Originally created 03/01/05

Braves' Franco is still going strong



KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Julio Franco was hanging out in the Dominican Republic during the off-season, enjoying life with his family. Then that familiar urge struck.

"I got bored," Franco said. "Well, I thought to myself, I might as well start playing a little winter ball.'"

So he did. And now, baseball's oldest player is back at spring training with the Atlanta Braves, showing no signs of slowing down - and preparing to make a bit of history at 46.

Retirement isn't even on the radar for Franco, who wants to play until he's 50. There was nothing in his performance last season that would indicate it's time to trade in his bat for a rocking chair - Franco batted .309 with six homers and 57 RBI, sharing first base with a guy young enough to be his son, 25-year-old Adam LaRoche.

"We have to set goals that we think we can reach," Franco said after Monday's workout. "I think that one's reachable."

Surely if he makes it to 50, he'll be ready to do something else, right? Not necessarily.

"We'll see," Franco said, a mischievous look in his eyes. "You never know what might happen."

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, nobody in major league history has been an everyday position player at the age of 46.

Even in his native country, Franco hears many of the same questions he gets while playing for the Braves.

"How can you still be doing this?"

"What in the world are you doing?"

Franco always gives the same answer: He's playing for a higher power, which decided to use him as a conduit to show that anything is possible.

Hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who's two years younger than Franco but retired after the 1998 season, said the secret to his longevity is simple: hand-eye coordination.

"His is better than a lot of 20-year-olds," Pendleton said. "When Julio goes bad, it will be because of his eyes. It's not going to be because of his physical strength. It will be because he can't see."

During batting practice, Franco sits atop a bench behind the cage, focusing in on the ball, studying the little nuances of each hitter, doling out subtle bits of advice.

"Stay through it a little longer," he tells second baseman Marcus Giles.

When Giles lines a pitch to left field, he immediately turns to Franco for validation.

"Better?" Giles asks.

"Better," Franco replies.

This could lead to a second career for Franco, should he ever give up his first.

He wants to become a manager someday, and he's willing to spend a couple of years in the minors if that's what it takes to earn an opportunity.

"I love this game," Franco said. "I think I've got a lot to offer."