Boone Is Training, Waiting

United Press International

The batting cages are silent and the wooden bleachers overlooking the baseball field are empty on a misty morning at Placentia's El Dorado High School near his home in Villa Park. Beyond the Golden Eagles' splintered scoreboard, students in gym class are jumping rope.

For Bob Boone, this is Spring Training 1987. Last year's Gold Glove catcher in the American League comes here each day, preparing for a 16th season in the major leagues.

"I'm probably in better shape than anybody," Boone, clad in sweaty T-shirt and shorts, says between 100-yard dashes. "I'm ahead of everybody right now with my ACME home spring training course. But you can't simulate games--so I'm going to start falling behind."

Boone, 39, helped the Angels win the American League West title last year, then turned down the Angels' offer of approximately $800,000 to return this season. He expected to hear from other clubs, and he did--but the offers were nothing like he expected.

So Boone, who can't re-sign with the Angels until May 1, works and waits.

"It's all a poker game that you're playing," he says. "With hindsight, you can look back at the time and do it differently. But I always expected to play for somebody.

"I didn't expect to get the same money that I got with the Angels (last year), with what's happened to the market; I made the decision (not to sign) knowing that much. But I didn't expect the offers to be zero."

So Boone, still wearing his Angels' red cleats, works alone in the morning and is joined by some Golden Eagle players in the afternoon. He takes batting practice against a El Dorado pitcher who recently signed a minor-league contract with the Angels.

Fellow free-agent catcher Lance Parrish, who lives a few miles away from Boone, was also working out at the high school, but he left this week for Florida, where he hoped to sign with the Phillies.

But it's not all bad news. The unique situation has allowed Boone to practice and spend more time with his son, Brett, who is a senior on the El Dorado team.

"Actually, this whole thing has been kinda neat," Boone says. "It's the first time ever I've been able to see my kids play, and I don't feel bad because I'm getting as much work as I could in spring training.

"I've got a pretty rigorous training program aside from baseball that I've done for several years. Cardiovascular and strength-wise, I'm ready. The last month, I've done all the baseball things, hitting and running. I'm ready right now.

"I'm real good in batting practice, but you need game experience at a fairly high level to see if what you're doing in batting practice is the right thing."

Most feel Boone will return to the Angels on May 1. Manager Gene Mauch calls him the smartest catcher he's ever had; he's a "second manager" on the field and one of the game's best handlers of pitchers.

"Pitching to Bob Boone is like a love affair," California reliever Donnie Moore said recently. "You just fall in love; it's so easy to adapt to him."

And 12-year veteran John Candelaria calls Boone "the best catcher I ever worked with."

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