for now and travel to games to watch Rome play. Though never in doubt, Teddie intends to continue helping him in his new career. She’ll do so through prayer, listening, being supportive, and doing her best to keep her emotions in check!
It doesn’t hurt that Rome will be playing alongside his former Buckeye teammate, Raekwon McMillan. He and McMillan were good friends in Columbus, and Raekwon even attempted a congratulatory FaceTime with Baker over the draft weekend. Knowing that your child will join a friend in their journey adds a level of comfort that’s tough to describe.
I can’t even imagine the stress of that night and the entire process that built up to it. I’m ecstatic for Rome to pursue a career with the Dolphins. And I’m thrilled that my friend can relax for a bit now that Rome has a home in the NFL.