Reunited and it feels so good.
It’s not just that it happened, but how it’s happening that has Bret and Bob Boone smiling these days. Bret has followed his father’s footsteps all the way to the major leagues and now he can literally step in them if he leaves the shower after his dad.
If his feet happen to be touching the ground, that is.
During the last 15 games, the Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman is hitting .353 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in. His season average is .320, and he’s on a pace to drive in more than 100 runs.
From his spot in the dugout, Bob Boone, the former Phillie and Angel catcher who was hired as bench coach two weeks after the Reds acquired his son in a trade with Seattle, has been basking in a white-hot glow of parental pride.
“When I was asked to take this job, my first thought was, ‘What could the negatives be?’ ” the elder Boone said. “After about five minutes, I figured out that was a non-issue.
“It’s just a perk for me, a huge gift. You get to do what you love, you get a salary and you get to watch your son play all year. I’ve never been able to see any of my kids play on a daily basis during the summer, so that part is real special.”
And, on closer inspection, Dad likes what he sees. It has little to do with line drives, diving catches or stat sheets, though.
“We’d all love for our kids to have immediate success,” he said, “but I’m proud of all my kids and not for what they’re doing at the moment. To me, it’s how you go about your business.
“Once you choose baseball as your profession, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. I think Bret has chosen the right way, he plays the game correctly, he plays the game hard, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Anyone who ever saw Bob Boone play--or how he handled himself before and after a game--wouldn’t be surprised by that sentiment. He played 19 major league seasons and set a record for fewest tantrums in a career.
“He was a true professional in my eyes,” Bret said. “The high level of integrity he had, the respect he had around the game. It all came from how hard he played, the way he worked his butt off, the way he carried himself, not just the things he accomplished.”
The Reds were looking for a role player not a role model, however, when they demanded Boone be included in the Nov. 2 trade that also brought right-hander Erik Hanson to Cincinnati.
“If we were going to give up a catcher (Dan Wilson) and a reliever with a good arm (Bobby Ayala), we had to get a starter and we had to get Bret Boone,” Reds Manager Davey Johnson said. “We needed a solid second baseman and he’s done everything we thought he would do.
Hanging around the clubhouse with Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Steve Carlton after elementary school may have set Bret Boone’s fate two decades ago. Maybe it was the sight of the crowds lining Broad Street during Philadelphia’s delirium after the Phillies’ World Series triumph. Or maybe it was in his genes--his grandfather, Ray, played 13 seasons in the major leagues.
Whatever, he has wanted to be ballplayer for as long as he can remember. And, unlike most kids, he knew it was a real profession, not a fantasy life.
The family came West in 1981 when his father was traded to the Angels and Bret began to cut his own mark on the diamond. He helped his team win the 1987 Connie Mack World Series and was All-Orange County and All-Southern Section at El Dorado High.
He started for three years at USC and didn’t miss a game. He ranks among the top three Trojans in career runs (166), doubles (51), triples (12) and RBIs (160).
“For me at least, going to college was a good decision,” Boone said. “I was 18 years old and I thought I was ready to go tear it up in the minor leagues. But looking back, I’m glad I didn’t sign out of high school. The only reason I didn’t was because the money didn’t compare to my USC scholarship.
“Now I’m glad. I think I needed it mentally more than physically. It was a chance for me to live away from home and adjust to the real world. I’d been sheltered a little growing up.”
He was drafted by the Mariners in the fifth round in 1990. He shot up through the Mariners’ minor league system like a weed after spring showers. He was a double-A All-Star in 1991 and a triple-A All-Star in ’92. Last year, he split the season between triple-A Calgary and Seattle. In 271 at-bats with the Mariners, he had 12 homers and 38 RBIs.
“I was shocked when Seattle traded me,” he said. “But today baseball is a business and you never completely understand why certain things are done. For about a week there, I was walking around in a daze. I wasn’t upset really, but let’s say I was puzzled.”
That frame of mind soon passed, however, and Boone began concentrating on new opportunities and the challenges ahead.
“Baseball is a constant adjustment, to pitchers, to teammates,” he said. “That’s what separates the great players from the not-so-great. The great players make adjustments on a daily basis.
“This is a great situation for me. We’ve got a lot of talent on this team and the potential to win a lot of games. I’m very excited.”
Clearly, Bret Boone, 25, has yet to master his father’s James Bond-like cool, but teething on horsehide has given him some advantages. He knows right where to find the sunflower seeds and how much one should tip the clubhouse boys.
“It’s a lot harder for me to toss it off, to leave it at the ballpark like my dad was able to do,” Bret said. “You never knew whether he had four hits or four strikeouts when he got home. I have a little more trouble with that, but I’m trying.
“When I was young, I took it all for granted. My buddies’ dads went to the office and my dad went to the ballpark. Now I realize I was very fortunate to grow up in that environment.”
When Boone first moved up to the major leagues, there were a lot of been-there-done-that stories in the papers.
“There’s a huge difference between a kid without a worry in the world who’s running around driving people nuts and a man coming here with a job to do,” he said. “Now I realize what a distraction I probably was for my dad.”
So now it’s dad’s turn?
“Bret has had his father’s influence his whole life, so I doubt if he really wants him this close at this point and time,” Johnson said with a mischievous grin. “As cocky as Bret is, I’m sure he feels like he’s cut those ties a long time ago.
“But any father is going to offer advice. Of course, you don’t expect any of it to be taken, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it.”
Boone describes his relationship with his father while they are in uniform as “strictly professional.” And father knows better than to nag, even if he feels he knows best.
Take the other day in the visitors clubhouse of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium for instance. Father could only smile--OK, maybe it was a wince--as he watched his son devour his pregame meal: three fast-food tacos.
“He taught me a long time ago not to tell him what to do,” Boone said, unable to suppress a laugh. “Anybody who has ever had a teen-ager knows what I’m talking about.”