Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cameron, Francona go way back

Terry Francona first met Mike Cameron almost 20 years ago in Sarasota, Fla., when the manager was starting his first post-playing job as the hitting coach of the Chicago White Sox's Gulf Coast League affiliate and the outfielder was an 18-year-old who had just been selected in the 18th round of the amateur draft.

(Among other 18th-rounders from that 1991 draft: Bobby Higginson, Kirk Rueter and Ron Mahay. Not a bad 18th round.)

"I saw his folks drop him off in Sarasota when he was about two weeks out of high school," Francona said with a smirk. "I believe, and I might be wrong, that they gave him a computer and made him promise to work on it every night."

Francona then was 32 years old. His oldest child, Nick, had just turned six years old. He was just learning how to be a parent -- and he was charged, in a lot of ways, with being a surrogate parent to the 17- and 18-year olds on his roster.

"He always used to tell us that if you can’t figure this out now, a little bit of it now, you’ll be one of the prime candidates to be working at 7-11," Cameron said. "I’ll always remember that."

Said Francona, "I’ve thrown to him in the cage almost more than is humanly possible."

Francona was the manager who, four years later, broke the news to Cameron that the White Sox had summoned him from Double-A Birmingham to the major leagues. Cameron was hitting .249 and had hit 11 home runs in 350 at-bats with the Barons to that point, and a call to the major leagues was the last thing on his mind.

"I thought I was in trouble, and he told me I was going to the big leagues," Cameron said. "I almost had a heart attack."

Francona had a chance to get reacquainted with Cameron on Wednesday when the Gold Glove outfielder signed a two-year contract to play with Francona's Red Sox. Cameron now is 36 years old. He's older than Francona was when the two first met. He's played parts of 15 season in the major leagues.

He even has three kids of his own. When news began to spread that he'd agreed to a contract with the Red Sox on Monday evening, Cameron was at a basketball game to watch Dazmon, his 12-year-old son.

It was enough to make a manager feel pretty old.

"I’ve seen him go from a raw, very athletic likeable 18-year-old to a guy who’s played and had a great career," Francona said. "We’re excited to have him here. What he does in the outfield and what he does at the plate, you can see. What he brings besides that is going to be very welcome."

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