It is an unlikely place for an afternoon of baseball: the boiler room, a dark and dank hollow below the basketball court at Holy Cross High in Delran, N.J. Usually a place frequented only by the janitors, the room is the setting for batting practice by the Lancers' baseball team on this rainy spring day. Ryan Luzinski stares down the blue machine spinning fastballs at him. The machine delivers its best stuff, to no avail. If it weren't for the net surrounding the batting cage, one could imagine that the bullet that leaves his bat would shoot through the ceiling and the hardwood floor, startling a group of cheerleaders practicing in the gymnasium above. But, of course, the ball slams into the net and falls, its thud muffled by sand covering the floor.
Greg Luzinski, Holy Cross's head coach and the former Phillie and White Sox slugger, looks on, concentrating more on the chaw in his cheek than on the shot his son has just hit. "I don't like to compare his hitting to mine," says Greg, who earned the nickname Bull in his playing days for both his power and his substantial girth. "I think the comparisons bother him a little bit. He's handled the 'Baby Bull' stuff well, but he wants to be himself, an individual. So I always say to him, 'Hey, I wasn't a defensive player; you're a defensive player. You have a stronger arm, and you're much quicker than I ever was.' "
This is the Luzinskis' last season together as coach and player—unless by chance they meet up in the majors. Greg will resign from Holy Cross at the end of the season after seven years as a baseball coach and five as football coach at the small Catholic school, 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Now 41, he hopes to return to the majors, perhaps as a hitting instructor. Ryan, a catcher projected to be one of the top five picks in the June 1-3 major league draft, will graduate from Holy Cross on June 6. If the money is right, he'll go straight to the pros; if not, he'll play baseball for the University of Miami Hurricanes.
Ryan will reap the benefit of his father's experience when the time comes for his decision. In 1968 the Phillies drafted Greg, a 17-year-old from Chicago, in the first round. He had to choose then between turning pro or going to the University of Kansas, where he had committed to play football. Five days before the draft, a Phillie scout sent the farm director a 16-millimeter film of Greg, and without having seen the young slugger perform in person, the Phillies were sold. So, with the promise of $60,000 and an Oldsmobile for his father, Greg took the leap. Three years later he was playing in the big leagues.
After 15 years in the majors—11 with the Phillies and four with the White Sox, a career in which he accumulated four All-Star seasons, a .276 batting average, 307 home runs and 1,128 RBIs—Greg retired at age 34. When it wasn't fun anymore, he stopped. It was time to go home to Medford, N.J., and watch his two children, Ryan and daughter Kim, grow up. Ryan, now 18, grew to 6'1" and 220 pounds.
The scouts have been hovering around Holy Cross High since Ryan's sophomore year, and he has received more than 500 letters from colleges interested in recruiting him for his baseball and football skills. As a junior he batted .405 with 39 RBIs and seven home runs; this season, through 33 at bats, he's hitting .545 with 18 RBIs and four home runs. Last summer at the Olympic Festival in Los Angeles, he won a silver medal playing for the East team and impressed scouts with his defense behind the plate as well as his ability to hit the long ball.
Besides being an all-state catcher in both his sophomore and junior years, he was named an all-state linebacker in 1990 and all-state defensive back in '91 and was heavily recruited to play football, as well, for Miami. If Ryan becomes a Hurricane, the football staff will try to persuade him to join the team during his sophomore year, although Ryan insists that he's committed to playing baseball only and has no intention of playing football again.
"There's a big difference between Greg's decision whether to play football or baseball and Ryan's decision," says Ryan's mom, Jean, who has known Greg since she was 16 and has been married to him for the past 23 years. "Greg had a real tough time deciding. Ryan has always known what he wanted to do. He's always wanted to play baseball."
On one wall of Ryan's bedroom there are two photos of a six-year-old with flaxen hair wearing a Phillie uniform, number 19, just like Dad. "This is so funny," says Jean. "Here he is trying so hard to pick up a batting helmet with his bat, just like the ballplayers do. And in this one he's trying to fix his socks. He could never get them just right."
Ryan's walk-in closet could pass for a small equipment room. "He has such a bat fetish," says Jean, pointing at the boxes of 35-inch bats in one corner. A few catcher's mitts rest on a chair nearby. "I think this one was Boonie's," she says, referring to Bob Boone, an All-Star catcher with the Phillies during Greg's years with the team and a close family friend. The TV room in the Luzinski house also doubles as a family hall of fame. The trophy case boasts a 1980 World Series trophy, All-Star rings, MVP awards and Most Popular Player honors, Ryan's first home run ball, his medals earned last summer with the Junior Olympic team, a few racks of autographed bats, as well as a modest collection of shotguns. Father and son spend most of their free time between seasons hunting and fishing.