By Mac Banks
FORT MILL If Charlotte Knights’ third baseman Steven Tolleson has a one-track mind about his profession, he gets it naturally.
A second-generation major-league baseball player, Tolleson has put together an All-Star season for the Knights’ hitting .278 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 75 games for Charlotte this season.
Tolleson will be playing in the Triple-A All-Star game this week in Reno, Nev., representing the International League and the Knights.
“It is an honor and it was quite unexpected,” he said. “Any time you can play on an All-Star team it’s a huge honor for any player.”
A product of Spartanburg County and Dorman High School, Tolleson is a native of the Palmetto State. He went to the University of South Carolina and was part of the Gamecocks’ 2003 and 2004 College World Series teams.
Selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2005 MLB draft, Tolleson worked his way up the minor-league ladder, having stints in the majors with the Oakland A’s and the Baltimore Orioles.
So when he signed with the Chicago White Sox this past season as a free agent, he did so with the best chance to get back to the major leagues, he said.
Ironically, it also gave him a good chance to get back home to South Carolina.
“Growing up being at the ball park, baseball was all I really knew,” he said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do. I wanted to be a major league baseball player. To have an opportunity to play in the Major Leagues with Oakland and Baltimore and get to go to the playoffs was an awesome deal.
“That is why we do what we do every day here (with the Knights) to try and get back to the Major Leagues. Hopefully that works out with the White Sox.”
Tolleson’s father, Wayne, played part of 10 seasons in the majors with Texas, Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees during the 1980s.
The elder Tolleson spent five seasons with the Rangers, split the 1986 season between Chicago and New York and then spent the remaining time of his career with the Yankees, retiring in 1990.
Steven was born in 1983 and spent his early years around the game. With his dad being a big leaguer, one would think that he might have put pressure on himself to follow in the old man’s footsteps.
Steven said that wasn’t the case.
“I never felt like it was something I had to do,” he said. “It was something I had a deep desire and drive to become the best player I could be. It wasn’t like it was expected to happen.”
Tolleson said it is helpful to have a father who’s a former pro ball player.
“If anything, he (his father) has become one of my biggest assets when it comes to this game,” he said. “He is someone I can go to and talk to and understand the ins and outs of baseball, and he understands what it’s like to play every single day for six of seven months.
“It’s a big mental drive to push your body to the limits to play 70 days in a row, to stay mentally and physically focused enough to perform at a high level.”
Tolleson said his father is there to lend advice.
“He sees what I am going through and I have learned what he went through and I have more respect for what he was able to do,” Tolleson said.
An example of how Tolleson, 29, relies on his father’s wisdom was when he recently asked him how he felt when he was approaching 30 and playing every day. He wondered what to expect from his body.
“Just little things like that I can bounce off of him,” he said.
Tolleson said he doesn’t make it home to Spartanburg often, but his father and family are able to come up and watch him play from time to time. His dad also makes road trips to closer cities in the International League, like Gwinnett, to see him play.
“I am able to see my wife and little girl a lot more than in years past,” he said. “They are in Spartanburg and come up pretty much every home stand, which has been amazing. My dad has come to a few games, and he and my mom have been able to make it up here a handful of times.”
Tolleson is in his third straight season with his third straight organization, having played with the Oakland A’s in 2011, Baltimore in 2012 and now with the White Sox.
He said he hopes he has found a home.
“I am ready to settle down and stay with one organization,” he said. “I would love for it to be with the White Sox. I thought it was with the Orioles, but once free agency comes, you have to find the spot that gives you the best chance to make it to the big leagues and that was a major decision factor when I choose to sign here.”