Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Real Son of Sam Horn

Remember Sam Horn? Well, his son plays baseball for North Kingston High School and he is trying to follow in his father's footsteps, via ProJo's High School Game Time:

The Sons of Sam Horn is a well-known, online-message board focusing on the Red Sox and named in honor of one of the more enigmatic players to play for them.

But Jamale Horn?

He's the real son of Sam Horn.

And on this afternoon he is playing left field for North Kingstown High School against Portsmouth, a big-rangy kid with his own baseball dreams.

Once upon a time, way back in 1982, Sam Horn was the number-one draft pick of the Red Sox, billed as the franchise's power hitter of the future, the California kid with the big dreams. In 1987, he was tearing up the International League as a member of the PawSox. Called up by the Red Sox in July, he went on to hit 14 home runs, one of the few bright spots in a lost season. That was back when he thought baseball always was going to be as easy as a batting-practice fastball.

He was big, he was left-handed, and when he crushed one you could see what all the fuss had been about, could close you eyes and see him seemingly doing this forever. Back before he learned that baseball can be a cruel mistress, back before the negatives began to pile up like some bad credit rating. Back before the roller-coaster ride began for Sam Horn, three years with the Orioles, in the Indians' farm system with Manny Ramirez, then with the Pirates, Rangers and Yankees.

Have bat, will travel.

So by the time he showed up in North Kingstown in 2002, his career was over, and he had an indoor baseball facility off Route 2 called Around the Horn.

Jamale Horn was 6 years old.

"I grew up in Around the Horn," he said.

Interestingly, he says he doesn't really know a lot of the specifics of his father's career, other than the fact his father wasn't around a whole lot when he was a child, Sam Horn playing overseas at the time. Nor has he ever gone on the Sons of Sam Horn Web site, even though he's heard of it.

But from the beginning, he was always Sam Horn's kid, a big thing in a small town where you are playing Little League and no one else's father ever played in the big leagues. And as he grew up playing sports, the ramifications of that became heavier. The Son of Sam Horn.

It was after his recent high school game, and he was sitting on a row of bleachers. He is 6-foot-5 and lanky, a different body than his father had when he first came into professional baseball, not as big, not as powerful, but you can see the young Sam Horn in his face. He was asked if he ever felt any pressure being Sam Horn's son.

"I feel pressure all the time," he said.

He feels pressure because his father was a major-league baseball player, and because of that he is somehow viewed differently, real or imagined.

He feels pressure because he's now got his own baseball dreams, and he's now a senior in high school and his future will soon start. Next year he will go to a Georgia junior college, the first stop on what he hopes will one day take him down the same path his father once walked.

"He's got skills baseball-wise that you can't teach," said his coach, Kevin Gormley. "He's got five-tool talent."

But becoming a professional baseball player is a long process, takes more than just talent and potential. It takes hard work and determination, and often a little luck, too. If you can see the talent on a high school baseball field in Rhode Island, can see the potential, it's still little more than the first step in the process.

So it is with Jamale Horn.

"He's never really committed himself to baseball," Gormley said.

One theory is that he liked basketball better, and, in truth, Horn was a very good Rhode Island high school basketball player, one of North Kingstown's best. To the point that last summer, he didn't play legion ball, taking the summer off from baseball.


Baseball was just something he did, something he was good at, certainly, but nothing that defined him. One senses that has changed, that it's now time to get serious. Gormley thinks so, anyway.

Maybe it was the Cincinnati Reds coming down one day to watch him take batting practice. Maybe it was the realization that he's 6-5 and athletic, the kind of size that jumps out at you on a high school baseball field. Maybe it's simply that he wants this to be his future.

Whatever the reason, Jamale Horn is now serious.

"He's a special talent," Gormely said. "I think he's got a shot."

Like father, like son?

We'll see.

For a lot of people still remember Sam Horn, a name that lives on through the Sons of Sam Horn website.

But only Jamale is the real Son of Sam Horn.

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