It’s Not a Bird, It’s Plane Fun for the Virgil Family

Times Staff Writer

It was strange to see Padre third base coach Ozzie Virgil Sr. and Phillie catcher Ozzie Virgil Jr. arrive at the parking lot behind San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium at 8 a.m. Monday.

The game between the Padres and Phillies was 11 hours away, and even the most bored player would not dream of arriving at the stadium for at least another five hours.

Neither father nor son was wearing a baseball uniform or carrying a bat or glove. Nix the idea of a family batting practice in the solitude of an empty stadium.


But wait.

The Virgils, joined by Padre coach Jack Krol and friends, were looking skyward.

What was going on?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . well, sort of. It’s the Virgils flying radio-controlled model airplanes.

Baseball is their profession, but building and flying model airplanes is what really brings Ozzie Jr., 28, and Ozzie Sr., 52, together.

“It’s something that we both love and can relate to,” Ozzie Jr. said.

And it’s exciting.

“We bring them back in pieces a lot,” Ozzie Jr. said with the smile of a little boy who has been bad. “This is one sport where it doesn’t matter how good you are. Sooner or later, you’ll lose a plane, and you can’t be afraid to lose one.”

Ozzie Jr. knows from experience. There was the time in Clearwater, Fla., the Phillies’ spring training site, when Ozzie Jr. had a few too many beers and his plane ended up in the Gulf of Mexico.

Another adventure, another $60.

The model kits range in price from $40 to $60 for a small to average-sized plane, which are the Virgils’ favorite kind.

It is a relatively expensive and certainly addictive hobby.

Krol introduced Ozzie Sr. to model planes. Then, Ozzie Sr. got Ozzie Jr. hooked in 1980.

When the Padres play in Philadelphia, the two Ozzies fly their planes in a field outside Veterans Stadium.


In the off-season, they are members of a flying club that meets daily for two to three hours at an airstrip in their hometown of Phoenix.

Building and flying model planes is a way for father and son to regain a part of the relationship they missed out on when Ozzie Sr. was on the road and Ozzie Jr. was in school.

Ozzie Jr. only got to see his father during the summer. That’s when he traveled with the major league teams for which his father played or coached. The winter were reserved for Ozzie Sr.’s traveling.

“I think I get to see him more in the winter now than I ever have,” Ozzie Jr. said. “He never really had a chance to work with me. No doubt, it would have been nicer to have him around more.”

Out of sight did not mean out of mind.

Ozzie Sr. was influential in many of his son’s key decisions on his road to the majors.

“Ozzie wasn’t real athletic until he got to high school,” Ozzie Sr. said, “and I tried to get him more interested in playing sports.”

The discovery of talent led to a rapid increase in interest.

As a freshman, Ozzie Jr. made the Moon Valley High (in Phoenix) varsity football team as a defensive end and the baseball team as a catcher. Playing catcher was pop’s idea from the start.


“I felt he wasn’t very agile or quick foot-wise,” Ozzie Sr. said, “and felt he had a better chance and quicker chance to make it to the majors as a catcher.”

Ozzie Jr. agreed then. And now that he has become a good major league defensive catcher, he is doubly thankful for his dad’s advice. Once Ozzie Jr. began playing baseball in high school, his dad thought he had a shot at becoming at a major leaguer.

Ozzie Jr.’s chances only looked better when he was picked in the sixth round by the Phillies in 1976.

That year he hit with a lot of power in winter ball in Venezuela.

That made the normally reserved Ozzie Sr. beam with pride.

Ozzie Sr. was the first Dominican to play in the major leagues (in 1956), and he has been playing and coaching in professional baseball for the past 32 years.

“My objective was for him to make the big leagues and still have me in it,” Ozzie Sr. said.

Ozzie Sr. thought his son would have the benefit of the Virgil name and the Virgil baseball knowledge without the pressure of being the son of a star.


He was the son of a utility player.

“If the father has been real good,” Ozzie Sr. said, “they feel they have to follow in his shoes. I don’t think he feels any pressure to outdo me. And he should outdo me. He’s getting a chance to play every day . . .

“He’s making more money now than I did in my whole career.”

There is more joy than resentment in Ozzie Sr.’s last comment.

“It is a good feeling to have him on the same field,” Ozzie Sr. said.

It’s fun when Ozzie Jr. taps his dad on the shoulder when the two cross paths between innings. Ozzie Sr. is on his way to the third base coaching box, and Ozzie Jr. is getting ready to crouch behind the plate.

That’s keeping up family tradition.

What happened Monday night in the Phillies’ 3-2 win over the Padres at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium will not do a lot to promote family harmony.

Respect, yes. A lot of smiles, probably not. At least not in public.

Virgil, who has a higher career batting average against the Padres than against any other National League team (.344 with five home runs), hit two home runs and drove in all three runs in the Phillie win. Virgil has hit three of his eight home runs this season against the Padres.

“I might concentrate a little more against them,” Ozzie Jr. said. “At first, I might have tried a little too hard against them because I knew he was watching.”

On Monday night, he was watching the ball jump off his son’s bat and soar over the left-field fence.

Funny how the day started and ended with both Virgils looking into the sky at the stadium.