On a secluded diamond behind the centerfield wall of Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, Fla., the visiting Baltimore Orioles are taking batting practice before their March 8 exhibition game with the Montreal Expos. Cal Ripken, the Orioles' third-base coach, winds and throws the ball to Cal Ripken, the Orioles' third baseman. Cal Ripken, the third baseman, lines what would have been a double to left center, and Cal Ripken, the coach, throws another pitch.
"This is a scene that's been repeated many times, although seldom in the majors," observes Ken Singleton, a Baltimore outfielder, who is standing behind the cage. "A father pitching to his son." Singleton pauses a moment. "I guess it goes to show that what goes around, comes around." Cal Ripken, the third baseman, hits one into the swamp behind leftfield of the practice diamond, and Cal Ripken, the coach, smiles.
Later, in the seventh inning of that day's game, Terry Francona of the Expos lines a single to the opposite field off Oriole Reliever Tippy Martinez. Up in the stands, the Francona family cheers. The next batter grounds to second, and Francona gets caught in a long, involved and very entertaining rundown, which ends with him sliding unsuccessfully into first base. "Never a dull moment," says Tito Francona, Terry's father. "Something is always happening around Terry." Adds Terry's sister, Amy, "Oh, he just likes to get dirty."
The game seems to be in a family way this season, thanks mostly to these two rookies, Cal Ripken Jr., 21, and Terry Francona, 22, each born in the best season of his father's career, each about to make a name for himself. They are at the head of a bountiful baseball freshman class that also includes Cleveland Catcher Chris Bando, brother of Brewer executive Sal; Los Angeles Outfielder Ron Roenicke, brother of Oriole Outfielder Gary; and St. Louis Outfielder Gene Roof, brother of former Catcher Phil. Some other top rookies are pictured on these pages: pitchers Dave LaPoint of St. Louis, Bob Stoddard of Seattle and Luis Aponte of Boston; leftfielders Chili Davis of San Francisco and Tom Brunansky of California; and Second Baseman Steve Sax of Los Angeles.
The young Ripken and Francona both grew up around ball parks—Ripken in the minors, Francona in the majors. As talented as they are, the nicest thing about them is that they're both genuinely nice, which is a tribute to those unsung heroines, Vi Ripken and Roberta Francona, who raised them while the dads were going from town to town.
John Patsy (Tito) Francona, an outfielder-first baseman, was traded eight times in a 15-year major league career. He went from Baltimore to Chicago to Detroit to Cleveland to St. Louis to Philadelphia to Atlanta to Oakland to Milwaukee. In 1959 he hit .363 for the Indians. In April of that year, Terry was born, and soon afterward he displayed his designer's genes.
"He couldn't have been more than a year and a half old," Tito recalls. "We had this little plastic bat and ball. He picked the bat up and I began throwing him the ball, and—I'm not kidding—he started hitting it consistently."
When Terry was six and his father was playing with the Cardinals, he fell in with some of the older children among the offspring of members of the club. "Bob Skinner had four kids, and they used to take the team's broken bats and sell them in the stands," says Terry, who doesn't exactly remember doing what he's about to relate, although he has heard the story so often that he knows it by heart. "Gee, I thought, if they can make that much money off of broken bats, think how much I could make selling the good ones. So I grabbed a handful of bats, and not just any bats. They were game bats that belonged to guys like Tim McCarver, Julian Javier, Bill White, Mike Shannon. The next thing I know, I've got about $50 in my hand. My father, who gave me a dollar to spend every time I went to a game, sees me with all this money and asks me where I got it. I didn't think I'd done anything wrong, so I told him. He was so embarrassed. He had to go up to each one of the players and apologize. Now I realize that players kill for game bats."
In those days Terry was literally a kid in a candy store. He used to stuff his pockets with the gum and candy that was set out in the clubhouse for the players. He thought the goodies were free, when, in fact, the clubhouse manager was noting every item and giving Tito the bill.
When he was 10, Terry was the bat-boy for the Oakland A's. His favorite players were Catfish Hunter and Tommie Reynolds, and he got Blue Moon Odom to help him with a fifth-grade book report. "Once a player asked me to go into the clubhouse to get him some chew, and I accidentally locked myself in," says Terry. "I was so embarrassed I stayed there the whole game, and he never did get his tobacco."