Back in 1975, while playing baseball at Brevard Community College, Bruce Bochy was one of my roommates on road trips. Actually, the school budget was such that Mike Gallagher and Greg Fairbanks were roomies as well. Mike and Greg would go on to play ball for Eddie Stanky at South Alabama, and Bruce was in a quandary as to what he should do.
Boch’ had signed with Florida State, a powerhouse, which was a powerhouse way back when as well as today. And he knew he would be drafted as well. He asked us for advice, and I remember that I spoke of the importance of getting his education. Well, he was drafted 24th in the first round by the Houston Astros, and he made the decision to go straight to pro ball. Good move.
After nine years bouncing around as a big league catcher, he wound up managing the San Diego Padres for twelve seasons before taking the helm for the San Francisco Giants in 2007. He has taken his clubs to three National League pennants (one with the Padres), and a World Series Championship two seasons ago with the Gigantes. This season, his club has won SIX straight elimination games to make it back to the Fall Classic.
It was obvious early on that The Boch’ was meant for the game. His personality, demeanor, and understanding of the game made him look like managerial material way back when we played together. He was a quiet leader, never got lost in himself, and lifted the game of those around him. He was also equipped with a dry, cutting wit. And I never played with anyone I respected more.
And then, there’s Prince Fielder with the Tigers. I remember the first time I realized how special he was as a hitter. He was a freshman at Florida Air Academy, and we were playing at John Carroll in Fort Pierce. There was a breeze cutting across from the left-field foul pole to right. And The Prince hit a screaming line drive out of the park to left-center at about the 380’ mark. Going oppo that far is impressive enough, but against a breeze? Absolutely crazy.
Prince went on to be a great leader through his three seasons with us at Florida Air (he would attend Eau Gallie H.S. his senior season, playing for Bob Collins, who had pitched for me when I was a JuCo assistant coach at Brevard – small world!). While people spoke of his power, which was obvious, it was his power in the dugout and off the field that made him so important to our club. The baseball ability was there for anyone to see, but what they missed was his ability to carry a team on his broad shoulders. And he’s still at it today. Do not underestimate the importance of his persona behind the scenes. He’s a flat-out winner.
So, tonight I am going to begin watching a World Series that means a great deal to me. A wonderful friend will be writing out the lineup for the Giants. The number four hitter for Detroit is a young man that played hard and well for me for three seasons. One will ultimately get the big ring. One will lose. But for me, it will be win-win. And I feel blessed to know both of them.
I’ll be writing more about Bruce and Prince and the World Series again on Sunday. I have stories – all good – to share about both.