Advertisement

COLUMN ONE

He loves this delivery job

Even die-hard Dodgers fans haven't heard of Pete Bonfils, who pitches batting practice for the team. He's enjoyed the thrills and perks of the job for nearly 30 years, making $50 for each home game.

September 05, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

Pete Bonfils has thrown more pitches than any man who has ever worn a Dodgers uniform.

Given up more home runs too.

Yet even the most die-hard Dodgers fans have never heard his name or seen him throw because Bonfils does most of his work before the turnstiles have opened.

Bonfils pitches batting practice to the Dodgers. He has enjoyed the thrills and perks of the job for nearly 30 years, making just $50 for each game at Dodger Stadium.

Truth is, he'd do it for free.

"I get excited every day I go out there," he says. "When I pull up the driveway and get past the guards, everything disappears. You get to go into the clubhouse, dress and go out on the field.

"That's why I still do it. I don't take it for granted. Not one day."

One afternoon in August, Bonfils arrives at the stadium nearly four hours before game time, parks in a reserved space and races past the locker room with a quick wave to the guard and a "hello" to a pair of clubhouse attendants.

He has his own locker in a corner of a spare clubhouse that has been turned into a weight room. While some of the early-arriving Dodgers grunt through their exercises, Bonfils changes into his dark blue jersey with a large white No. 62 on the back and hurries to the field to get in some running and throwing before it's time to go to work.

As more than a dozen players stretch in front of the third-base dugout, Bonfils runs sprints alone over the manicured grass in the outfield before playing catch with hitting coach Don Mattingly.

The grounds crew wheels a batting cage into position around home plate and sets a portable pitcher's mound — a slanted fiberglass board covered with plastic grass — about 50 feet away. Pitching from the portable mound allows Bonfils and the other batting-practice pitchers to move closer to home plate, saving wear and tear on their arms.

When pitcher Clayton Kershaw steps into the batter's box, Bonfils grabs a ball from a metal basket, kicks his right leg into the air and smoothly delivers a belt-high fastball right down the center of the plate.

For 15 minutes he repeats the routine, throwing nearly 40 pitches each to Kershaw and three other players, who drive Bonfils' offerings to all corners of the ballpark. Not bad for a 58-year-old guy who, in his own athletic prime, had more tenacity than talent and who pitched with more heart than heat.

His chief skill now is control.

"He throws strikes," Mattingly says. "If a guy throws strikes, everybody's fine with him."

First baseman James Loney says Bonfils brings one other thing to work with him every day: his infectious enthusiasm, which can provide a lift when players are dragging.

"He enjoys it. He likes throwing," Loney says. "He takes pride in it. He wants to be out there."

From the first time Bonfils saw Dodger Stadium as a 10-year-old, he never wanted to be anywhere else.

"This was my dream," he says of playing for the Dodgers. "All I knew was baseball. I loved it so much."

**

A speedy outfielder with a good arm and a sweet swing, Bonfils was an all-league player at Pasadena High School in the late 1960s. At 5 feet 7 and 145 pounds, he was too small to be a major league prospect. But he found another way into a major league uniform.

As a high school junior, he accompanied a friend, whose father worked for the Dodgers, to Dodger Stadium one afternoon. When one of the ball boys called in sick, Bonfils was asked to fill in. Bonfils became such a frequent and dependable substitute he was given the job full time a summer later. And because he had a good arm and was left-handed — a huge bonus, because few hitters get to see pitches from that side of the mound during warm-ups — Bonfils began throwing batting practice.

He was good at it too. When the Dodgers traded catcher Jeff Torborg to the Angels before the 1971 season, Torborg begged Bonfils to drive down the freeway and pitch to his new team when the Dodgers were out of town.

In an improbable plot twist too corny for even the most desperate Hollywood screenwriter, an Angels scout happened to be in the ballpark one day. He spotted Bonfils throwing and offered him a contract on the spot.

"He had like a rubber arm, was a great athlete, could throw any breaking ball that you needed and throw strikes," says Torborg, who keeps a framed picture of Bonfils atop a filing cabinet in his Florida home. "He was a great kid to have around."

He wasn't around the Angels for long, however, winning 12 games and losing 14 in four years in the organization's minor league system. But in the Mexican League, where he went after the Angels released him in 1975, he was a star, winning 17 games once and as many as 11 games five times in eight seasons.

Along the way he made all-star teams, struck out home run champion Hector Espino (the Mexican Babe Ruth) and, because of his diminutive size and flowing shoulder-length hair, became a cult figure, with one team etching his likeness onto a plastic key chain it sold at the ballpark.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|