10/05/2004 6:22 PM ET
Franco keeps defying his age
Oldest player in Majors ready to face Astros at 46
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
|Julio Franco smiles during batting practice at Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon. (Ric Feld/AP)
ATLANTA -- Age, they say, is just a number.
Still, it's uncommon to see the kind of numbers Julio Franco is posting at his age.
The 46-year-old Franco remains refreshingly youthful on the baseball field.
On Tuesday afternoon at Turner Field, the Braves veteran first baseman was enjoying every minute of batting practice, interacting with teammates around the batting cage and talking baseball with the media assembled for the Division Series between Atlanta and Houston.
Franco made his Major League debut on April 22, 1982, as a member of the Phillies. In 2004, the physically fit first baseman hit .309, with 18 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 57 RBIs. With runners in scoring position, his average was .347 (33-for-95).
"Julio, I'd put him in the top 10 in baseball as being the most fit player," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
The shape he's in and the numbers he produces has the opposition and teammates often wondering: How does he do it?
"How in the world are you doing this?" Franco said. "That's the biggest compliment I get from players. They see me, but they are missing the source that is moving Julio Franco, which is Jesus. He gives me a gift. If He wants me to do this until I'm 60, who's to stop me?"
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As long as he is delivering the way he is, Franco should find steady work in the big leagues.
He's an interesting guy because he signs minor league contracts every year. Although he has no guarantees, he also has no worries. He ends up making the Major League club, and then goes out and hits .300.
"You're going to tell me I'm not going to get a job next year? Come on," Franco said. "That's why I don't worry about it. I don't worry about this thing because I continue to do what I'm doing. It's a gift from God that I can put the bat on the ball. I have to do my own thing. Obviously, keep my health, my ability. I can still see the ball. That's the thing that goes fast when you're aging, seeing the ball."
At some point, it is going to stop. If Franco has his way, it won't be before he reaches 50. One of his main goals is to still be playing at age 50.
Franco aspires to manage. But unlike a number of current players who consider a future in coaching or managing, he is willing to ride the buses and pay his dues in the minor leagues.
"That's why a lot of coaches don't make it into the big leagues," Franco said. "They are not willing to go into the minor leagues. I'm willing to go to the minor leagues, two or three years, come back here as a bench coach for two or three years and learn. Then I'll be ready to manage. I set my goals and I believe that 10 years from now, all the great [managers] are going to be gone or exiting the game. There is going to be a lot, a lot, a lot of opportunities to be managers."
Even though he is a student of hitting, becoming a hitting coach isn't high on his list of priorities. He is aiming higher. And he's already gaining inside tips from one of the best in the business.
Franco often picks Cox's brain on how to handle certain situations.
"As a manager, you are dealing with a lot of different individuals," Franco said. "You have people from different countries and different backgrounds. I ask Bobby a lot of questions."
The minor leagues are a great training ground.
"In the minor leagues, you can make mistakes," he said.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.