When Manny Crespo was seven years old, he announced that he wanted to play baseball. "I said, 'Manny, why do you want to play baseball?' " recalls his father, also named Manny. "He said, 'Because I want a baseball uniform.' " The elder Crespo, an infield instructor with the Padres at the time, saw this as a test "Well," he told Manny Jr., "I could just buy you a uniform." The son said, "No, I want to earn the uniform myself."
Thirteen years later Manny the father, now infield coordinator for the Marlins, still sheds tears when recounting that day. He never forced young Manny to become an athlete, never demanded he pick up a glove and be like Dad. Still, when Manny Jr. said he wanted to play baseball, his father was thrilled. Now, as Manny Jr. stars in the outfield for the University of Miami, his dad doesn't hide the emotions. On March 4 the Hurricanes and Marlins met to open the latter's exhibition schedule. Before 3,139 fans at Mark Light Stadium in Coral Gables, the two Mannys met at home plate to exchange lineup cards.
"That was an awesome thing for us to do," says Manny Jr., a 20-year-old sophomore. "There we were, in opposing uniforms, for the first time. It meant so much to us both." A long pause. "But I sure wish we had won." Miami lost 12-3 as Manny Jr. went 1 for 4 with two RBIs.
A Cuban native and son of Jose Crespo, a noted amateur baseball player, the senior Manny was 11 in 1961 when he escaped to the U.S. He attended Miami High and was a third-round pick of the Red Sox in '68. After struggling in vain for 10 years to make the majors as a player, he has spent the past 20 coaching at different levels. "I was never the player my son is," he says. "Manny has strength I didn't have. He also has knowledge. I think some of that is from me."
As a boy, Manny Jr. followed his dad to camps and games. "He would sit and chat with Tony Gwynn, Frank Thomas, Tim Raines," says the elder Manny. "In Pittsburgh once, I couldn't find him. I finally looked at the cage, and he had been standing there with Delino DeShields for 40 minutes. I asked what they were talking about. Manny says, 'What else, Dad? Hitting.' "
The exposure paid off. After starring at Miami's Westminster Christian High, Manny Jr. was taken by Atlanta in the 12th round of the June 1997 amateur draft A few days earlier his father had offered some advice, telling his son to pick a monetary figure and stand by it—whatever the team or round. Manny Jr. did. The Braves didn't match the sum, and he went to Miami. "I'm not going to lie," he says. "I badly wanted to become a pro. But I had experienced the minors through my dad, and I knew it could wait."
Through last Saturday, Manny Jr., who plays rightfield, leftfield and second base, was batting .463 for the No. 6-ranked 'Canes. He wants to earn a degree in criminology but would consider leaving school if a team selects him in the early rounds. "Nobody has had the impact on my life like my dad," he says. "If I make it, it will be because of him."