Like father, like son: Damon Buford follows in dad Don Buford's major-league footsteps

DOUBLE HEADER

June 20, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

There's something slightly unreal, something mythic and "Field-of-Dreams"-like, about all this. Here's the father, returning to the stadium of his glory days, now gray-haired and bespectacled, to impart his wisdom to a new generation of players. The son, born presciently enough in the middle of a World Series-winning season, growing up to take his place on his father's team.

Someone call Hollywood.

Well, maybe not just yet. Damon Buford, 23, currently is heating up more bench than bats as a rookie for the Orioles. And Don Buford, 56, is two leagues away, managing the Orioles AA team, the Bowie Baysox, at the O's former home, Memorial Stadium. But blood and baseball have linked them from the start.

"Damon was due July 4, and he was three weeks premature. He was less than 5 pounds -- he looked like a chicken," his mother, Alescia Buford, recalls now with a laugh. "Don made friends with the nurses so he could sneak in and see us. And when Damon was 6 weeks old, Don took him to the father-son game at Memorial Stadium."

They've been criss-crossing baseball fields ever since. Don has coached or managed Damon twice so far: during his son's student days at the University of Southern California and then again as he was rising through the Orioles farm system.

Looking past the generational differences -- Damon has The Look currently favored by young athletes: the Oakley sunglasses, the closely shaved hair, the pierced left ear; while Don favors more of an alligator-on-the-polo-shirt style -- there's a distinct familial resemblance in their soft, round eyes and subdued demeanors.

"We both play outfield, we both have good speed and we both are quiet. But," Damon can't help himself from adding, "I'm taller than him."

Even at 5 feet 10 inches -- two more inches than Dad -- Damon still looks very much like the baby of his team, smaller and younger and somehow less formed than the grown-ups he's been thrown in with. Don, though he limps from having completely worn the cartilage off his left knee during his playing days, retains the authoritative, muscular presence he had as the O's spark-plug leadoff batter from 1968 to 1972.

Despite the mere five miles separating their home fields, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Memorial Stadium, their schedules and traveling keep them apart much of the time. This Father's Day, for example, will find Damon in Cleveland and Don in Baltimore. When they're in town, Damon lives in an apartment in Howard County, and Don lives in a hotel near the airport.

They could be on the same team again someday: Damon, of course, wants to stay in the big leagues, and Don says he wouldn't mind managing at that level as well.

"I could see that happening. I think it could be real neat. I'd have to talk to Brian McRae about it," says Damon, referring to the Kansas City Royals father-son, manager-player duo, Hal and Brian McRae.

In recent years, numerous father-son teams have sprouted on the nation's baseball fields. On a recent Sunday at Camden Yards, Damon points, literally, across the field at Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle, who played a couple of seasons on the same team with his father. Elsewhere, there is the game's top player, San Francisco's Barry Bonds, son of Bobby, now one of his coaches; and Toronto's Roberto Alomar and Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr., sons of Sandy Sr., now a minor-league instructor for the Cubs. Closer to home, of course, are Damon's teammates Cal Ripken Jr., whose father coached and managed in the Orioles system, and David Segui, whose father, Diego, is a former pitcher who now coaches with the Giants' minor-league system.

Following in your father's footsteps is a time-honored tradition, of course, whether he's a doctor or a baseball player. And the expansion of the major leagues has provided even more opportunities for second-generation players, Don believes.

Having a father precede you in baseball can have its benefits, but the sons still have to prove themselves, Don says.

"If there was any edge, it was just understanding what was realistic in baseball, because I'd gone through it," Don says. "I had a chance to tell them about difficulties they might face -- the fans getting on them, keeping business-like about their approaches."

Both say they had a good coach-player relationship and didn't fight -- "I'd win anyway," Don says, leaving no question that indeed he would.

"The only thing that was tough about it was, when you make an out, it's like you made an out for both of you," Damon says. "But then, when you get a hit, it's for both of you, too. Everything was double."

Baseball lineage

L The family baseball lineage actually goes back even further.

Don's own father played some ball himself, but Don has no memories of him; he was killed in a shooting accident when his only son was about 6 or 7 years old. "He played semi-pro ball in Texas," Don says. "I heard he was pretty good."

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