Boone hopes to winter back in Senior League

On baseball

September 26, 1990|By Jim Henneman

NOW THAT he's achieved his near-impossible dream, Dan Boone has one more goal for this year.

He'd like to get his winter job back. And not the one with the construction gang back in San Diego.

Boone (who prefers Dan to Daniel, as opposed to his pioneering uncle of seven generations ago), used the newly formed Senior League as his return ticket to the major leagues. The irony now is that he might need permission to go back.

"Everything is set, and I definitely want to go back," Boone said. "I think it's just a matter of the club giving permission."

"I'm not sure what the situation is with active players," said Doug Melvin, the Orioles' player personnel director. "But we do have a memo from the commissioner's office that they be notified before permission is granted. If there is no objection, I'm sure we'd give him permission."

At this point, it's premature to say that Boone will be on the Orioles' 40-man roster, which doesn't have to be set until Nov. 20. And there is only one precedent in this situation -- Ken Griffey Sr. wanted to play in the Senior League last year, but the Cincinnati Reds wouldn't give him permission.

That isn't likely to happen with Boone and the Orioles, and not just because the lefthander still ranks somewhere between a novelty and a question mark.

"He definitely should pitch some more," said Melvin. "In fact, we talked to him about playing for [Rochester manager] Greg Biagini in the Dominican Republic. But his preference is to stay in the states so he could be with his family."

Boone will be 37 before another season rolls around, and if the Orioles' farm system is as replete with talent as they think, he might have a tough time staying on the 40-man roster. "That's one of the reasons these final games are so important -- to help you make those kind of decisions," said general manager Roland Hemond.

Boone has pitched four scoreless innings in two appearances with the Orioles since his recent promotion from Rochester. "Any lefthander who can get hitters out intrigues you," said manager Frank Robinson.

Has Boone given indication that he can do that against major-league hitters? "He's gotten them out so far," said Robinson. "Whether he can do that over 70 innings or so, it's tough to tell right now. He looks like he has the stuff to get hitters out, but I think he'd be most effective getting him in and out, maybe one time through the lineup."

That would seem to squash Boone's dream of being a starter, but at this stage of his career any role is OK. And this winter, a baseball job is the most financially attractive.

"I can make more money playing down there than I can working construction," Boone said of the Senior League. "I don't want to go back to working construction, and I don't think the Orioles would want me to either."

That's what Boone was doing a year ago, when a phone call from Clete Boyer changed his life. "He told me he needed some pitching and asked me if I wanted to come to Florida," said Boone, who lives in San Diego.

The only reason he accepted Boyer's offer was because a seven-year absence from the big leagues (he pitched for San Diego in 1981 and '82 after four years in the minors) had not doused the flame of his dream. He had played semipro ball ever since leaving minor league baseball in 1984, and he had developed the knuckleball somewhere along the way.

"The guys I played with used to go to games at Jack Murphy Stadium [in San Diego] and come back and tell me, 'Boonie, your stuff is as good as a lot of those guys.' And when I went to games, I realized the fire was still there."

Boone doesn't look like a candidate for a construction gang or a big-league team, standing 5 feet 8 (on tiptoe) and weighing 139 pounds. But he's got a body similar to Cal Ripken Sr. -- sort of like a wrought iron stake.

"I know the only reason I'm here is because of the knuckleball, and the fact that you can throw it for a long time," said Boone, who was "discovered" in the Senior League by Orioles scout Birdie Tebbetts. "It's a very easy pitch on the arm. Plus, I have four other pitches I can throw for strikes.

"If it wasn't for the knuckleball, I wouldn't even have gotten a Rochester contract. And the best thing that happened to me there was that I got nine starts."

That opportunity took Boone out of the specialty category at Triple A and probably is responsible for his late-season stint with the Orioles. His trail back to the big leagues is probably longer, and at least as difficult, as any ever blazed by his distant uncle Daniel.

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