Souza reveling in being a first-time father

Souza reveling in being a first-time father

ST. PETERSBURG -- Right fielder and first-time father Steven Souza Jr. cherishes the first smile he received from his son, Micah, who was born in December.

The first laugh was even better. Souza's sister-in-law was swinging Micah up and down when it came bubbling out.

"It made my wife cry, it was just hilarious," Souza said, smiling at the memory. "He's got this goofy laugh that is just awesome."

Remembering the way his own dad used to make him laugh when he was young, Souza is doing his best to make sure Micah's smile stays bright and his infectious laughter continues to fill the Souza home.

Micah made an appearance in the Rays' clubhouse last Sunday, joining the postgame celebration that followed Tampa Bay's series-clinching win over Oakland. Souza held his son near his locker, hoisting him toward the ceiling and making faces.

"He surprisingly is really hands-on," said Mikaela Souza, who married Steven in 2015. "I joke with everyone, because he at first wanted nothing to do with the birth process. But then once he's in it, he was all about it."

Shaking off his initial hesitation, Souza ended up helping the doctor with the delivery, catching the newborn and cutting the umbilical cord.

If Mikaela showed surprise with her husband's turnaround leading up to delivery day, Rays fans might be caught off guard seeing how the burly power hitter behaves away from the diamond.

"When he comes home, he talks in a little baby's voice, does any little dance move -- anything he can do to make him laugh, which just cracks him up," she said.

Souza credits Mikaela with her gift of having the right answer for each of a crying Micah's needs, be it food, sleep or something else. ("That's always Mama's instinct, I think," Mikaela said). Mikaela says the ability to make Micah laugh is one of Souza's biggest strengths as a father.

"I feel like every time he walks in the room and says, 'Hi, buddy,' that Micah just lights up," she said. "That just makes my whole day."

With Micah in the picture, the Souza household is much looser than in the past. Playing a sport built largely around the pressure of expectations, there were times when Souza would come home in a down mood after an unsuccessful day.

Playing the role of father now in addition to husband, Souza no longer has time to think about baseball when he comes home. That makes for a better situation for the whole family.

"I think you can get overwhelmed with those thoughts," Souza said. "When you're right where you are, which is here [at the field] being the baseball player, and at home being the dad and the husband, it's really good for -- I feel like my soul -- to just separate that part of my life. Because it can overwhelm you, consume you and actually start to define you, and then that pours into how you're being a dad."

Baseball has treated Souza well this season. He's producing the best slash line of his career and has been well above league average in terms of on-base plus slugging, hallmarks of hitting. But the extended periods away from home are tougher now.

Luckily, he can check in and see his family via FaceTime. The Souzas rely on the technology when the schedule takes the Rays across the country.

"And I feel like every time the phone is in Micah's face and he sees FaceTime, he immediately knows it's Dad already," she said.

Should Dad be in Seattle or Arlington, Boston or Minneapolis, he can still tickle Micah into laughter from thousands of miles away.

Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.