Job of a Lifetime: Long Hours, Low Pay, Great Seats

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bryan James was a baseball terror last season, his senior year in high school. His batting average was a sizzling .595 which, for those of you who don't know a batting average from a grade-point average, is akin to getting your income tax refund the same day you win the lottery.

So it's not surprising that this year we find 19-year-old Bryan James in Anaheim Stadium wearing a California Angels uniform and chasing a foul ball off the bat of Boston Red Sox slugger Wade Boggs.

On this foul, James got a late jump on the ball but never took his eyes off of it. His quick, measured strides brought him to the base of the sloping foul screen behind home plate at the precise moment the ball trickled off the fence.

As James made a nonchalant, bare-handed grab, a couple of fans on the other side of the screen politely applauded. Hardly anyone else seemed to notice.

OK, so Bryan James doesn't exactly play in the major leagues. He's one of those guys who chases fouls, hand carries a fresh supply of baseballs to the home plate umpire and serves as Man Friday to the real ballplayers. Bryan James is a batboy.

Before you say to yourself that this guy's merely a batboy, consider this: The wealthiest Newport Beach developer and the most influential Orange County Republican can't get better seats than James gets at every Angel home game. And James gets paid to sit there.

Even Gene Autry doesn't have as good a view of the ballgame, and Autry owns the team.

We're talking about a guy who puts on his Angel uniform--the one with "BB" on the back--in a locker room stall right next to Bert Blyleven's.

Of course, there are trade-offs. For the privilege of being the only spectators to sit on the field, batboys must sort out piles of jock straps and jerseys every game day, polish 30 pairs of shoes each night, wash uniforms into the wee hours and perform countless other chores. They do all of this for the minimum wage. And they do it gladly.

James and three teen-age compatriots in Angel uniforms (and three other young men who don the colors of the visiting team) are valets to millionaires. They cater to the needs and whims of the world's finest baseball athletes, some of whom are not all that far removed from their own teen-age years.

Jim Abbott, last year's Angel rookie pitching sensation, is nearly batboy-age himself. He points out Angel equipment manager Leonard Garcia, who is James' boss and a former batboy.

While batboys strike up cordial friendships with some players, such as the 27-year-old Abbott and rookie catcher John Orton, they also learn which players to steer clear of, especially when things aren't going well, Garcia said.

And there are always the eccentricities of some players that can require special tact. Take Blyleven, veteran pitcher and noted prankster.

Batboy Chris Drummond, a student at Anaheim's Katella High School, recalls the day he tempted fate by falling asleep in the Angel dugout. Blyleven, who seems to have a warm spot in his heart for other people's feet, gave Drummond his trademark dreaded hot foot by igniting the sleeping boy's shoe with matches.

Since then Drummond has been more careful where he catnaps.

"He hasn't really gotten me in full flame yet," Drummond said. "It's been close though."

Nevertheless, batboys wouldn't trade places with anyone, unless maybe it's the players they serve.

"Nothing beats this job," said a beaming James, who spends his hours away from the ballpark attending Orange Coast College and ushering at a movie theater. "It's got to be the funnest job around."

You want to talk fun? The batboy is about the very first person to high-five an Angel after he's knocked a home run.

But let's don't forget duty. The batboy is the one who gathers up the batting gloves and shin guards as well as the bat of an Angel who strikes out to kill a rally and is in no mood to pick up after himself.

And, of course, there's fantasy. The batboy's the one who wonders half-aloud if he can hit that pitch zipped at the speed of a hurtling locomotive by the big leaguer standing out there on the mound.

"My friend and I were thinking about that the other day," James confessed. "I think maybe I could hit their fastballs, but when they start throwing all that other stuff it would be kind of hard. I'd have to work on it."

James may not need that much work.

"He's a good ballplayer," said Garcia, who met James and some of the other batboys at a baseball camp Garcia runs during the off-season in Arizona. "It was a surprise when he told us he wasn't going to play" baseball this season at Orange Coast College.

"It was a tough decision," Garcia said. "I think Bryan really wanted to be a batboy."

Indeed, James passed up baseball in his freshman year of college because it would have conflicted with his job as an Angel batboy. He plans to resume playing baseball next year when he transfers to Rancho Santiago College.

If he picks up where he left off in high school, James may follow in the tracks of other noteworthy former batboys who went on to make a mark for themselves as major league players. Former Los Angeles Dodgers star Steve Garvey, for one, was a batboy.

"If you do a good job, you never know where it will lead you," noted Angel director of operations Kevin Uhlich, a batboy himself in the 1970s.

Not everyone would be willing to work to 3 or 5 in the morning, seven to 10 days at a stretch. But not everyone need apply.

Although some teams hire "ball girls" to run down foul balls on the field, there are no "batgirls" because the bulk of those duties are performed in locker rooms where the players shower and dress.

The odds of becoming a major league batboy are even more remote than becoming a major league baseball player.

"They are always nervous, like they are awe-struck," Garcia said of new batboys. "Just like any other job, they don't know what to do and they don't want to look stupid doing it."

