Eddie Guardado remembers a Saturday afternoon about 14 years ago when he wondered if his son, Niko, might not be a chip off the old block.
Niko, then 7, was pitching in a scrimmage game for a team near their home in Stockton, Calif. The coaches asked Eddie Guardado to umpire, so Eddie stood behind the pitcher’s mound as his son threw.
“He was so nervous, he walked the first three guys,” the Twins bullpen coach and former closer said. “As a dad, I’m trying to talk to him about it. He kept walking guys. I said, ‘That’s it, he’s done.’ ”
Guardado noticed his son crying when he reached the bench, so they talked during the drive home.
“I asked him, ‘Hey, do you really like baseball?’ And he looks at me and goes, ‘No, Dad, I just want to play because you played.’ I almost teared up.
“I said, ‘Hey, you be your own man. You go out there and direct your own path in life and your journey and do what you want to do.’ ”
For Niko, that meant acting lessons and waking up before sunrise for auditions. The auditions led to some commercials, then some appearances on sitcoms such as “The Goldbergs,” then a Nickelodeon movie, “Lost in the West,” that was filmed in Spain.
Guardado, now 21, then landed a role in the motion picture “A-X-L,” which was released Aug. 24. The film is about a motorcycle-riding youngster named Miles who befriends a robot dog that is the product of a military project gone wrong. Guardado’s character is named Scroggins, who is friends with a bully named Sam, who picks on Miles.
“It’s different because it’s my first major film I’ve been a part of that will be in theaters!” Niko Guardado said. “It’s been an amazing experience and this cast and crew is awesome … and also the role was a little bit more quiet and timid as to where my previous roles have been very loud and outgoing.”
Being the son of a former professional baseball player means he’s been able to experience part of the lifestyle. Through the years, he’s worked as a clubhouse attendant, under the tutelage of longtime Twins clubhouse manager Rod McCormick. Niko likes the game and being around it.
Participating in the game was a different story, and he appreciated that his father did not force him to stick with it.
“I remember at a young age that I wanted to create my own path in life and step out of my dad’s shadow — although my dad’s shadow isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of my father and the man he is, but I just wanted to pave my own path to success and I always loved acting, so it stuck.”
He still keeps one foot in the game. Even after the production of “A-X-L” wrapped during the baseball offseason, Guardado still worked in the Twins clubhouse for several days this season.
“It’s crazy when I visit because I realize I’ve been a part of this organization longer than every player in there,” Niko said. “It’s surreal. The clubbies and Rod have raised me. They were strong parental figures in my life, so coming here is like visiting family.”
Before Eddie Guardado left for spring training in February, he spent a day on the set with his son, leaving home at 5 a.m. and returning at 5 p.m. He saw his son enter his own private trailer to prepare for scenes. He met the entire crew, including the cooks, stuntmen and paramedics. He sat directly behind director Oliver Daly and watched his son get coached.
“At night we were driving home and he said, ‘How did you like it?’ and I loved it,” said Eddie Guardado, who also has a son Jakob, 16, and daughter Ava, 13, with wife Lisa. “ ‘What I liked the most was that you introduced me to all the people nobody knows. And you knew them all by name.’
“Niko said, ‘Well, I learned from the best.’ I teared up.”
Maybe Niko is like father, like son.
“He’s done real well,” Eddie Guardado said. “I’m very proud of him, his mom is proud of him, and his brother and sister are proud of him.
“Watching your son on the big screen, bro, eating some popcorn with a big Coke, there’s nothing like it.”