Off-Season: a Paradise for Angels

Every October one of the most visible and profitable businesses in America shuts down and temporarily lays off several hundred of its most talented team players.

And when that business--major league baseball--stops, those players face what can be a startling change of pace. For nearly eight months each year, their lives are defined and measured in seconds and inches. (How quickly does a 90-m.p.h. fastball get to the plate? Would it have been in his glove if he could have jumped just a bit higher?)

Then suddenly the season ends, and they are thinking not what they must do this second, but this week. The pace decelerates. The bags get unpacked. The uniform goes into the locker. The airport schedules get filed away.

For California Angels players Ken Forsch, Doug De Cinces and Tommy John--all veteran major leaguers--the sudden finish of the season means an abrupt adjustment to what all three refer to as a "more normal life."

Ken Forsch has had many years to get used to the October homecomings. Forsch, 38, has been a major league starting pitcher for 14 years, the last four of those with the Angels. During one of the early games of 1984, he suffered a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the remainder of the season, but he says he has recovered and feels strong and ready to return to spring training this year.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------- 'Stephanie was screaming for Reggie to hit a home run.' cf,ux,8.5 Ken Forsch

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His off-season refuge is a large Country French-style house in Anaheim Hills, where he lives with his wife, Jonnye, and his 10-year-old daughter, Stephanie.

'A Homebody'

"I'm pretty much of a homebody," he says. "It's probably hard on Jonnye sometimes, but I often just don't like to do anything. The long plane rides and the hotels and the constant movement and the constant crowds--that's what I like to get away from the most. That constant bombardment."

"The first month of the off-season, we try to relax, but it's hard for him," says Jonnye. "He really needs that time to recuperate from the season. During the season, everyone wants the players--even on their off days. Ken just wants to hide on those days."

While the off-season for most players extends from early October to mid-February, Forsch said the modern ballplayer knows that "you really only have about a month off."

"You have to stay in shape. You can't afford to get out of condition in the off-season. So the players work out regularly. I go to the ballpark three times a week, for therapy and to work out. And any trips the family takes are scheduled around those workouts because I've really needed that therapy."

Plays Tennis

But Forsch does get away. He plays tennis, hunts with both a rifle and a bow, and is taking up fly fishing. And the Forsches see their friends more frequently in the off-season months.

"It's nice when Ken's home because we can see those people and go out with them at night," says Jonnye. "There's time to do that. When we first moved here after Ken was traded from Houston, it was a very hard adjustment, especially for me, because we'd left a lot of friends and culture behind in Houston. Now things are beginning to happen for us here."

While Forsch enjoys the solitude the off-season brings, he is quick to add that he does not spend his time simply working out and staying temporarily out of the limelight. He has spent previous off-seasons working in the loan department of a Houston bank and obtaining a license to sell life insurance. And he is now attending real estate classes.

"It's all good experience," he says. "As hectic as the season may have been, I just can't sit around."

Wife's Role at Home

Jonnye does not hold a job outside the home. "It's almost impossible for a player's wife to work and still see her husband at all," she says.

"Besides," adds Forsch, smiling, "we've got it worked out. I said I'd work the first 15 years, and she'd work the next 15."

Stephanie Forsch attends a year-round school that offers frequent vacations.

"She'll have two or three weeks off at a time," says Forsch, "and that lets us all go on trips together and see each other more often. When I'm on the road, she says she misses me, but I think she's become conditioned to my being gone during the season."

Her favorite player, he says, is Reggie Jackson.

"When I was with Houston and Reggie was with the Yankees," says Forsch with a large grin, "I was pitching against him one time, and Jonnye and Stephanie were at the park, and Stephanie was screaming for Reggie to hit a home run. Jonnye had a little word with her about family loyalty."

But even Jonnye Forsch at one time was ready to root against Ken.

"We met on a blind date," she says. "I went to the ballpark with a friend who set us up, and I didn't like baseball, didn't want to go to the game, and I was working at the time so I was not happy that the date was going to start after the game at about 10:30. I complained all night, and I didn't like Ken's picture in the program, either.

"Six weeks later we were married."

When Doug De Cinces was a boy he once told his father that he planned to make his living as an adult by playing big league baseball and working in his father's San Fernando Valley construction business in the off-season.

In October, 1979, as his father was driving him to the stadium in Baltimore to play a World Series game with the Orioles, De Cinces reminded him of that long-ago conversation and how his prediction had come true.

Looking to Future

"I'm involved in my father's business all the time in the off-season," says De Cinces, vice president of the construction company. "I know that's where my future is."

During the season, the 34-year-old De Cinces earns his living at third base. He has covered the hot corner for the Angels for the last three seasons--since his acquisition from Baltimore--and last year compiled a solid .269 batting average.

He lives in a rambling house in Villa Park with his wife, Kristi, and two children, Timothy, 10, and Amy, 5.

"When the season ends, there's a real adjustment," he says. "Most of all, you get to reestablish yourself as a father. During the season you deal with family matters and problems by long-distance phone, but with the abrupt end of the season you're a full-time dad again.

"For instance, right after the season ended early last October, Kristi took a trip to go to a wedding, and I got to play Mr. Mom for a few days. I really enjoy getting to do that."

No Macho Problems

"And I get extra help," says Kristi, who first met Doug at Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley. "It makes it easier for me around the house, and Doug doesn't have any macho problems about helping me do anything. We're glad we get more of his attention because he's always busy."

