The voice boomed before I could see the man, and even though we've never actually met I knew exactly who it was.
"This is my back porch!" Bo Jackson screamed from a chair. "You young'ns get off my grass!"
Bo was joking, I think, but even if he wasn't everyone laughed because the alternative was clapping back. Nobody claps back at Bo.
He is here at Royals camp this week, and it's hard to know exactly what he's doing. He watches batting practice. Talks with players and coaches. Mostly, he's here being Bo Jackson and that's plenty for anyone who saw him throw out Harold Reynolds for the Royals or run over Brian Bosworth for the Raiders.
That moment in the chair resonated. Bo is 55 years old now, and even if he carries the swagger of the world's greatest athlete it's also true that time waits for no man. He's getting older, moving slower. He was the athlete of my youth, and many youths around the country, so Bo getting older and slower means we're all getting older and slower.
This isn't the first spring training that I'm older than every Royals player, but with Chris Young gone, it's the first time nobody's at least within a year or so. Adalberto Mondesi may be the Royals' future. I was in high school when he was born.
The athlete of my dad's youth was Mickey Mantle. He told me so many stories. Whenever a stud came up in baseball, I'd ask if he was as strong and fast as Mantle. Dad always shook his head. When I asked about Bo, he allowed that it was close.
To me, Dad might as well have said Bo was a god. But I never saw Mantle play. Only stories, and statistics, and, man, so many stories. I could never appreciate Mantle like my dad, no matter how hard I tried.
Bo's presence here got me thinking about all of that. About age, about perspective, about history, about youth. The ballplayers in this clubhouse — these kids — never saw Bo play. Not really. Not like I did, anyway.
When Bo's hip gave out on that carry down the sideline against the Bengals, Danny Duffy was 2. Still in diapers. And he's one of the older guys in here. How could he know?
Did he even know who Bo was? I asked.
"Bro," he said. "We all know."
"My uncle Josh was like 6 years older than me, and he would just wear me out with Bo Jackson stuff," Duffy said. "We'd play Tecmo Super Bowl, and Josh would always be Bo Jackson. I couldn't tackle him. He'd run back and forth all over the field, just zigzagging, and I couldn't do anything about it."
Uncle Josh sounds like a great man, and this is about when I start to feel like the age gap isn't as much. Or, maybe, YouTube and ESPN's You Don't Know Bo have just closed the gap.
"I've definitely searched 'Bo Jackson' a few times," said Nicky Lopez, a middle-infield prospect born in 1995. "Throwing out that runner from the warning track, the one he caught and then ran along the wall, just crazy plays you don't see normal people make. There was a story, I don't know if it's true, but of him hitting the scoreboard in Kansas City with a home run."
That story is absolutely true, by the way. I've heard it so many times. It was the day of his introductory press conference at Royals Stadium, and he hadn't picked up a bat in months. Nobody thought he'd swing. The Royals probably didn't want him to swing, but once he announced into the microphones he wanted to hit there was no stopping him.
Avron Fogelman, at the time a part owner in the team and an avid memorabilia collector, watched from a suite as Bo hit the base of the scoreboard. Fogleman pointed at a staff worker.
"Go get me that ball!"
Then, Bo hit one even higher off the scoreboard. Fogleman found a second staff worker.
"Go get me that ball!"
I told Lopez about this, and he was very kind in acting interested, but I'm still suspicious he was wondering when the crazy guy with the notepad would stop gushing.
But this was good. Technology is good. The gap between what my dad remembers about Mantle and what I can see just doesn't exist for athletes of Bo's time or later.
Drew Butera knows. He was born in 1983 and doesn't remember watching Bo play live, in either sport, but has seen enough highlight videos and heard enough comparisons to check it out a little.
Butera thinks of the spectacular, like we all do, but also the pragmatic. He thinks about his body after 162 games. He takes a month off. Bo left and played professional football, then went straight back into baseball. Rinse, repeat.
There is a code at play here with Bo. Big-league ballplayers are not going full fan boy, they're not going to squeal, and they're not going to be Chris Farley with Paul McCartney on "Saturday Night Live."
Um-um, remember that one time, when you snapped the bat over your leg like a twig? That was AWESOME.
But, even here, in this setting, everything has its limits.
"He was like, 'Must be nice to be young and strong,' " Butera said. "I'm like, 'What?' I guarantee you he's still stronger than I am."
My very unofficial survey of a half-dozen or so Royals found only one who didn't immediately recognize Bo. That would be Sal Perez, and you have to forgive him because not only was he born in 1990, but he grew up in Venezuela.
"Who is that guy?" Perez remembered asking a coach.
"Seriously?" the coach replied. "You don't know Bo Jackson?"
"Oh, that's him?" Perez said. "The guy who hit the homer in the All-Star game? Played football, too?"
That's as much mystery as I could find, and that sliver was buried in enough conversations geeking out that it felt like a grain of sand at the beach.
Back to Duffy for a second. Uncle Josh left an impression, because Duffy is outfitting his man cave with Bo stuff. An Auburn helmet signed by Bo and Cam Newton. Autographed Air Maxes. An autographed picture in those powder blues.
I'm nodding my head as Duffy talks. We live in a world in which kids can type in a few words and watch Bo rush around the corner and 90 yards for a touchdown and into the tunnel in Seattle. This all feels good.
"I've been trying to conceal my excitement when I see him," Duffy said. "But I'm locked in. I'm telling you, even if there wasn't YouTube, wasn't that '30 for 30,' somehow and someway we would've figured out who that guy was."
About the Author
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC