Nabholz's parent club is top notch

Ken Rosenthal

June 28, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- Bloody noses. Twisted ankles. Skinned knees. Margaret Nabholz saw it all raising three boys by herself in Pottsville, Pa. But shoulder tendinitis? "I'm learning," Margaret says. "I can tell you that."

In the meantime, she worries. Mothers do, you know. Chris is her baby, and last year he made this wild trip to the major leagues, and everything was going to be wonderful, and now he has this shoulder tendinitis that could ruin the whole thing.

Well, it's not that serious, but Chris went on the 15-day disabled list June 17, and he probably won't pitch again until after the All-Star break. Margaret says it's all "a little scary." The fairy tale isn't supposed to include chapters like this.

Chris, formerly of Towson State, currently of the Montreal Expos, has a special relationship with his mom, for she's basically the only parent he's ever known. He was 4 years old when his father died of a heart attack at 37. He recalls his dad, but "just barely, not a whole lot."

Margaret is the one who raised the three boys -- Leonard, 29; John, 26; and Chris, 24. Margaret is the one who made every possible sacrifice. And Margaret is the one who chartered a bus for herself and 48 friends the day of Chris' major-league debut, a two-hour drive away in Philadelphia.

That was last June 11, just over a year ago. Chris, a lefthander, began the season with only 24 games of professional experience, all at Class A. But he pitched five innings against the Phillies, and no one cared that he didn't earn a decision. The Expos won 3-2.

"A dream come true," Margaret recalls. But Chris returned to the minors after one start, this time to Triple A. He went 0-6 at Indianapolis, then the Expos summoned him back Aug. 12. With Margaret watching at Olympic Stadium, he beat those same Phillies for his first major-league win.

From there he won six straight, capping his streak with a one-hit shutout that all but eliminated the New York Mets from contention on Sept. 20. It was an incredible run for a rookie with such limited experience, but Margaret figured it would turn out that way.

"I knew it all his life, I truly did," she says. "At 4 he could throw. We had an acre of land, and he could throw it across that field. He always had a ball in his hand. We knew he was going to be something. You could see it in him."

Chris never got to play catch with his father, but he had his two older brothers. That made it easier, and then there was mom: "She was always there. She always supported me. She always got involved." Margaret never remarried. As she explains, "I was too busy to think of that."

Yet everything always seemed right. "I would still say his father was looking down on him," she says. "The guidance is there. It's always been there. We've been a close family. Thank God for that. I'm thankful the boys grew up when they did. Right now I don't know if the control would be there.

"Looking back, I had the control. They were all taller than me, but they were afraid of me. Somewhere along the line, I still had the upper hand. I look back and still say I had a guardian angel over my shoulder, from the time their father passed away to the time they were in college."

If only Chris' father could see how far he has come. Cleveland took Nabholz in the 1985 draft, but 30th-round picks don't command much of a signing bonus, so he went to Towson State. Only one other school offered him a baseball scholarship. That school, Penn State, wanted him to play first base.

So Towson it was, though Nabholz, a lanky 6-foot-5, also got basketball offers from similar places. Margaret says she knew he'd always pick baseball. And once he got to Towson, she rarely missed a game Chris pitched within driving distance of home.

In '88 the Expos drafted him in the second round, and two years later he was in the majors. This season he's only 2-4 with a 4.16 ERA, but he's had a little bad luck and now the bad shoulder. Expos broadcaster Ken Singleton, the former Oriole, still believes he can win 12 to 15 games consistently, 18 to 20 in a good year.

As frustrating as his season has been, he pitched on both Mother's Day and Father's Day and the Expos won both games. That was small consolation, for reliever Bill Sampen earned the decisions. Right now Nabholz is worried about his arm, as worried as his mom.

He thinks about her often. His 1991 salary is $120,000. Future riches are at stake. "She gave up a lot to raise us," he says. "Now I think the three of us are in a situation where we can take care of her. Both my brothers have pretty good jobs. And I take care of her as much as I can.

"She put a lot of her life aside for us. She's been raising us for almost 20 years. She's sacrificed a lot, when maybe she could have had more for herself. All of us realize that. It's time to repay her for all that she's done."

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