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Tough man prepared to tackle tough task

Published April 2, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - Hours before the game, and the room was almost empty. Already, Chris Bosio was talking tough.

He leaned forward, the way he used to do when he was stalking a hitter, and his eyes narrowed. The clubhouse was quiet, but Bosio's voice remained low, gravely. There might have been a snarl involved.

"Let me tell you something about pitching," Bosio said. "If you aren't tough enough, this game will eat you alive. My job is to bring out the (extremely bad word) in these guys."

Right there, simple as the snap of a mitt, was everything you needed to know about the new pitching coach of the Devil Rays.

He's Chris Bosio, and he's the toughest son of a gun in the room.

If you want to ride along with him, you'd better pack some grit of your own.

He has the toughest job in sports, bar none. The ball is oversized and the hitters are oversized and he is outnumbered. He is in his first major-league pitching job. His boss, Lou Piniella, is notoriously tough on pitching coaches. His staff is the lowest-paid, least-accomplished and least-known collection of prospects and suspects in the majors.

So is Bosio tough enough for this? Please.

Are you going to question Bosio's toughness after all the times he didn't have anything else?

Are you going to question a kid who walked into his home, every day for nine years, wondering how much of his mother had withered away while he was gone?

Are you going to question someone who saw his father work three jobs, trying to pay medical bills and make ends meet, about his work ethic?

Are you going to question someone who worked and scratched and clawed every game, until he turned a few years worth of talent into an 11-year career?

"The way I grew up put everything in perspective for me," Bosio said. "I know Lou Piniella. I played for him for four years, and I don't mean any disrespect when I say this, because he knows where I'm coming from. But Lou can't say anything to me that will hurt me in any shape or form.

"For years, I literally watched my mom dying in front of my eyes. I watched her lose her hair because of the radiation treatments, and I saw her wear the bandanas. I saw her be miserable because she didn't want her kids to see her that way.

"Believe me when I say this. I don't fear any man. I don't fear any situation."

Bosio was 4 when his mother, Joan, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. For the next nine years, until it entered remission, her illness altered the Bosio household. The family relocated from California to Rochester, Minn., to get closer to the Mayo Clinic. Lou Bosio, Chris' father, worked for the government and whatever other job he could find. For a year, until they could get together enough money of their own, the Bosios shared a house with another family, the Kellys.

"My mother was never able to see any of our games when we were kids, not the state championship baseball games or the Pass, Punt and Kick regionals or AAU games," Bosio said. "Not any of that stuff. We only saw her two or three times a day, because she was so sick, and like everyone else, she had her ups and downs because of it.

"It was devastating to watch your mother go through something like that. But she battled her (butt) off. And she beat it. She didn't let it get her."

It didn't get Chris, either. Out of that upbringing, out of his parents' strength, Bosio found a strength of his own. He shoved snow and rock and sand. He dug ditches and poured cement and unloaded beer kegs. A lot of his life, he admits, he felt like the guy on the outside looking in.

Ah, but on the mound, things were even. He was a big kid, and he threw hard, and he competed like every pitch was important. He was a big, bowlegged pitcher (Rays coach Lee Elia once told him he could walk over a fire hydrant and never know it.), and he'd battle you. He pitched for 11 seasons before his knees gave out, and the truth be told, it bothers him that he isn't pitching still.

"A lot of people had things a lot tougher than I did," Bosio said. "My parents are still alive. Some people can't say that."

There are pitchers in the game who can break your heart, large men with strong arms and tiny hearts and thick heads. They will blow you away when things are going their way, but at the first sign of trouble, they give in.

"A lot of it goes back to how these guys were brought up," Bosio said. "What were they given? What did they have to earn? Did they have to fight through anything?"

He always had fight, Bosio. Piniella noticed it when Bosio pitched for him in Seattle.

"He was a blue-collar guy, and he pitched like it," Piniella said. "But he was a thinking man's pitcher. He always had an idea in the meetings about what to throw to a certain hitter, how to pitch a certain team. You knew, in due time, he'd be a good pitching coach."

He'd better be. With the Rays, Bosio has a staff that could have been purchased on a clearance rack. There is no ace. There is maybe a 10 of clubs and a handful of discards.

The entire staff earns $4-million. There are dozens of pitchers in the big leagues who make more. Is there someone here who can win 20? Put it this way: The starting rotation won 22 last season.

Hey, Johnny Sain couldn't be successful as the pitching coach for these guys. Heck, Merlin couldn't be successful.

Kennedy. Zambrano. Bierbrodt. Parque. Parris. Ah, the names just roll off your tongue, don't they? Despite it all, not once this spring did another pitching coach sidle up to Bosio and tell him he was jealous.

"No, usually what I heard was, "You have your work cut out for you,"' Bosio said. "And I told every one of them I wouldn't have it any other way. And I wouldn't. I want the biggest challenge. Because it's going to be that much sweeter when we get it done.

"We're going to be the ultimate underdog every time out. But baseball is baseball. If you keep your mistakes to a minimum, you can beat anybody. Payroll doesn't matter. Reputation doesn't matter. This is a new page of a new book in a new series."

On the other hand, ability does matter, and experience and pedigree and savvy and presence and resiliency. For Bosio, for the pitchers, there are a lot of strikes to be thrown before it can overcome all the disadvantages in the way.

As for Bosio?

If he really does have the toughest job in sports, isn't it good to know he's tough enough for the fight?

[Last modified April 2, 2003, 05:42:46]

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