A few days ago, I met a polite 11-year-old boy with a round face and rosy cheeks who wears glasses, giving him sort of a Ralphie Parker in “Christmas Story” look, and he was excited — not because he soon would be getting a Red Ryder BB gun, but because he recently had become Twitter pals with Brandon Phillips.
At last check, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman had 896,256 Twitter followers. So becoming his Twitter pal probably isn’t as significant as, say, becoming Twitter pals with John Rocker, if Rocker had a Twitter account. Or friends.
(Actually, Rocker does have a Twitter account which he uses to promote his book. At last check, he had 892 followers.)
But of Brandon Phillips’ 896,256 Twitter followers, only the smallest of percentages ever has handed him a black Genuine C271 model Louisville Slugger, the one that says “Powerized” with the little lightning bolts burnished just above the trademark, on the field, during a ballgame. And has had the pine tar rag ready, just in case Phillips needed to swipe a little across the handle.
Eleven-year-old Julian Hoffman did these things on March 25 in Goodyear, Ariz., when the Reds played the Mariners in a Cactus League game at the Goodyear Ballpark. He was the Reds’ bat boy.
A day earlier, he was bat boy for Albert Pujols and his pals with the Los Angeles Angels, who played the Giants at Tempe Diablo Stadium; for those scoring at home, Julian Hoffman and Pujols have not yet become Twitter pals.
Ronny Hoffman, Julian’s dad who teaches French at Las Vegas Academy downtown (but only because he couldn’t get a job as a major league equipment manager), said he did not tell his son he was going to be Angels bat boy until they were riding to the ballpark. You should have seen the expression on Julian’s face, Ronny said.
I’ve got this image of the guys due up in the ninth inning when the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol is summoned from the bullpen in a save situation.
Of all the sports, it seems baseball is the one most often handed down from fathers to sons, and that is why Julian Hoffman experienced the thrill of handing Brandon Phillips and the other Reds their bats, and having the pine tar tag ready. And making sure the sunflower seeds boxes in the dugout were full.
Back in the 1980s, when Ronny Hoffman was Julian’s age, he wrote a letter to some Cactus League teams, asking if he could be their bat boy; someone from the Mariners wrote back and said he could.
Ronny Hoffman said he couldn’t recall the exact season, only that the Mariners were lousy (which doesn’t narrow it down much), and that Harold Reynolds treated him like a champ — like Brandon Phillips would treat his son.
He still remembers that.
So he rattled off a few emails to Cactus League teams asking if Julian could be their bat boy during spring break, when the Hoffmans would be in town; the Angels and Reds said he could.
So father and son made their bat boy debuts at the same ballpark in Tempe. Maybe it wasn’t exactly like Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. hitting back-to-back home runs against the Angels in 1990, but then these things are matters of perspective.
So Julian Hoffman received the CliffsNotes on how to be a bat boy from the equipment managers — Rule 1: Don’t wander onto the field like Darren Baker, Dusty’s son, during the 2002 World Series; Rule 2: Don’t snitch on the players, which is what a young MC Hammer was paid to do by Charlie Finley as Oakland A’s bat boy — and then he received game-used bats from Joey Votto, his favorite player, and Ryan Ludwick, the former UNLV star.
Some of the players autographed his baseball. Mike Trout signed it; Josh Hamilton even put a little Bible inscription under his signature. No, it had nothing to do with thou not spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout the bat boys must sweep up.
“The ballplayers are famous, but I learned they are just normal people who know how to play baseball really well,” Julian Hoffman said about picking up their bats.
Other things he learned: Pujols is not as big as he appears on TV and the Reds don’t give up easily, even in spring training.
“They were losing so bad, like 15-0,” little Julian Hoffman with the rosy cheeks said.
So did Cincinnati rally and make a game of it?
“No, they lost 15-1. But they never gave up.”
While were we chatting, Julian’s 1-year-old brother, Sebastian, wobbled into the room on 1-year-old legs, picked up Ryan Ludwick’s MR24-M Pro Model Marucci baseball bat with the pine tar extending to the trademark, and began to drag it around the living room.
He looked like a natural.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski