The Lewises are athletes. More important, they are leaders; but to them, the two are inextricable.
Fred and Evelyn Lewis built their family, including daughters Daphne and Rachael and twin sons Freddy and Willie, not around sports, but the discipline, principles and attitude they require. Athletics, or involvement, rather, were merely means for the Lewis children to put into practice the values their parents worked to instill in them.
When Fred was 4 years old, he did not want to play baseball. His father bribed him, offering a steak dinner for every home run he hit. He dragged Fred by the hand to the diamond for Little League practice. The neighborhood children lined up for batting and fly ball drills, in which Fred did not want to participate. Then, he became good.
He first played organized baseball at age 6, then continued to play for P.K. Yonge through high school, the American Legion in his junior and senior years and finally at what was then Santa Fe Community College. As he and his skills grew, so did his love for the game.
Although time and money restrained him from attempting to play professionally, these experiences, and the 23 years playing softball that followed, taught Fred the balance and self-confidence that he and his wife, who also played softball from childhood through junior college intramurals, apply at home and in the workplace.
“Most challenging is the mental aspect of it — if you make a mistake, you need to not even remember that anymore,” Fred said. “If you’re not scared about it, something’s wrong with you. You gotta be nervous about it: taking the plunge.”
His father’s positive experience with baseball drove him to push Fred toward the game at such a young age. With his own children, Fred didn’t have to push so hard.
Freddy and Willie loved baseball from day one, which like their father, was at an early age—about 2 or 3 years old. Although they dabbled in basketball, soccer and other sports, baseball remained their priority.
Today, Willie is an outfielder for Shorter University in Rome, Ga., and Freddy is beginning his third year pitching with the New York Yankee Organization.
“I’ve told them this since they were very young: All this is great and dandy, but it will break — this bubble. It’s not a lifelong thing. You need to be prepared to do something else,” Fred said. “Well, now they’ve been in the bubble for 25 years.”
But getting to such lofty levels was not always easy. The twins were hindered by things ranging from injuries to doubts from coach after coach, which is where the family stepped in.
“That was a time in our life we realized we really had to stand up for our kids and tell them ‘We believe in you,’” Evelyn said. “Somebody else might not, but that doesn’t mean anything. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
“Close” is the best word to describe the Lewis family dynamic. With 29-year-old Daphne the oldest sibling, and the 26-year-old twins the youngest, the closeness of their ages mirrored that of their sibling relationships.
Aside from the single soccer season that all four Lewis children played on the same team — a time only Evelyn and Fred can really remember — their interests varied, requiring balance and compromise from all sides.
While Fred coached and traveled with the boys to baseball away games, Evelyn managed the home front, as Daphne played soccer and Rachael was brass colonel of the Buchholz High School band, which marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade her freshman year.
“I think I’ve taken the discipline and leadership, and just the good fundamentals of living life through band,” Rachael said. “It kept me out of trouble for the most part.”
Along with their varying interests, the Lewis children had similar involvements, which fueled a healthy sense of competition.
But whether the girls were sparring in karate competitions or the boys were training side-by-side during baseball season, the sibling rivalry never escalated beyond spurring them to reach their highest potentials.
“It was crazy, but we wouldn’t change it, because I think it made them all very appreciative of a lot of different kinds of things,” Evelyn said. “Our motive was: You commit yourself, and you follow through. So, they would do that with anything.”
From the boys’ thriving baseball careers to Daphne’s successful marriage to Freddy’s marriage last December and Rachael’s progressive takeover of City Auto Repair, Fred’s business, there is no lack of evidence that this commitment lesson stuck.
Evelyn and Fred do not merely teach commitment — they live it. They committed to raising their children in an active environment in which they felt free to try new things and to make mistakes. Before this, they committed to each other, which they said raising their family has only strengthened.
“It unites you,” Evelyn said. “You have a common interest and a common goal, and we have the same type of goals for our kids. I think it has helped our relationship and understanding of what it takes to keep the family together.”