Born to baseball, younger Amaro hits Phillies as veteran rookie

April 18, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

NEW YORK -- Ruben Amaro Jr. is a rookie, but he plays and acts as if he has been in the majors for years. In a sense, he has.

His father, Ruben Sr., played 11 years in the major-leagues.

Ruben Jr. was a bat boy for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs for many years. At 15, he was on the field when the Phillies won the 1980 World Series.

That background is helping him handle a big responsibility in the season's first few weeks: replacing injured center fielder Len Dykstra, the Phillies' most valuable player.

"To deal with being a major-leaguer, to understand what it's like, it's a lot easier for me than for somebody else who hasn't ever been around the big-leagues," Amaro said. "The transition from the minors to the big-leagues has been a little easier, because I understand what's going on."

He's the latest to show that there's no preparation for The Show like being backstage as a kid. Others who have proved the point lately are Ken Griffey Jr. and Brian McRae (Sparky Anderson remembers both as toddlers in the Reds' clubhouse) and the Alomars -- Sandy Jr. and Roberto. Their fathers were major-leaguers, so they arrived in the majors with a coat of polish.

"I'm learning stuff every day, just like everybody else," Amaro said. "But the learning process is a little easier because my father exposed me to it. I was around some great players and some great teams. I was fortunate in that regard."

Third base coach Larry Bowa, the Phillies' shortstop when Amaro was a bat boy, said: "He's very knowledgeable about the inside part of the game -- not only from learning from the teams he was around, but his dad."

An example came Monday night against the Mets. On a fairly shallow fly down the left-field line, Amaro scored by running home on the fair-territory side of the baseline. This legal maneuver forced left fielder Daryl Boston to throw the ball a bit up the first base line to avoid hitting Amaro, and that might have been the difference between an out and a run.

"You see guys who have played five or six years in the majors who wouldn't have known to do that," Bowa said.

Bowa said the most important thing Amaro learned from his baseball upbringing is handling the continuous cycle of good and bad days. This is Amaro's log as Dykstra's replacement:

First game: homer, two doubles, standing ovation.

Second and third games: no hits.

Fourth game: home run.

Fifth game: home run.

Sixth game: two hits.

Seventh, eighth and ninth games: no hits.

"He knows that every day you're not going to get three hits, and it's not the end of the world if you go 0-for-4," Bowa said. "His attitude was the same after he went 0-for-4 in his second game as when he went 3-for-4 in his first.

"Whereas a lot of rookies, if they go 0-for-8, panic sets in. 'What is the manager going to think? I'm going to get sent out?'

"He approaches all of this like he's a veteran. If he's faking it, he's doing a hell of a job."

Amaro is 27 -- an old rookie. He graduated from Stanford and spent 4 1/2 seasons in the Angels' farm system before the Phillies acquired him and left-hander Kyle Abbott for outfielder Von Hayes in December.

He was glad to return to Philadelphia, his home all of his life, and realized an ambition when he made the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder.

After Dykstra suffered a broken wrist in the opener last week, the Phillies turned to Amaro to bat leadoff and play center field.

In the hours before Amaro's debut, Dykstra's injury caused a gloom of rare April intensity in Philadelphia.

The hope in the Delaware Valley was that the Phillies could return to contention after an eight-year absence, but Dykstra was the key to that scenario. The man who couldn't be lost had been lost after one whole game.

When the Cubs took a 3-0 lead in the first inning that night, the season seemed to be coming apart before it started.

But Amaro hadn't batted yet.

He reached base his first three times up, twice on doubles. In the sixth, he homered for a 7-3 lead.

Ruben Sr., a Tigers scout, was watching on ESPN in Latin America, where he was on assignment.

"He was pumped up," Ruben Jr. said.

He wasn't the only one. The crowd at Veterans Stadium summoned Amaro for a curtain call. Sure, this was only one game, but that ovation signified that Amaro had lifted the Dykstra gloom.

Amaro is youth, youth is hope, and hope had been revived for the Phillies.

The game also brought greater expectations for Amaro. He didn't sleep well that night because he knew fans would start expecting such performances. He also had excited his friends.

"My answering machine light was on and blinking," he said, laughing.

So it was time again to to draw on his clubhouse education. As a bat boy, he had watched the Phillies' Mike Schmidt and the Cubs' Ryne Sandberg steadily go about their business.

"Mike was very professional, very even-keeled," Amaro said. "Sandberg gets painted as robotic. He just goes out and does his work. I can respect guys like that because they do the job and do it quietly.

"I would rather be as obscure and camouflaged as possible. But that can't happen in this game, especially with my name and the things that I did the first couple of games. I understand that."

He might be dealing with fame for years. When Dykstra returns -- and the Phillies say that could be soon -- Amaro might replace right fielder Dale Murphy, whose left knee keeps bothering him.

Murphy has hit 397 homers. Amaro has never hit more than seven in a professional season.

But the way the younger generation always takes over in baseball, you would sooner expect a homer from Amaro now than from Murphy.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.