Sean Casey was traded from the Indians to the Reds the day before the 1998 season began, not knowing what to expect in Cincinnati.
“It was the day before Opening Day and I was scrambling,” Casey said. “It’s always tough when you get traded, but I was so young and it was so close to the season, I was all over the place. I didn’t know what was gonna happen, but I said, ‘At least I know Aaron Boone is gonna be there.’ ”
The two had faced each other in the minors and spent time together in the Arizona Fall League and Boone had already made an impression on Casey.
“I was running late for stretch on my first day and I was kind of in a panic,” said Casey, who played with Boone in Cincinnati for more than five years before Boone was traded to the Yankees in 2003. “He was the first guy I saw. He put his arm around my shoulder and that put me at ease.”
The Yankees hope Boone, who will be introduced as their new manager at a press conference Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, has a similar impact on his new team.
It’s a lot to ask of the 44-year-old, who has never managed or coached at any level and is now being given the reins to a Yankees’ team with lofty expectations after falling just one win shy of the World Series.
Among the reasons Boone has his new job after serving as a broadcaster for ESPN since his playing days ended, is the Yankees didn’t believe his predecessor, Joe Girardi, connected enough with his players. And they are confident Boone, despite his lack of experience, will succeed in that area.
They’re not the only ones who share that belief.
“I think, like everyone else, I was surprised when I heard his name as a candidate,” said Mike Gillespie, who coached Boone at Southern Cal. “And there are some debatable things about hiring him, but what’s not debatable is that he’s bright, articulate and he will be able to relate to everybody. Everybody.”
The last part is a trait Boone has always possessed, according to his father.
“He’s a unique guy,” said Bob Boone, who played and managed in the majors. “He never says anything bad about anybody. He’s far better at that than I am. And he always sought out the underdog. No matter what was going on, he made sure no one was left out.”
The Boones’ history in the game is well known.
Ray Boone, Aaron’s grandfather, played infield for 13 seasons in the majors and made two All-Star teams.
Bob followed with a 19-year career in the majors and was an All-Star four times as a catcher.
Then came Aaron’s older brother, Bret, a three-time All-Star second baseman.
Aaron’s 12-year career included an All-Star appearance in 2003 for the NL, before being dealt that July 31 to the Yankees.
The youngest brother, Matt, played six years in the minors before a back injury derailed his career.
David Ochoa coached both Aaron and Matt at Villa Park High School near Anaheim, Calif.
“The first thing I did when I heard Aaron got the job was add him to my prayer list,” said Ochoa, who spent 25 years over two stints at Villa Park. “But if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Aaron.”
While Boone’s lineage was no secret, it didn’t impact the way he prepared.
“Everyone knew his family history, but he didn’t take anything for granted,’’ Ochoa said. “He was destined for big things on his own. He was always aware of everything going on on the field. He probably would have made a good catcher.’’
Instead, Boone played second, third and shortstop for the Spartans, who were no strangers to big names. Other graduates include major leaguers Bert Blyleven, Freddie Freeman and Mark Trumbo — in addition to actor Kevin Costner.
Rod Carew, a coach with the Angels who lived nearby, and Blyleven — whose son, Todd, was a teammate of Aaron’s — as well as Bob Boone, would occasionally run drills during the offseason.
“It’s in his DNA,” said Gillespie, who now coaches at UC Irvine. “His dad played, managed and worked in the front office, so Aaron has seen it all. Being around for so long, it’s like he has a Ph.D. in the game.’’
That may be true, but it’s no guarantee that will translate to being a good manager — and that’s where Boone’s other traits will have to prove useful.
“He’ll be learning on the fly, but my sense is his learning curve will be very fast,’’ Gillespie said. “He’s one of those guys that has no enemies. There’s nothing phony about him.”
“You could always tell he was always a couple steps ahead of the game, as a player and a broadcaster,’’ said Casey, now an analyst for MLB Network. “He sees the game differently. Part of that is what happens when you’re born into the game, but we kind of came into the league together and I know the work he put in to prepare himself on his own.’’
Aaron’s knowledge was apparent even in high school, when he was a year behind Todd Blyleven.
“Even then, as soon as he stood on the field, he had a presence,’’ said Blyleven, who reached Double-A as a pitcher before spending eight years as a scout for the Angels and Rockies. “He had a different look. You never saw him get too far up or down.”
Blyleven said he isn’t surprised Aaron lasted as long as he did as a player or that he took this most recent leap.
“I remember going to his house and Bob would be putting Aaron, Bret and Matt through conditioning drills,’’ said Blyleven, who helped Colorado sign Troy Tulowitzki as a scout. “They were learning not just what it took to get to the big leagues, but to stay there.”
The brotherly rivalry led to some fierce battles in the backyard.
“Everyone was competitive, including me and his granddad,” Bob Boone said. “You kind of had to be to survive.”
And who won most of those matchups?
“It depended on what they were doing,” his dad said. “Bret was older, so he was better at a lot of stuff, but Aaron was taller and if it was basketball, he’d win.”
Aaron also played basketball and football at Villa Park before moving on to the Trojans. He was drafted by the Reds in the third round of the 1994 draft.
In his fourth full season, Boone hit a career-high 26 homers in 2002 in Cincinnati before being sent to the Yankees in the middle of 2003.
Boone didn’t live up to expectations down the stretch, but etched his name into Yankees history with his game-winning homer off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. A knee injury suffered in a pickup basketball game that offseason ended his Yankees career. Until now.
“I remember watching that swing,” Ochoa said of the home run. “That was an amazing moment. Hopefully now he’ll have even more there.”