Like ducks to water, the four Bernazards walk into the Cleveland Indian clubhouse, one behind the other, eldest to youngest, all in full uniform, number 4 on each jersey. It is three hours before the game against Seattle.
Leading the procession is Tony Bernazard, the Indians second baseman. He is a switch-hitter, though not in the matter of offspring production. He and his wife, Iris, have four boys. "We have a technique," says Tony with a smile. All the sons except four-month-old Tony Lee are here with their dad, as they are before most Indians home games: Ebony, 9, who looks like a power-hitting first baseman; Francis (called Frankie), 6, a natural who already hits the ball where it's pitched; and Brian John (B.J.), 5, who scoops ground balls with a precocious flourish.
Tony grabs a couple of bats and leads the kids to the batting cage beneath the stadium. "The way I look at it, I have four chances of getting a pro," he says. "I'd like that. I'm not going to hide it. It's every father's dream."
Tony throws batting practice. Frankie steps in from the lefthand side of the plate and begins spraying line drives all over the cage. "Are you trying to hurt me?" his father asks in mock horror after one of Frankie's smashes nearly knocks Tony over. "Hey, what's the glove for?" says Frankie. Tony smiles. "Guess he's heard me say that." Frankie moves around to the other side of the plate. "I didn't teach him to switch-hit," says Tony. "I started him lefty. One day he came in and said, 'Daddy, come see this,' and he was hitting righthanded. He's a natural."
Ebony steps in. He has a home run swing, but he keeps his weight back and stays balanced. He doesn't have Frankie's ability, but he rarely makes the same mistake twice. Ebony is the one who noticed earlier in the season that Tony, in the midst of a horrific slump that had him hitting as low as .184, was holding his bat too high. "I told him about it," says Ebony. Tony brought it down and has since improved his average to .239.
B.J.'s turn. "Hey, B.J., can you hack?" Tony asks. B.J. nods. What would a scouting report say about this kid who just turned five? It would say that he hits like an eight-year-old. "It surprises me more players don't bring their kids. I mean, could there be anything better for a son or for a father?
Tony gathers his brood and goes into the clubhouse. The kids are quiet and stay out of trouble. Sometimes Tony brushes their hair. "Hey, it's Mr. Mom," third baseman Brook Jacoby had said the day before. That made Tony feel very good.
Time for infield practice. Tony scours the stands for Iris. She's there, holding the baby on her lap. Tony sends the boys on their way. The next day they'll fly with Tony and the team to Minnesota for a road trip.
Do you know how lucky you are, you Bernazard kids? To play pepper with bubble gum cards come to life? To have a major league stadium as a playground?
"I guess so," says Ebony, a reluctant interview. He knows. Last year, after Tony started bringing the boys to the ballpark, Ebony wrote his first three compositions in school about it.
"But it's so much a part of their lives, such a natural thing, that they may never fully appreciate it," says Iris. "A while ago the big thing for them was to meet Reggie Jackson. One day they finally did, and you know what they said? 'Mommy, he's just another player. Just like Daddy.' "