BROCKTON, Mass. – As outfielder Pedro Martinez Jr., first baseman Manny Ramirez Jr., third baseman D’Angelo Ortiz, outfielder Jaden Sheffield and pitcher Kade Foulke chat in the batting cages, general manager Tom Tracey shoos away fans loitering outside Campanelli Stadium, hoping to get a glimpse of the players known collectively as “The Sons.”
“Brockton High School is next door,” Tracey says. “There are always people hanging around trying to see what’s happening here.”
Indeed, word has been spreading around New England. About an hour’s drive from Fenway Park, baseball fans can watch the sons of MLB royalty play – on the Brockton Rox of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Once there, they might see Hall of Famer David Ortiz helping players fine-tune their swings, Manny Ramirez demonstrating how to lay off the curveball, Keith Foulke – the former Red Sox closer who threw the last pitch of the 2004 World Series – raking the infield dirt, or Pedro Martinez and Gary Sheffield watching from one of the suite boxes.
The sons recognize the novelty of the situation. Martinez Jr., Ortiz, Ramirez Jr. and Foulke are attempting to follow in the footsteps of four members of a legendary 2004 Boston Red Sox team – the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino. Sheffield’s dad was on the other side of the rivalry, as a member of the New York Yankees.
“Our dads are inseparable in baseball history,” Martinez Jr. says. “For so many people, this is nostalgic. We all used to see each other at Fenway at reunions. To be able to play with each other and not watching our dads playing, we are trying to make a name for ourselves.”
All five sons joined the Rox this summer in an attempt to improve their games. The Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which ranks a few notches below the prestigious Cape Cod League, provides players entering college and those playing at the Division I, II or III levels an opportunity to get consistent playing time from the end of May through the second week of August in a league of eight teams.
Martinez played on the Rox last summer and is the oldest at 21 years old, an incoming senior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Sheffield, 19, is an incoming sophomore at Georgetown. Ortiz, 17, Ramirez, 19, and Foulke, 18, are all incoming freshmen – they will play at Miami Dade College, Tallahassee Community College and Galveston College, respectively.
Those names on the roster are making Rox games a hot ticket this summer. The team says attendance reaches about 1,500 on an average weekend in a stadium that seats 4,750 – it averaged less than half that before this season.
“It’s definitely drawn a lot of hype,” says Tracey, who says he did not plan to bring the sons together. “Fans hear the names and they’re like, they want to go see these kids, if they’re like their dads and everything. Fans are there before games, after games, and kids will mail letters to the stadium asking for autographs. “
But the sons shrug their shoulders at this attention. They’re used to it – they’ve been targets of opposing teams and fans since they were kids. The younger Martinez recalls hearing jeers of “Who’s Your Daddy” for as long as he has been on a baseball field.
“Everybody has been told that you’re never gonna be your dad or this and that,” Ortiz says. “We’re not trying to be our dads. When people put you on a pedestal, they look up to you and they try to see what they can take from you. We’re all individually so proud to come from who we come from , and we’re just trying to keep that going. “
And far more than from the pressure from the prying public, the sons say their harshest critics reside within.
“You just want to wear the last name well,” Sheffield says. “That’s really what I want to do. It’s a pride thing. I don’t try to be my dad. You can’t. My dad did great things in baseball, and if I can just wear that last name well, keep that legacy going, it’s a pride thing. “
“I really didn’t understand how big [my father] was until he got into the Hall of Fame. … Like, that’s Mookie Betts talking to him like he’s someone cool, treating him like he’s royalty. Why is this guy talking to my weird, dork dad? He spends his time at home taking care of his flowers. ”
Pedro Martinez Jr.
Their fathers expect a lot from their sons, too, and hold them to high standards – and under tough scrutiny.
“The thing that I don’t like is that if you hit a home run and you watch it, [our parents] get mad, “Ramirez says.” If any of us hits a home run and watches it, they’re going, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Run the bases. ‘ I’m just like, ‘I’m trying to do what you guys used to do the pitchers. I learned this from you. You used to pimp home runs. ‘”
Jokes Martinez: “My dad would just hit you.”
“I think his dad hit my dad at one point,” Sheffield responds, pointing at Martinez Jr. and laughing.
But at the same time, they all know there are benefits of having famous fathers.
“Any problem I have in baseball, my dad has experienced it,” Foulke says. “If I tell him my problem, he tells me … how I can fix it.”
The Rox coaching staff says summer ball is a chance to grow instead of focusing on numbers, but the stats show there is room for improvement. It’s too early to say whether any of “The Sons” will make it to the majors. So far this summer, Ortiz is performing the best at the plate, hitting .271 with 14 RBIs and 19 walks through his first 22 games. Martinez is hitting .250 / .372 / .278, Ramirez .145 / .213 / .275 and Sheffield .159 / .268 / .232. Foulke has allowed six runs in 6⅔ innings with 13 strikeouts and five walks.
But their time together has been a learning experience off the field, too. Ramirez says as a kid he didn’t realize his dad was a baseball star, and not just a celebrity people recognized on the streets. Until he arrived in Brockton, Foulke, who grew up in Texas and Florida, had no idea his dad was a Boston legend. Martinez used to be confused about why so many people revered his dad.
“I really didn’t understand how big he was until he got into the Hall of Fame,” Martinez says. “I remember doing strength training with him and I see my favorite players and they’re treating him like royalty. Like, that’s Mookie Betts talking to him like he’s someone cool, treating him like he’s royalty. Why is this guy talking to my weird , dork dad? He spends his time at home taking care of his flowers. “
Being teammates on the Rox has made the sons feel less lonely. They all say they have never been around so many people with similar life experiences.
“The respect I have for his dad, for his dad, for his dad, for his dad,” Martinez says, pointing to his teammates. “We all just kind of like know, you don’t need to say it. I know, he knows. We all relate to each other in some way. We’re all tied together. There’s an automatic connection because we’re all tied together in history. You can’t break that. “