Julio Franco, 55 years old, turns back the clock in Fort Worth Cats debut

05/20/2014 10:56 PM

05/21/2014 8:50 AM

Oscar Garcia was born a decade into Julio Franco’s professional baseball career. But on Tuesday, Garcia, a 25-year-old center fielder for the Fort Worth Cats, found himself behind the batting cage near home plate at LaGrave Field taking tips from Franco, his 55-year-old teammate. According to Garcia, it was like any other lesson.

“We talked about using the hips more, instead of throwing the hands and keeping the hips still,” Garcia said. “It was real normal because he’s a real normal guy.”

Franco added another line to his not-so-normal résumé Tuesday night, going 1 for 3 with a run as the Cats beat Rio Grande Valley 10-1 to open the season.

Franco, who turns 56 in August, now has the distinction of being a five-decade professional player. He retired from the Atlanta Braves in 2007 after nearly 30 years playing professionally. The Cats signed Franco to a nine-game contract as a player-coach through the team’s opening homestand.

On Tuesday, Franco started at designated hitter and hit fourth, drawing a walk in his first at-bat and scoring. Franco grounded out his next two at-bats. Then he led off the seventh with a single, lining the first pitch he saw through the right side.

“I haven’t seen a pitcher in seven years,” Franco said. “I made contact, which was a good sign. My last at-bat, I just wanted to wait on the ball and hit it to right field.”

Cats manager Mike Marshall, who played for the Dodgers in the 1980s, called Tuesday a “time warp.”

“With baseball taking off in the ’80s and ’90s, Julio was a big part of that,” Marshall said. “It’s priceless for these guys to have a chance to play with a guy like this.”

Local baseball fans experienced a similar flashback. Franco played for the Rangers from 1989-1993, winning the AL batting championship in 1991.

“We used to watch him play when he played for the Rangers back when they had the old Arlington Stadium,” said John Edens, a Cats fan. “It really is surreal.”

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