Monday, February 18, 2008
Bret Boone signs deal with Nats joining brother Aaron, dad Bob in D.C.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Boones of baseball are back together, under one roof, at least for now.
Bob Boone, the father and assistant GM, drove to work at the Washington Nationals' spring training camp Monday morning with veteran infielder Aaron Boone, his son.
Not long thereafter, Bret Boone -- Bob's son and Aaron's older brother -- showed up for a surprise news conference at Space Coast Stadium, announcing he's coming out of retirement to try to make a comeback. He turns 39 in April, and hasn't played in a game since 2005.
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"My dad being here, and Aaron being here -- if I was going to extend my career a year or two, I think it would be pretty cool playing with him," said Bret, a three-time All-Star who signed a non-guaranteed, minor league contract. "At this stage, I didn't have 30 teams banging my door down. It's an opportunity, and I'm very appreciative of it. Everybody doesn't get to do this."
He, however, has baseball in his bloodlines. Three generations' worth.
All the way back to his late grandfather, Ray Boone, an infielder who made his major league debut in 1948 and was on two All-Star teams. Bob, a catcher, made seven All-Star teams, playing all the way until age 42. Aaron, expected to be a backup at first base and third base for Washington this season, was an All-Star in 2003.
So on Monday, while Aaron was getting ready at his locker, Bob stood about 15 feet away in the clubhouse, giving tips to new Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca. A half-hour later, Bret was sitting at a table in the interview room, flanked by manager Manny Acta and general manager Jim Bowden, discussing his return. And there was Bob, leaning against a wall to watch and listen, wearing his blue cap with the curly "W" on it in his official capacity as vice president of player development, and wearing a smile on his face in his capacity as Dad.
"I've been trained to watch my kids as a professional and cut the nepotism part out," Bob said. "While it's so unique, it's kind of business as usual for us. That's the way I was raised. All the kids, that's the only job we've known. This is what we do."
Bret opens the spring in the Nationals' accelerated development camp for minor leaguers -- a former bona fide star surrounded by, well, players young enough to be his kids. It's the same spot where Dmitri Young was at the start of 2007, when he wound up as Washington's starting first baseman and then earned comeback player of the year honors.
"I may have started a trend here," said Young, who reported to big league camp Monday.
Bret was a four-time Gold Glove winner at second base, compiling 252 homers and 1,021 RBIs over 14 seasons with five teams. Only Jeff Kent and Hall of Fame member Ryne Sandberg have hit more major league homers as a second baseman.
His best years came with Seattle, including 2001, when he hit .331 with 37 homers and 141 RBIs. The season before? His numbers were: .251, 19 homers, 74 RBIs.
During spring training with the Mariners in 2005, Bret addressed an allegation in former slugger Jose Canseco's book, "Juiced," that Bret acknowledged to Canseco in 2001 he used steroids.
"I don't know the person. He doesn't know me. I've never had a conversation with him. As far as I'm concerned, it's absolutely ridiculous," Bret said at the time.
He went to spring training in 2006 with the New York Mets but called it quits before playing in an exhibition game. Looking back Monday, he said: "I was in no position mentally to continue on at that point. I needed to walk away."
Bob and Bret talked about it two years ago.
"He said, 'Dad, you won't understand.' I said, '[You're] right, I won't understand. I mean, who cares how you feel? This is baseball,'" the elder Boone recalled.
But the son knew what he had to do, including change the sort of person he was away from the gloves, bats and balls.
Away from the ballpark.
"I've just changed my way of life a little bit. I've always been a guy that goes out and likes to have a good time -- maybe at times, too good of a time," Bret said. "And that kind of all catches up to you, and you've got to look in the mirror and find out: Where are you going? Where are you going with your life?"
Said Aaron, who is four years younger and signed as a free agent with the Nationals in December: "He's in a good place."
The brothers played together with Cincinnati in 1997 and 1998, when Bowden was the Reds' GM and Bob was in their front office.
The seeds for the reunion were planted in the fall, when the Nationals asked Bret to go to Florida to work as an instructor for minor leaguers. Every so often, he'd go hit in a batting cage, and that fed thoughts about giving it one more shot as a player.
The Nationals already have two veteran second basemen, Ronnie Belliard and Felipe Lopez, and Bret said he wouldn't be interested in trying another position or spending the year in the minors.
"This is to come back and play in the big leagues. If it works, that would be awesome," Bret said. "I don't want to be here to hang on -- 'He's OK.' That's not going to work for me."