Originally created 07/03/05

Braves' Franco plans to play to 50, then turn to managing



ATLANTA - Atlanta Braves first baseman Julio Franco started playing professional baseball in 1978, the same year the Village People released their disco hit Y.M.C.A., which is still heard in ballparks and karaoke bars today.

While the Village People's current tour features stops at oyster festivals and county fairs, Franco is still hitting balls out of the park in the big leagues.

He turns 47 in August, and plans to keep playing until he's 50.

"A lot of people think that it will be hard to accomplish," Franco said. "Not too many people are willing to play this long. I have the opportunity to play until I want to stop."

Franco continues to add his name to major league baseball's oldest-to-do-whatever lists. On Monday, he extended his mark as the oldest to hit a grand slam when he recorded his career eighth while pinch-hitting against the Florida Marlins. (He already held the title of oldest grand-slam hitter when he hit one a year ago against Philadelphia.) Two weeks earlier, he became the oldest player to have a two-homer game and the oldest in 96 years to steal a base.

The U.S. citizen who emigrated from the Dominican Republic as a boy shrugs off his accomplishments.

"I want to be humble. I did my job and that's it," said Franco, who's been with the Braves for four seasons and previously played for six other major league teams, with his longest stints at Cleveland and Texas.

"He's always been a talented man. As long as he's playing at the level that he's at, who cares what his age is? Most kids that are 20 can't play baseball the way he can at 46," said Braves dugout coach Pat Corrales, who was Franco's manager when he played for Cleveland in the 1980s.

Now, nearly three years from retirement, Franco has his sights set on managing. When he's not in the starting lineup, Franco becomes a student, studying the decisions of the Braves' winningest manager, Bobby Cox.

"I manage my own game from the dugout. And from the seventh inning on, I have to kick back into reality because I might get into the game," said Franco, who wants to be a major league manager by the time he's 57.

He's intent on continuing baseball's history and tradition by mentoring younger players.

"If they do something wrong, it's up to us to step up and teach them, because that's what people did back then with us. We teach them today, and tomorrow they will teach the young players that come up," said Franco as he sat in the Braves' locker room, where the only sounds heard were the chatter of players and several quiet televisions, all tuned to baseball.

Franco's ability to compete with players half his age stems from his strict diet and disciplined workout plan. Franco's major league career spans 17 years. He's played in Mexico, Japan, and Korea, but a trip to the World Series still eludes him. "Win the World Series, that's the ultimate goal for me," Franco said. "The other goals I set in my life I reached."