One of the projects that keeps De Cinces consistently occupied in the off-season is the charity golf tournament to which he lends his name and time as an organizer. Called the Doug De Cinces/March of Dimes Celebrity Golf Tournament, it is played in November at the El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. Last year, says De Cinces, the tournament raised $116,000.

"Most of the time in the off-season, though, I like to get away, to kick back and not do too many things, to relax and talk with friends about things other than baseball," says De Cinces. "Right about this time you get a lot of requests to do clinics and things of that sort, but I have to say no to most of it. You just can't be everywhere. You can get carried away with those things and you forget your priorities. And my No. 1 priority is always my family."

Still, De Cinces says he is always mindful that baseball is his livelihood. Like Forsch, he works out regularly. And because he has been plagued in recent years with back spasms, he does no heavy labor either at home or at his father's business, where his role is administrative.

Among the less taxing activities he enjoys are coaching his son's Boys Club basketball team, helping his wife construct scenery for school Christmas programs, playing golf, hunting and occasionally stealing into the kitchen, where he "cooks on whim."

Kristi is a full-time mother but, she says, she plays "a lot of good, hard ladies B tennis."

"Baseball's been really good to us," she observes. "And I think we have a good arrangement. We have just enough celebrity to make it fun for us.

"But," she adds, smiling, "the start of the season can really sneak up on you fast. Right now I'm trying to blank it out."

"Baseball has become a full-time job. It's not like the old days when players showed up for spring training 30 pounds overweight. You have to stay in shape all year and show up for spring training ready to go or you'll get left at the gate."

Tommy John has heeded his own warning. The 41-year-old starting left-hander is coming to the end of an off-season during which there was speculation that age was gaining on him, that his disappointing 7-13 season in 1984 marked the beginning of the end of his remarkable career.

But after many weeks of workouts, daily runs and several days in Florida analyzing his motion and training with former Dodger pitcher Mike Marshall (now a sports physiologist), John says he is ready to return with "a little laugh up my sleeve" for his detractors.

Four Children

John, who lives in Anaheim Hills with his wife, Sally, and four children--Tamara, 10; Thomas, 7; Travis, 6, and Taylor, 3--is known as a physical phenomenon in the sports world. After rupturing a ligament in his pitching elbow in July, 1974, he underwent surgery the next month--the first of its kind performed on an athlete--in which a tendon from his right forearm was used in the reconstruction of the elbow. He underwent extensive rehabilitation therapy for a year and returned in 1976 to win 10 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He won 20 games for the Dodgers the following year.

He has played 20 seasons in the major leagues and has pitched for the Angels since August, 1982, when he was acquired from the New York Yankees.

Like De Cinces, John says, "The big change for me at the end of a season is that I become a full-time parent again. During the season Sally has to be both mother and father, plumber, electrician and so on. But when the season ends you get to do the things most normal families do."

"We're still different in one respect, though," Sally says. "There's still a lot of work involved because Tommy goes into what amounts to another full-time job at the end of the season. He has his charity golf tournament, and he's constantly on the phone getting that organized. He goes straight from baseball to that, boom!" (The Tommy John Celebrity Invitational Golf Classic is played at the Industry Hills Country Club and benefits Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles cancer research. John himself is an avid golfer and even customizes his own clubs.)

Likes End of Season

Still, John says, the end of each season brings relief. He sags deeper into a sofa at the thought of it.

"We usually try to take a little family vacation for a week or so right after the season, before things start to get busy again," he says. "I'm glad not to have to go to the ballpark every day or have my bags packed for the next road trip.

"During the season my schedule keeps me away from home about half the time. And the sad thing is that the boys are just starting to play T-ball (an elementary form of baseball), and I'd like to see them play. But they play after school, and that's the time I'm going to the ballpark."

However, Sally says, "Sometimes he'll wait until the last minute and push it and take in about 10 minutes of the boys' practices, and that means so much to them.

"And he calls every night when he's on the road. I write down what the kids do and say during the day and keep track of the things, good and bad, that I think he'd want to know about, so he's not totally out of touch. To me that's very important, and I can't wait for that call."

'Higher Than a Kite'

The less-than-favorable publicity he received after his performance on the mound last season fueled John's resolve to find the problem and fix it in the off-season. He has been assigned a special weight-lifting program, and his time in Florida with Marshall brought about a transformation, Sally says. She recalls that while he was there, he called home frequently to report his progress, "and he was always higher than a kite."

Sally John co-authored a book with her husband, "The Sally and Tommy John Story," which recounts in part how their religious faith helped sustain them when their son Travis, then 3, fell 27 feet from an apartment window and survived 14 days in a coma in 1981.

Travis, Sally says, is frequently mentioned by fans who recognize the Johns in public.

"People are always so nice," she says. "In the off-season they always wish Tommy good luck next year. And in New York they say, 'Hey, Tommy, we miss you and how's Travis?' You just want to grab them and buy them dinner. After Tommy's operation and all that talk about a bionic arm, one person came up to us and asked if the arm came off. We thought we'd die."

As active as John's off-season is, he says he retains the feeling that he has, at least for awhile, left a frantic life. Rolling his eyes up and sinking still deeper into the couch, he has little trouble putting his end-of-season reaction into one word.

"Whew!"

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