Buford promotion completes cycle

KEN ROSENTHAL

May 04, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Such a strange game. Don Buford drove Jeffrey Hammonds to the airport yesterday. Don's son Damon was awaiting a promotion to the Orioles. Hammonds was flying to Ottawa to replace him at Triple-A.

"Do things happen this quickly?" Hammonds asked Don, the manager of Double-A Bowie.

"Yes," Buford replied. "Sometimes even quicker than this."

Don Buford has spent 33 years in baseball. He knew better than to be upset last season when it appeared Hammonds might block Damon's path to the majors. And he knew better than to jump for joy yesterday after Damon made it to The Show.

Such a strange game. The Orioles lose Mike Devereaux for five to six weeks but replace him with a favorite son. Damon was born on June 12, 1970. His father was the Orioles' leadoff hitter then. The team was headed to its second of three straight World Series appearances.

That's what made yesterday bittersweet. Damon's promotion figured to be cause for celebration -- only one other father-son combination has played for the Orioles, Bob Kennedy (1954-1955) and Terry Kennedy (1987-1988). But, as Don said, "It's a shame it happened this way."

Don took a business-as-usual approach -- he had a game to manage last night. At 2:45 p.m., Orioles general manager Roland Hemond phoned him at Memorial Stadium with the good news. Don took the call in the trainer's room.

Hemond offered his congratulations, and 20 minutes later, assistant general manager Doug Melvin called to do the same.

"Thank you," Buford told Melvin. "Thank you so much."

At one point, Don burst out laughing as Melvin related a conversation he had with Damon earlier in the day.

"It's 99 percent," Melvin told Damon.

"The 1 percent is what's killing me," Damon replied.

Don tried to reach his wife, Alescia, but she was visiting her aunt in Portland, Ore. At 3:20, she finally called his office.

"He's heading for Minnesota," Don told her, smiling.

The moment was priceless, but judging from Don's reaction, who'd have known?

"That's Don," Alescia said. "I discovered once that his heartbeat was one of the slowest in baseball -- something like 72 beats per minute. I'm sure he's just taking a cautious approach, one step at a time. But he's bursting inside."

So was Alescia.

"Boy, it brings back such memories," she said. "I never thought I'd be so excited. I'm happy for Damon, but I'm even happier for Don. I know how much this means to him."

Why, Alescia said, it seemed like just yesterday when Frank Robinson was visiting the family at the Bonnie Ridge Apartments and playing with little Damon as an infant.

"I'd say, 'that's the one who is going to break your records,' " she recalled.

In later years, Robinson would phone Alescia each time one of the boys grew taller than the 5-foot-8 father.

"I know there's happiness in your household," he'd say, joking.

Damon, 22, is the second Buford son to play in the Orioles organization. Don Jr., 27, signed with the club as a non-drafted free agent in 1987. He peaked at Double-A after stealing 77 bases in his first professional season.

Melvin says that Don Jr. "couldn't hit at all," and he also didn't throw as well as Damon. Then again, Don Jr. turned out all right. He will graduate from UCLA Medical School on May 21, and begin his internship in Dallas next fall.

The middle son, Daryl, graduated from USC Law School and is president of a sports management firm in Bel Air, Calif. Alescia runs her own public-relations firm in Los Angeles. This is not a family that lives and breathes baseball.

Still, everyone is thrilled for Damon. He was a 10th-round draft pick in 1990, a borderline prospect six months ago. Don managed him last season at Double-A Hagerstown. He told Damon to hit more aggressively and stop working counts like a leadoff man. Damon has been a different player ever since.

He hit .239 at Hagerstown, then .284 at Rochester. This season, he was batting .313, with a 19-game hitting streak. He didn't simply rely on his family name. He worked for everything he earned, playing in Australia in the winter of 1991 and the Arizona Fall League last year.

Yesterday, Alescia reminded Don of where it all started.

"That's right, he was born here," Don said.

Don paused.

"He really is coming home."

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