James learned the nuances of the job on the job.

After an Angel loss, he said, "you have to see what kind of mood they are in. If they are in a bad mood, I wouldn't mess with them. If they are in a good mood, just act like nothing happened."

James said he has reached the point that he is comfortable around the players--no small feat for an aspiring baseball player thrown in amongst big leaguers.

For James, it was a bit of a surprise to find "basically how they are so kicked back. It seems like they are all kids who never grew up. They are all jokesters."

Even Manager Doug Rader, once noted for his fiery temper, has taken the batboys under his wing.

"He takes care of us batboys," James said. "Doug Rader was hitting me ground balls yesterday.'

"If we need help with anything, he'll give it to us. I got a new glove the other day and he helped me break it in. He tightened down the webbing on the fingers to make it more a cup shape."

Teen-age shortstops around the nation, turn green with envy.

But reaping such rare benefits can take a toll on a young man. After James has stocked the clubhouse refrigerator with soft drinks, filled jugs with Gatorade and distributed towels in the dugout, he has little time left for his girlfriend.

"She doesn't like it," he said. "We work like 11 hours a day."

Is there anything James doesn't do for the Angels?

"I don't play," he noted, with what might have been the slightest twinge of disappointment on his grinning face.

But again, there are trade-offs.

Last year when the All-Star game was played at Anaheim Stadium, the Angel batboys were given the honor of working for the home team American League stars. Before the game, former President Ronald Reagan visited the clubhouse and was introduced around.

Rader introduced his son to the President, then noticed standing nearby was Bryan James, rookie batboy.

"And this is the clubhouse dude," was all Rader could manage, apparently forgetting the new kid's name.

Reagan turned to James and without balking acknowledged him this way: "Hi dude, how are you doing?"

Young Republicans around the nation, turn green with envy.

The Good, the Bat and the Ugly in the History of Baseball

Great (and not so great) moments in batboy history:

1910-1915: Batboys, who tended to equipment and traveled with the teams, gradually begin to appear as paid employees in the Major Leagues, replacing "mascots," whose chief function had been to serve as good luck charms, according to Bill Dean, senior research associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

1925: Harold Seymour, who decades later would be acclaimed as baseball's premier historian, is asked if he would "mind the bats for Cincinnati" during a Sunday afternoon game at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. "I got no pay except a baseball after each game," Seymour wrote 60 years later.

1933: In the first-ever All Star game, batboy John McBride is captured in a historic photograph, standing between Babe Ruth, who had just hit the first All Star home run, and Lou Gehrig, who welcomed Ruth with a handshake at home plate. "I made sure I was up there and in the picture," McBride admitted half a century later.

1952: With the crowd yelling "Send in the batboy!" Joe Reliford, a 12-year-old black youth, goes in for a team from Fitzgerald in the Georgia State League. His team was being routed 13 to 0 by Statesboro, and Joe grounds out and makes an impressive catch in right field, becoming the first black to play in the league. For sending him in, Reliford's manager is fined $50, suspended five days and then fired.

1967: Leonard Garcia, 17-year-old California Angels batboy, is standing in the locker room at Anaheim Stadium as Mickey Mantle dresses to leave the All Star game. "Here, kid. You want these bats?" asks the future Hall of Famer. And Garcia becomes the proud owner of two of the only four bats specially made by the Adirondack company bearing the words: "Mickey Mantle 1967 All Star."

1967-72: Jay Mazzone, his badly burned hands amputated at age 2, is batboy for the Baltimore Orioles. His starting pay is $4 a day. His final pay: $5 per diem.

1969: A batboy tricks a baseball card photographer and poses as California Angels third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez. The batboy ends up on the players' card sold in bubble gum packs around the nation.

1973: Cincinnati batboy Andy Mood makes a flying tackle on a spectator who had eluded police and run onto the field. Mood gets a $50 bonus.

1977: New York Yankees batboys disclose that the players voted to give them nothing from their World Series paychecks the year before. The Cincinnati Reds, who beat the Yanks in the Series, voted their batboys $6,000 each. Embarrassed by the disclosure, Yankee players offer $100 to their batboys, who turn down the money. "The Yankees were cheapskates, and we want everybody to remember them as cheapskates," one batboy explained.

1982: The New York Yankees, the highest paid team in baseball, pay their batboys less than the minimum wage of $3.35 an hour required by law.

1984: In the film, "The Natural," when hero Roy Hobbs breaks his wondrous bat on a foul ball, batboy Bobby Savoy lends his own bat to Hobbs, who had carved it for him. Hobbs homers with Bobby's bat to win the game.

1986: Then-Sen. Dan Quayle sponsors an amendment exempting teen-age baseball batboys and bat girls from child-labor laws that prohibit working late hours.

1989: Former nightclub owner Irving Tuman, 72, stakes his claim as the oldest active batboy by working for the Palm Beach Tropics, a team in the newly formed Senior Professional Baseball Assn., a league for players 32 years and older.

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