Dugout dad lets Buford make up for lost time

April 07, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

The way Damon Buford looks at it, being on the same club with his father now is like making up for the time his dad was away while Damon was in Little League.

"He would be coaching my brothers while I was growing up, but he was away playing when I got older," Damon Buford said of his father, Don, the Orioles former outfielder and current bench coach.

"Yeah, but now he's getting more of my expertise on a higher level," said Don Buford, with a chuckle.

The Bufords spend a considerable amount of time playing down their similarities, physical or otherwise, perhaps to retain their separate identities.

But even they acknowledge that being only the third father-son tandem to play for the Orioles -- joining Bob and Terry Kennedy and John O'Donoghue Jr. and Sr. -- is no small achievement.

"Sure it's an opportunity to be in the big leagues, but to play with my dad makes this even better," said Damon.

"It's enjoyable to be here with him and to see his development," said Don. "It's a great feeling."

Don Buford was away stealing bases and winning Orioles pennants for most of Damon's early life, so much so that when Damon is asked what he personally remembers of his dad's career, which spanned 12 years, and included three seasons in Japan, he says, "I couldn't put together a whole summer, to tell you the truth."

But Don remembers his son possessing the physical gifts that would serve him well in baseball.

"I don't know where he got his agility and balance," said Don Buford. "As a baby, he was very agile and very athletic. He was doing things faster than other children his age. He seemed to have a gift."

Their protestations notwithstanding, the Bufords' resemblance is far too striking to ignore, even for identity-sake.

They are similarly built, with Damon at 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds, standing two inches taller and weighing 5 more pounds than Don.

Don, who patrolled left field at Memorial Stadium for five years, was a pesky leadoff hitter, whose on-base percentage in 1969-70-71 was over .400, all seasons the Orioles won the American League pennant.

Damon, 23, the youngest of three Buford sons, has his father's speed, to be sure, but has the potential for more power, or so Don believes.

"He's going to hit 15 to 20 home runs one year," said Don Buford. "He has that potential. If he maintains that short, quick stroke like Rafael Palmeiro, he can do that."

Damon is a good defensive outfielder, according to his father, also the Orioles' outfield coach.

"Instinctively, he gets to the ball very well and his instincts and reactions are probably similar to mine," said Don Buford. "But you can't teach that. You go out and try to tell them what to anticipate, but you can't teach that."

What Don, who managed the Double-A Bowie Baysox last year, also can't teach his son is patience, which Damon will need as a reserve.

The younger Buford spent 148 days with the Orioles last season getting called up from Triple-A Rochester on May 3, when Mike Devereaux went on the disabled list.

Damon started 19 games in May, while Devereaux was hurt, and went 8-for-19 in his first week, with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs.

But his playing time diminished greatly after Devereaux returned to the roster and he only appeared in 53 games the rest of the year, mostly to pinch-run for Harold Baines.

Many wondered if Damon might be better served with regular playing time at Triple-A Rochester, especially with regulars Devereaux, Brady Anderson and Jeffrey Hammonds ahead of him, not to mention Jack Voigt and Lonnie Smith.

But he earned his way onto the Orioles roster with a solid spring.

"Sure, he's useful [even] if he runs one time all year and wins a ballgame," said manager Johnny Oates.

Said Don Buford: "He understands the situation. But he came to spring training to make the ballclub and he worked his fanny off. That's not something I can do for him."

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