While Bret dismisses his baseball pedigree as irrelevant—"When you're facing that pitcher one-on-one, it doesn't matter who your daddy is," he says—Campanis revels in his, cannot separate himself from it even though the Campanises' baseball lineage is far less lustrous than the Boones'. Ray Boone, now 68 and still scouting Southern California for the Boston Red Sox, played the infield for 13 years in the majors, had four seasons with 20 or more home runs and hit .275 lifetime. Al Campanis, now 75, however, got just a whiff of a cup of coffee in the bigs: seven games at second base for the 1943 Brooklyn Dodgers. Jim Sr., a catcher with "stone hands," as he admits, was a journeyman for three different teams in parts of six seasons (1966-70, '73).
Jim did not have a childhood so much as he had an extended baseball clinic. His father had retired by the time he was eight, "I became his coach," says Jim Sr. Jim's grandfather, a walking repository of Branch Rickeyisms, cannot let a half hour pass without enunciating some baseball fundamental or another. "By the time I was playing in Little League," says Jim Jr., "I knew what it was to inside-out the ball, why it was important to hit to rightfield with a runner on second, how to hit a curve."
A quarterback and shortstop at Valencia High, Jim Jr. sought to play both sports at USC. Choose one, said Ted Tollner, then the Trojans' football coach. It was no contest. "I love football, and I miss it," says Jim, "but baseball's my life. It's my trade, it's what I know."
Jim, now 6'1" and 200 pounds, grew two inches and put on 25 pounds in 1986, his first year at Southern Cal, outgrowing his position, which had been shortstop. Ever do any catching? his coaches asked. Oh, yes, for many years, he lied. A year later Jim caught for the North Pole Nicks of the Alaska League—"Our mascot was Santa Clans," he says—to polish his catching skills. "It was ugly at first, but I learned a lot."
That summer was one of a series of Carnegie-esque self-improvement steps Jim has taken. He spent last winter playing for Los Mochis Cañeros of the Mexican Pacific League. An average athlete who, in Jongewaard's words, "pretty much gets the maximum out of his ability," Jim needs every edge he can get.
Those edges present themselves at odd times and places. Last spring Jim, Bret Boone, Bob Boone and one of Bob's brothers decided to pile into Bob's pickup and head for Las Vegas. After gambling the night away, the foursome piled back into the truck for the drive home. To keep Hob awake, Jim peppered him with questions about catching.
For three hours, as the mile markers on 1-15 clicked past and the sun appeared in the rearview mirror, Bob expounded on his craft. "He talked about framing the strike zone, stealing strikes, getting the ball out of your glove, positioning your feet for different pitchers," says Jim, who devoured the discourse. When he got home, before collapsing from fatigue, Jim wrote down the finer points of the lecture on index cards. "If I'm feeling uncomfortable behind the plate," he says, "I'll take those cards out and read them."
None of the Boone boys—Bret has two younger brothers, Aaron, who plays third base for USC as a freshman, and 12-year-old Matt—has been allowed to catch. Some parents won't let their children play football. Bob Boone, who caught 2,225 games in the major leagues, has refused to let his sons don the tools of ignorance. Does he fear for their health over the long run? Has he been worried that they would suffer by comparison with him?
"That has nothing to do with it," says Bob, now the manager of the Tacoma Tigers, Oakland's Triple A affiliate. "Every coach they ever had tried to make catchers out of them. You catch because you have to. The more valuable guys, the athletes, play in the middle infield."
Despite batting .500 his senior year at El Dorado High, Bret lasted until the 28th round of the 1987 June draft. Instead of signing a pro contract, he went to Southern Cal, determined to show the scouts how grievously they had underestimated him. He started as a freshman and hit .326, but the next season his average dipped to .273. Says Jongewaard, "His coach told me that after his freshman year Bret didn't want to be there. He wasn't happy just to do a good job, he wanted to be spectacular. So he ends up overswinging, striking out, popping balls up that he should have hit hard."