By Amy Rosewater | June 14, 2013, 4 p.m. (ET)

 
Tony Azevedo with son, Cruz, and wife Sara

Tony Azevedo joked that he doesn’t need (or want) a mug for Father’s Day telling him he’s the world’s best dad.

Nor does he need (or want) a new tie.

He just got the best gift of all: his first child, son, Cruz, who was born May 20 in Croatia, where Tony has been playing professional water polo.

“He’s quite a cutie, that’s for sure,” Azevedo, a four-time U.S. Olympian, said from Croatia in a Skype interview with TeamUSA.org. “You hear so much about how it’s going to be when you become a parent and you expect certain things, but you really don’t know what how it’s going to be until that moment comes. Now it’s here and we are figuring it out."

Tony Azevedo with son, Cruz
Coach Ricardo Azevedo talks to son Tony Azevedo during the men's
final round water polo match at the 12th FINA World Championships
on March 30, 2007, in Melbourne, Australia.

Azevedo called the time from May 19-20 “the best 24 hours of my life."

On the eve of his son’s birth, Azevedo’s pro team beat a team that has a much superior budget to win the Croatian League final. Then, he became a dad. Cruz was actually due two weeks earlier, but the timing of his arrival turned out to be perfect. Not only because Tony got to play (and win) the title game, but Ricardo Azevedo (Tony’s father and Cruz’s grandfather) was able to be in Croatia to meet Cruz.

Ricardo Azevedo, a former Brazilian national water polo player who has been the coach of China’s men’s water polo team for the last 16 months, had planned to come visit a few weeks after Cruz’s due date when he thought things would be somewhat settled down. Instead, Cruz ended up arriving on Ricardo’s last day in Croatia. Even though Ricardo’s time with his grandson was limited, he called himself “lucky” to have the time he had in Croatia.

“Being a grandfather is wonderful!” Ricardo wrote in an email. “My wife and I are so proud. Holding him in my arms when he was just hours old was a spectacular feeling."

But the elite-level water polo schedule doesn’t stop for dads and grandfathers. Ricardo had to leave Croatia to resume his coaching duties (he is currently in Russia coaching China in the FINA World League Super Final), and Tony had to play for his pro team in Croatia, VK Jug. Just a few weeks after Cruz’s arrival, Tony became the first American player to reach the final game of the LEN Water Polo Champions League. Although his team lost, 8-7, to VK Crvena Zvezda, Azevedo made history nonetheless.

He is enjoying his time as a dad, trying to help his wife, Sara, whenever possible with the child-raising duties and trying to catch up on some much-needed rest. He plans to take Cruz to the pool soon and already has been busy working on his U.S. citizenship paperwork. Even though Cruz will have a Croatian passport, his dad said Cruz “definitely is a U.S. citizen."

Neither Tony nor Ricardo said they are pushing for Cruz to pick up water polo — at least not yet — but it’s clear Cruz will learn the ropes of the sport that is so much a part of the family. Ricardo coached Tony throughout his youth water polo days and in high school. And Tony wants to (at the very) least have Cruz learn the game, adding that “he will learn how to swim."

Although Ricardo played water polo at a high level, Tony said his dad didn’t pressure him or his sister to play.

“My dad did a great job with me with that,” Tony said. “I really thought baseball would be my sport, but I am glad I got to play water polo at this level. If I were asked if I would rather be a mediocre NBA player and make a million dollars or be a great water polo player, I’d say a great water polo player any day.

“I really want Cruz to do whatever he wants, but I do hope he’s athletic."

Added Ricardo: “If he decides to play water polo I will be there for him every step of the way."

For the moment, however, it is Tony Azevedo who will be the main water polo player in the family.

Tony Azevedo passes during the men's water polo preliminary
round at the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31, 2012 in 
London, England.

At 31, Azevedo has played in the past four Olympic Games, earning a silver medal in 2008 in Beijing. The captain of the U.S. team in London, Azevedo hopes to reach a fifth Olympic Games, especially since the 2016 Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, where he was born. Although Azevedo moved to California when he was 1 month old, he still has close ties to Brazil. Much of his family lives in Rio, and Azevedo said he expects to sign a contract soon with a team in Sao Paulo.

Azevedo had hoped Chicago would have won the bid for the 2016 Games and even helped promote the bid. Having the Games in the United States would have brought great exposure for his sport in front of an American audience. It also would have meant the United States would have had an automatic Olympic berth.

But if another city had to win, he was glad it was Rio. Being able to play in front of friends and family — and likely his young son — would be a treat. Qualifying for the Games in Rio will be more difficult, but Azevedo is confident he and the young group of U.S. players can get the job done. He is also excited to work with newly hired U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic, who guided a young Serbian team to the Olympic bronze medal in London.

Azevedo has a lot of water polo ahead of him between now and Rio. The big event this summer is the 15th FINA World Championships, which begin next month in Barcelona. The U.S. world championships roster hasn’t been released yet, but it’s likely Azevedo will be on it.

In addition to playing in those World Championships, Azevedo plans to formally announce the Water Polo Players’ Organization while in Spain. The goal of the organization, which he said “should not come off as a union,” is to help athletes around the world and to grow the sport. Although some of the very top players, such as Azevedo, have been able to make a living playing water polo, many others cannot.

Just days after launching its website, Azevedo had already heard from about 500 people who were interested in joining.

“I’m lucky that I am in this position to try and do something like this for the sport,” Azevedo said.

Azevedo also is looking further ahead in the future, to the 2032 Olympic Games, wherever those might be held. He won’t be playing then, but...

Said Azevedo, “Cruz will be 19 then."

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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