Luke Dykstra and other players in the Cardinals early spring minor-league camp get baserunning advice from Willie McGee

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. - The name follows him everywhere, and nowhere is it more evident than on a baseball field. It's there, in plain sight, on the back of the uniform he is wearing.

Dykstra.

For Luke Dykstra, there is only pride in being the son of former major leaguer Lenny Dykstra. By now, he has grown accustomed to the pressures of having a famous, and at times infamous, father.

While that might be what interests people the most, however, it is not the foremost thought on Luke Dykstra's mind.

At least while he is on the baseball field, he wants to be himself, not his father's son.

“I don’t play exactly like him,” Dykstra says. “I’m my own player. He knows that. He did play in the big leagues but this is my game. I can’t live off the fact my dad played. I’m trying to make my own name.”

This season, he will try to do that wearing a Cardinals’ uniform. Dykstra was one of three minor-leaguers acquired in the off-season trade that sent pitcher Jaime Garcia to the Braves.

Dykstra, 21, is a second baseman, another difference between himself and his father, who tormented the Cardinals through the mid-1980s with the New York Mets before playing the rest of his 12-year career with the Phillies. At 6-foot-1, the son is three inches taller than his dad, and also is 35 pounds heavier.

One similarity between the father and son, not surprisingly, comes in the manner in which they play the game. Of all the pieces of advice handed down over the years, that stands out above everything else,” Dykstra said.

“Play the game right, play hard,” Dykstra said. “Run out every ball, help your team win that day. You can’t try and do too much. Play the game right every day, with a good positive attitude, and hopefully things will work out.”

Dykstra’s first exposure to the Cardinals has come this week, when he joined about two dozen other prospects in the early minor-league camp. While the major-league team plays at Roger Dean Stadium, he and his new teammates work on the rear fields at the stadium complex.

“I was excited about the trade because I’ve heard so many good things about the organization,” Dykstra said. “I’m happy to get here and get the season started.”

Part of what Dykstra has learned about the Cardinals has come from pitcher Jack Flaherty, a high school opponent in suburban Los Angeles and a teammate on various showcase and Area Code Games teams. Flaherty is one of the Cardinals’ best pitching prospects.

“I didn’t pitch against his team during our junior years, but we played them as seniors in the first game of the season,” Flaherty said. “We were definitely aware of him because he was a really good player. Going into that game he was the guy you said you were not going to let beat us.

“He’s a good guy, and has always been a really good player. I sent him a text after the trade and told him it was good to have him here.”

When they faced off in that high school game in 2014, Flaherty earned the bragging rights as Dykstra was 0-for-2. It was one of the few times Dykstra did not get a hit in a game that season. He hit .452 as a high school senior, joining Flaherty on the all-state team, and was a seventh-round selection of the Braves. He turned down a scholarship to Fresno State to follow the dream he had as a young boy of playing professional baseball. 

It was not a dream which was born by watching his father, who played his final game in the majors in 1996 when Dykstra was just six months old.

“I’ve watched highlight tapes every now and then,” he said.

“I’ve always loved playing ball since I was a young kid. I was always told I had a shot and was something special. I’ve just got to keep it going. Everyone here is good. You’ve got to compete and take it to the next level.”

During his three years in the Braves system, Dykstra posted a composite .300 average. He spent all of last season at Rome, Ga., the organization’s low Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, where he hit .304 with 41 RBIs in 81 games and was named to the league’s All-Star team.

He has only hit two homers in his career, both when he was in the rookie Gulf Coast League three years ago. That’s one of the reasons Dykstra’s biggest goal this season was to work on strength building, to increase power.

Whether Dykstra begins this season at Peoria or Palm Beach is to be determined, but he knows his ultimate goal is to join his father as a major-leaguer.

That’s one of the reason he relies so much on his father’s advice.

“He helps me a lot with the schedule; he tells me baseball is a long season so don’t get too down on yourself,” Dykstra said. “Just keep playing the game the way you know how and play as hard as you can. Just have fun and play the game right. He comes and sees me play, but we mostly talk on the phone. We talk every day.

“We just really talk about the mental side of the game. He doesn’t really try to push stuff on me but it’s great to talk to him about the game. He’s still got a good baseball mind and knows the game.”

Dykstra also has leaned on his older brother Cutter for advice. Cutter played nine years in the minors with the Washington Nationals before retiring at the end of last season.

Cutter’s support was especially important to Dykstra a few years ago, when, as a high school sophomore, his father had to serve six months in prison for bankruptcy fraud and other charges.

It’s a topic Dykstra is reluctant to discuss.

“He made some bad decisions but he’s still my dad,” Dykstra said. “I won’t ever judge him on anything. I will never hold that against him.”

Dykstra doesn’t have to think about those days when he is on the baseball field, his happy place, where he is free to be himself.

“I’m just happy to come out here and play baseball every day,” he said. “I’m enjoying the moment.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains