Wally Backman slides a Louisville Slugger into the cab of his silver Ford F-250, next to his son. Wally Jr., 19, is an infield prospect in the Texas Rangers organization, now preparing for his second season in the Arizona Rookie League. Father and son work out every day in the off-season.
Wally Jr. is 6'3" and broader than his father, bigger in the hips and shoulders. "He's built like a Cal Ripken--type shortstop," Wally Sr. says. "He has softer hands than me, more power." There is still a light dusting of adolescent acne on Wally Jr.'s face. He has a wide smile and an easygoing manner and conspicuously lacks his father's intensity. Even if he doesn't make it in baseball, you sense that he will somehow find a way to happiness. Wally Sr., on the other hand, seems lost without baseball. These sessions are as much therapy for Wally Sr. as they are instruction for Wally Jr.
The two ride over to the Crook County High indoor batting cage, where Wally Sr. takes up position behind an L-shaped pitcher's screen and throws batting practice to his lefthanded-hitting son. He calls out each toss, "changeup" or "fastball," as Wally Jr. takes his cuts.
"O.K.," Wally Sr. says after a swing, "Hold it."
He walks around his son, who is frozen in his follow-through. Wally Sr. pushes down his son's back leg and then presses down on his front foot. "You gotta use your lower half. Your hands start everything," he says softly, "but your power comes from your lower half."
And then Wally Sr. walks back behind the pitching screen, to all that's left of Wally World. ?