Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tommy Boggs Still Loves The Game

Jim Ecker        
JOPLIN, Mo. -- Tommy Boggs came along 35 years too soon. He was the No.2 overall pick in the 1974 major league draft by the Texas Rangers, yet signed for a pittance compared to what top picks are getting these days.
"My total package was $100,000 in '74," he said while watching one of his teams play in the Premier Baseball Junior Championship here. "You could add a zero and a couple of more numbers on that, nowadays."
Boggs, 53, spent nine years as a pitcher in the major leagues with Texas and the Atlanta Braves. He's currently the director of the Austin Slams youth baseball program in Austin, Texas, and  was delighted this year when Shelby Miller, one of his players, was selected in the first round of the draft as the No.17 pick overall. He thinks Miller is looking at a package in the range of $3 million to $4 million.
"Yeah, that aspect of the game has changed," he said.
Boggs is certainly not bitter. He had his fun in the big leagues. He pitched at Yankee Stadium when he was 19 years old, nearly had his head torn off by a Reggie Jackson line drive (more about that later), and played for the Atlanta Braves in 1982 when they began the season with 13 straight wins -- still a major-league record for the best start of a campaign -- and made the National League playoffs that year on the last day of the season.
"At that time, Atlanta was not a very good team," he said. "We were young, and to do that was quite a highlight."
Boggs finished with a modest 20-44 record and 4.22 ERA for his career, but was a valuable player who lasted in the big leagues from 1976 to 1985. He formed the Austin Slams shortly after he retired and is in his 24th year with the program.
"Our main goal in the whole thing, really, started out to just help kids get into college," he said. "Get scholarships, get them seen."
Boggs has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He said more than 350 of his players have received college scholarships to play baseball and 13 have reached the major leagues. His best-known graduate is Lance Berkman, a star first baseman for the Houston Astros.
Boggs has seven teams in the Austin Slams this year, ranging from 14U to 18U. When he started 24 years ago, he said there were only a handful of programs like his that showcased  the top talent in the country. Now there are hundreds.
"I would have given anything to have this when I was in high school," he said. "Back in my day, you just didn't have this."
Boggs was a star baseball and football player in high school in Austin, Texas. He committed to play both sports at the University of Texas, but went straight to Double-A ball after being drafted by Texas. He said there were numerous pro scouts at his high school games, but not college scouts.
"I got recruited by two people, really, coming out of high school, and that's Texas and Temple College," he said. "It was just a local thing. You never had tournaments were you see 20 to 30 college guys. It was the pro guys that were there at the time."
Boggs could throw in the 90s in high school.
"I remember my first game my senior year, there were like 32 radar guns pointed at me," he said, "and I was trying to throw harder and harder to impress every one of those radar guns."
Boggs agreed to a contract with Texas before the draft was even held. He spent a year in Double-A and a half-year in Triple-A. The Rangers called him up when he was 19.
"I had no clue what I was doing. I just threw hard," he said. "You find out real quick in the major leagues how to pitch, or you're not going to be there very long. I got lucky enough to stay around for a few years, but you get up there, you better learn how to pitch, or you're going to get hurt. I ducked a few times."
That brings us to Reggie Jackson. Boggs ducked that day when Jackson hit a screaming liner at his head.
"I threw a changeup," Boggs said, laughing. "He told me the next day, he said, 'Kid, you've got to learn to get your fingers down off the ball,' because I'd had them up when I threw it. He says, 'You're giving it away.' I said, 'Thanks.' He about killed me."
Pete Rose once accused Boggs of throwing a spitball (Boggs denies he wet the ball). And no, he's not related to Wade Boggs. "I still get his mail," T. Boggs said, "and he gets mine."
Boggs was recently named the head baseball coach at Concordia University, a Division III school in Austin, Texas, but he'll also continue as director of the Austin Slams.
"I enjoy the game," he said. "I mean, I enjoy the kids. And love the game, respect the game, and try to teach them that. I just enjoy it."
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