Special guest helps Cone get by

Thursday, August 10, 2000

-- NEW YORK

Ed Cone had a newspaper in his lap on a hot, humid Wednesday, a solitary figure sitting in the blue seats 30 rows back of home plate. Behind him, the ushers passed in the aisles. Sometimes, his son thinks this is his father's favorite time of the day. This is the hour the ballpark is stretching its arms, wiping the sleep out of its eyes, and waking up all over again.

"He could watch batting practice forever," David Cone said. Maybe the reason is simple: Maybe the anticipation of another day of baseball is as intoxicating as its actual arrival.

Around him, David Cone has watched the suffering of his teammates. Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, and Luis Sojo lost their fathers a season ago. Chuck Knoblauch's father has Alzheimer's disease. The stories Cone's teammates shared of the old days with their dads sounded so sweetly familiar, a love bonded by baseball.

"My dad was always eager after a hard day at work to grab a glove and go play catch," Cone said. "He taught me how to pitch as a kid. I still listen to him. He probably knows me as well as anybody. It's nice to have him here."

David pitches today, against the A's, and Ed wanted to be here for it. Sometimes, Ed watches the games on television. Sometimes, Ed listens on the Internet. It isn't hard to understand he found this a good time to get out of Kansas City and spend a few days with his son. Approach Ed Cone to discuss it, and he politely declines. "I don't think I should be quoted in the newspaper," he said. "I think the focus should stay on David now."

Every day, Cone finds a stack of mail inside his locker with the wildest remedies and solutions for his pitching problems. At 1-10, the letters come fast and furious for him.

"Good-luck charms, magic potions," David said. "Doctors, chiropractors, acupuncture, concoctions, theories. And people lighting candles in churches."

If David is pitching for his Yankees life today, he'll take his chances with Ed at his side. This was true on his first day of Little League, it's true now. For everything his father's done for him, these days in maybe the final baseball summer of a son's life are his way of thanking him.

"This is the best thing I can do for him," David said. "We hop in the car, ride to the game. I get him a cup of coffee and let him sit in my chair. He talks to different players. He talks to Don Zimmer.

"When it's all over, I think he'll miss it."

He won't be alone. After all, David is the consummate creature of the clubhouse. As much as he has lived for every fifth day, he has loved the clubhouse life, too. If anyone ever doubted it, they should've seen Cone on Wednesday, with his father in the stands watching Yankees batting practice. After his workout, he hustled back to the clubhouse where a Long Island family waited for him. They had bid for a clubhouse tour at a charity auction in the winter, and of course, Cone had volunteered to serve as guide. At 1-10 and on the brink, a lot of players would've found a way out of it. Not him, though.

Right away, Cone insisted on remembering everyone's name. As they walked around the room, he explained the significance of the corner locker belonging to Bernie Williams, picked Yankees legends out of old team photos in the training room, and stopped for a few minutes outside Thurman Munson's empty locker.

"This is a sacred spot," Cone said.

A few feet away, they passed Derek Jeter's locker, where Cone pointed to the empty stall next to it. "He gets this space for all his mail," he explained. Soon, Jeter returned to the clubhouse, found the family waiting at his locker and Cone made the introductions. "Let's see, this is Tim, Tom, Joe . . . " and on down the line.

Every few feet, they stopped, posed for a new round of pictures, and Cone had a favorite memory and a funny fact for every corner of the clubhouse. On the way out of the showers, he said, "Really, this is like a second home for us."

Everyone nodded. They could see it was true for him. After a detailed tour, the charity official accompanying Cone made it clear he had fulfilled his duty and could end it here.

"No, no," Cone said. "Let's take them down to the weight room," and soon the family disappeared down the corridor and around the corner, hanging on the every word of this merry tour guide. A little later, they returned to the clubhouse door to say goodbyes and one of them told Cone, "This has been beyond my wildest dreams."

It was close to 6 o'clock now, and outside in the grandstand, Ed watched the final cuts of batting practice. Fans filed into seats, music played on the speakers, and the ballpark was alive now. Inside, David Cone closed the clubhouse door behind him. For another day, anyway, the old man and his kid were back in their elements. It won't last forever, but maybe just a little longer.


Readers who wish to communicate with Adrian Wojnarowski should write to him in care of The Record Sports Department, 150 River St., Hackensack, N.J., 07601, or fax him at (201) 646-4428.

Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp.