Youth movement in Sox clubhouse
Francona knows firsthand the benefits of player-son bonding at the ballpark
BOSTON -- Seeing D'Angelo Ortiz and Victor Jose Martinez play catch, or kick a soccer ball around, or sit quietly on the couch listening to music is becoming a daily occurrence in the Red Sox clubhouse. To watch the sons of David Ortiz and Victor Martinez pal around in their miniature Red Sox uniforms is almost like watching the draft class of 2023.
D'Angelo turns 6 in July and Victor does the same in August, and they're always hanging out with their dads' teammates like they're already part of the club. In a way, they are.
It's no coincidence that Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is always interacting with both boys on the day he works. It seems to help him relax. Before Sunday night's series finale against the Dodgers, the right-hander was doing his best Pele imitation, using the boys as pillions.
"Yeah, they're great kids," Buchholz said. "That's a life not many kids get to grow up and have, being in a clubhouse. Most kids -- 99 percent of the world -- dreams about doing what those kids do. They're awesome. It's a good type of relaxation before the game."
It's completely different from how most pitchers prepare for an outing, and it doesn't make Red Sox manager Terry Francona the least bit nervous that his starter is kicking a soccer ball around with a couple of 5-year-old boys.
"Nah, it's good," Francona said. "When you think about it, there's not too many places, I mean, we're away from our families so much, I think you can see how healthy it is when the kids are around. I think it's good."
There's a sign that hangs on every clubhouse door around the big leagues. The instructions are clear. Only players, staff and media are allowed behind closed doors. No family members, agents or vendors of any kind are admitted. But when it comes to his players' sons, Francona knows all too well how much it means for both father and son.
Francona's father, Tito Francona, was an All-Star first baseman/outfielder who played 15 seasons in the majors. Terry Francona grew up in the game and wants to help his players perform at their best, and if that means allowing a couple of young boys to use his clubhouse as a playground, then so be it.
"I guess when I see Victor's kid or David's, if we seem like we bend the rules sometimes, I really don't care. Sometimes we get letters from the league, but you know what? I'll take the letter," Francona said.
The manager knows that if his players are happy, they will produce.
Even the other Red Sox players don't seem to mind D'Angelo and Little Victor running around. Backup catcher Jason Varitek had just walked into the clubhouse from an hour workout on the field at Fenway on Sunday afternoon when he saw a soccer ball knock over a couple of his bats.
Varitek snuck up behind Little Victor and began to wrestle with him on the floor.
"It definitely makes me feel great having my son around," Martinez said. "I never had a chance to do what he's doing. It's great just to see him having fun with everybody. He's a kid who sometimes just disappears and he's just hanging with the guys. It's great. That's what I love about this organization; it's a pretty close family."
I guess when I see Victor's kid or David's, if we seem like we bend the rules sometimes, I really don't care. Sometimes we get letters from the league, but you know what? I'll take the letter.” -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona
After Little Victor was done grappling with the Captain, and after he almost took out the shins of closer Jonathan Papelbon with a little Louisville Slugger, Little Victor walked over and gave Big Papi a big hug. "Papi," he said as he wrapped his arms around Ortiz. D'Angelo quickly followed and said to Little Victor, "Let's play soccer."
"Man, I with that cat 24/7," Ortiz said, smiling while looking at his son. "He wakes me up and he puts me to sleep."
There's more to it than just having their sons completely take over the clubhouse on a daily basis. Martinez believes his son is learning valuable lessons.
"One of the things I really pay attention to is the way I act on the field, because he's always watching and I don't want him to watch me doing the wrong thing on the field. Earlier in my career I think I was a little, you know, I was young and sometimes I would show my frustration on the field."
During a game Martinez got frustrated after making an out and slammed his helmet. Not too long after that, his son was playing at a friend's house and threw his helmet. His mother went to discipline him.
"He told his mother, 'Daddy does it.' Since then, I have to be real careful," Martinez said.
Ortiz was never around a big league clubhouse when he was his son's age, but the Red Sox slugger knows that back in the day his son would never have been allowed such freedom.
"Things were different when I was his age," Ortiz said. "I don't think it was as enjoyable as it is now. They had that racist [expletive] back then. But he comes in and you'll see everybody all over him, all the guys. It's a good thing." Francona has seen it both ways.
"You weren't allowed in the clubhouse like [today]. I would run in and grab some candy -- I thought I was sneaking it -- and then I would go and run around. My dad knew I was fine and I would pay attention. I would wait after the game and ride home with him. I think I was the only 9-year-old who knew he pitched up and in and down and away."
Francona would sit in the back of his dad's car and listen to the conversations on the way home, and believes those lessons helped him prepare for a career in the majors as a player, coach and manager.
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He'll be the first to credit his success in this game to being a son of a former major leaguer.
"It was a little different back then," he said. "My dad's last three or four years I went to the ballpark with him just about every day."
Francona remembered once when he got into trouble, his punishment was that he couldn't go to the ballpark. Even when he was at the ballpark, he would sometimes find ways to get in trouble. When his father was playing in St. Louis, a young Francona took some bats from the dugout and sold them. "Thought I was an enterprising young man. I made a lot of money. I also got in trouble," Francona admitted.
During Tito Francona's playing days, it didn't matter what team he was playing for, because his son would gravitate toward one of his dad's teammates who would take the time to play catch with him or throw him batting practice.
It didn't have to be the best player or the superstar of the club who Terry would follow. When his dad played in Milwaukee, Terry's favorite player was pitcher Al Downing.
"To this day, I love Al Downing. He was a left-handed pitcher and that's not what I wanted to be, but he would play catch with me and made me feel good."
In Oakland it was Rick Monday, who's now part of the Dodgers' broadcast team.
"He was one of my all-time favorites," Francona said. "All it takes when you're 8, 9 or 10 years old is to have someone say hello to you and that kind of does it. There was always someone on every team, somebody who would be willing to let a 10-year-old get in the way and play catch with."
It wasn't always enjoyable.
Francona remembers when his dad was playing in Philadelphia, then-manager Gene Mauch tossed him out of the clubhouse.
"Yeah, he kicked me out of the clubhouse one day. I went to say goodbye to my dad because we were leaving and I wouldn't see him for about two months. They lost a tough game and [Mauch] threw me out of the clubhouse," Francona recalls. "He said. 'Get the [expletive] out of the clubhouse, kid.' That's exactly how it was."
Francona was 11 during his dad's last year in Milwaukee and Dave Bristol was the manager. Francona remembers his dad asking Bristol if he could take his son on a road trip because it was his last season.
"Back then you didn't do that. He said 'OK,' and I went to Minnesota, Kansas City and Chicago. It was a 10-day road trip," Francona recalls. "It was probably the funnest 11 days of my life. I remember my mom bought me a suit to go on that trip, dressed me up and put a tie on me. Got me on the plane and when I got home after those 10 days, man, I looked like an unmade bed. It was the best 10 days of my life."
There's something special about the great American pastime and what it can do to help a father and son bond.
"I love the game and I respect this game a lot, and I'm doing all this for my family," the elder Martinez said.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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