New Miami Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds is drawing praise for the impact he's already made on his new team. However, all the good he might be doing on the field and in the clubhouse pales in comparison to the impact he's made on the family of Roger Gill, a longtime Bonds fan and Marlins spring training employee who never got the chance to meet him.
For 10 years, Gill served as an usher at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., the spring training home of the Marlins. But his love for baseball extended all the way back into the early 50s, where he attended his first game at the Polo Grounds in New York. Hill latched on to the Giants and continued supporting them even after they moved to San Francisco in 1957. And it was through that loyalty to the Giants that an appreciation for Bonds was born.
According to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post, Gill was absolutely thrilled when he learned that Bonds was joining the Marlins as hitting coach. Though he obviously did not intend to intrude on Bonds or interfere with his preparation, he felt this would be his chance to finally meet him and get him to autograph a few of the items he'd collected over the years.
Sadly, that meeting never took place. On Feb. 2, Gill died at the age of 74 after suffering a heart attack. His loss left a major void in his family, one that can never be completely filled. His loss also leaves a major void at Marlins camp, where he was well liked by those who worked with him. But thanks to Bonds, at least some of that void was filled this week when he took time to meet with Gill's family.
The meeting was quite an event for everybody involved. All Gill's wife Susan and the rest of the family had hoped for was an autograph or two to fullfill to his final wish. Instead, they were invited to Roger Dean Stadium where the Marlins unveiled a special plaque in Gill's honor.
Team President David Samson came by. And former manager Jack McKeon, and trainer Sean Cunningham, and former traveling secretary Bill Beck and others, all sharing their favorite Roger story while standing in the spot where Gill worked every day during spring training.
“I always called him ‘Tony’ because I thought he looked like (former baseball manager) Tony LaRussa,’’ McKeon told the family.
The Marlins aren't always viewed in the brightest light, but they got this one right. Little did the family know though that the best was yet to come.
A short time after the unveiling, Marlins traveling secretary Manny Colon showed up and apologized to the family because he'd been unable to secure Bonds' autograph.
Then, Colon looked over Susan’s shoulders. “Oh,” he said, “here he comes now.”
The ladies turned around and saw Barry Bonds approaching them. He smiled as he walked through the gate — Roger Gill’s gate — and gave them each a hug. Susan and her two daughters were nearly speechless. Tears flowed from their eyes.
“Hey, you’re going to get all of us crying,” Bonds said with a grin as he held Susan. “This is baseball. There’s no crying in baseball. This is a happy occasion. We are here to celebrate the memory of your husband. I hear he was a great guy.’’
Bonds spoke to the family for 15 minutes, signed some photographs and baseballs, and even took time to tickle 2-year-old Mia Baumer, Gill’s granddaughter.
An autograph would have meant the world to Gill's family, but Bonds and the Marlins gave them something much greater. They gave them a memory their husband, father and grandfather would have cherished, while giving them another reason to smile when they reflect on his life.
That's as good as it gets, really. But there's a lot more to this story too, all of which is chronicled by the Palm Beach Post. That includes how Susan Gill got the ultimate closure and her husband got the last laugh after she teased him that Bonds would never stop to give him an autograph.
Mark Townsend | sports.yahoo.com | March 9, 2016