On a pristine March morning in Winter Haven, Fla., a horde of Red Sox fans watched from the stands at Chain O' Lakes Park as the heart of the Boston lineup took batting practice. But while Wade Boggs, Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks and Jack Clark were pounding baseballs in all directions, most of the fans had their eyes aimed elsewhere. "Mo!" they screamed. "Hey, Big Mo!"
The rotund 6'1", 235-pound object of their affections hasn't played a day of major league baseball, he dresses in the auxiliary locker room, and he isn't even listed on Boston's 40-man roster. But after a resplendent summer last year at Triple A Pawtucket and a winter of panegyrics from a giddy Boston press, first baseman Maurice Samuel (Mo) Vaughn, 23, has arrived as a "real" rookie who everyone in Red Sox-land hopes is the real thing.
Everyone, that is, except Carlos Quintana, who hit .287 as Boston's first baseman last season. Sox manager Joe Morgan has stolidly maintained that the job is Quintana's to lose, but all anyone wants to talk about is when Mo will win it. The lefthanded-hitting Vaughn batted .295 with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs in only 108 games for Pawtucket and has a short, crisp stroke that has endeared him to his bosses wherever he has gone. But what makes Mo especially appealing is his jocose demeanor and the insouciance with which he regards the ballyhoo. "Look," he says, "the Boston Red Sox will be good whether I make the team or not. The attention doesn't bother me. You only play this game for 10 years. To be a good man, a good person, that's what people remember."
Vaughn grew up in Norwalk, Conn., and when he was three, his mother, Shirley, taught him to hit a baseball. "She stood me up there in the backyard and told me to hit that ball," says Mo. Through four years at Trinity-Pawling, a rural New York prep school, and three more at Seton Hall, Mo hit that ball. The Big East named him its Player of the Decade, but his brothers in the Omega Psi Phi fraternity just called him Hit Dog. Says Vaughn, "I liked what my fraternity stood for: manhood, scholarship, perseverance, uplift." He liked Omega Psi Phi so much that one day he heated a wire coat hanger in boiling olive oil and branded interlocking omegas onto his right biceps, where the fraternal scar is still visible. "I told you I was a lunatic," he says evenly.
But he's clearly not crazed by his notoriety. On March 12 against the White Sox, he lined a Jack McDowell fastball up the middle for his first hit in a Boston uniform. In the clubhouse afterward, someone yelled, "Mo, here's your first hit!" and tossed him the ball. Mo let it fall to the floor and roll into a corner. It is, after all, only spring training. But if those hits keep on coming, this could be the summer that Beantown becomes Motown.