Bobby Bo: always on the go With this Oriole, fun comes with job

March 16, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Bobby Bonilla was halfway through his longest day of spring training at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Drove to West Palm Beach in the morning, played nine innings at third in an afternoon exhibition and he was two hours away from starting the other Orioles split-squad game at night.

With a few free moments, Bonilla stood in front of the swinging doors, where clubhouse traffic runs thick, and pitched his latest creation, an NCAA tournament pool, handing out sheets like a zealous campaign worker to those passing by, shouting all the while.

Step right up! Gotta get these in by tomorrow! Hey, Mr. Millionaire over there, are you in?! You're making a million and you're not in?! Take one of these! Let's go!

This went on for a half-hour. All accepted decibel levels violated. Bobby Bo giving the wide Bobby Bo smile, after getting two hits and an RBI in the afternoon exhibition and before an RBI single in the night game.

Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson watched from a distance and chuckled. "Is Bobby fun to have around?" Anderson said, repeating a question just posed to him. "Just watch him and see for yourself."

Step right up! Let's go!

Bonilla yelling happily in the clubhouse about something is almost a daily occurrence. It was Roberto Bonilla Sr., Bobby's father, who first told his son to find work he really enjoys and have fun with it. Roberto Sr. is an electrician who loves his job; he can walk into an old building and offer an instant cure for the building's electrical problems. "He's amazing that way," his son said.

Bobby absorbed his father's advice, and he has found something he loves: baseball. Loves everything about baseball: the thought process before each at-bat, guessing what the pitcher is going to throw, anticipating on defense what a hitter will do, the byplay with teammates.

"The man," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, "loves to play this game."

Bonilla was the first player to arrive in camp this year, almost two weeks before the voluntary reporting date for position players, to take batting practice and lift weights and tease his teammates about something or other. He asked Johnson to play in both split-squad games, and, during the regular season, Bonilla usually will play in every game possible.

He is among the few major-league players with any stature who changes his position without complaint. Bonilla has moved from first to third to the outfield and back to third and back to the outfield repeatedly, never griping. It's less than three weeks until Opening Day, and he doesn't know whether he'll be at third or in right field for the Orioles.

"I have a lot of other things to worry about," Bonilla said. "There is other stuff going on in the world, rather than worrying about whether I'm at third or in the outfield."

Such as organizing clubhouse contests or leagues, something Bonilla began to do shortly after joining the Orioles last July in a trade with the Mets. On the Orioles' last West Coast trip in the final weeks of the season, Bonilla carried a heavy briefcase, full of papers and statistical information and charts all part of his effort to organize a fantasy football league.

Bonilla's league served two purposes: First, it gave all the Orioles involved a chance to hassle each other, in good fun, and they did that for hours. Second, it opened up regular lines of communication among teammates. As catcher Chris Hoiles said, Bonilla helped draw the players together.

Anderson said: "He's a very likable guy. He's very upbeat. He's outspoken, and it's usually done in a positive manner. If he says something, it's usually done to pick up another guy. He's a terrific guy to have on the team."

Bonilla said: "I want everybody to feel comfortable in here. When you want to say something, you should say something. There's enough pressure in this game, and this helps people relax. That way, you're going to be able to be at your best.

"Say what's on your mind. Enjoy yourself. We play hard, and then we go home."

When Bonilla retires, he says, motioning to the clubhouse, "This is what I'm going to miss most."

Pub Date: 3/16/96

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