Hitting it out of the park
Family takes part in great American pastime
Most every family has a tradition, but for the Alioto boys, the family tradition comes with thousands of fans, manicured green fields and the occasional prank that gets played out on national television.
Beginning in the early 1970s, five members of the Alioto family have worked as bat boys for the San Francisco Giants. From Candlestick to King Street, a father, uncle and three brothers have made the trek to the Giants clubhouse for every home game to field bats, wash towels and attempt to keep order among 37 Major League ballplayers.
"I thought it would be so cool to be around Major League players, that I could ask questions and get a feel what it was like to be in the Major Leagues," said Marco Alioto, 15. "I'm going to try to keep it going for as long as I can."
Marco is a freshman at De La Salle High School and has been a bat boy in the home clubhouse for two years. A serious baseball fan and a catcher on his own team, Marco exudes enthusiasm for the game and takes his job very seriously.
"It's hard with being a kid, with sports and being able to do things with friends," Marco said. "We're washing clothes 24/7 throughout the day, going to the kitchen to see if any dishes need to be washed. Between the time that I get there and when the game starts, you're doing whatever the players need."
Marco is the last of his relations to join the Giants family after his two older brothers, Dominic and Tony, worked as bat boys in the visiting and home clubhouses during high school. Although Tony has moved on to Sonoma State, Dominic and Marco make the trek from Alamo to San Francisco for every home game.
"I definitely enjoy being with my younger brother a lot -- we created a bond and got way closer because we were together literally all day," said Dominic, 18. "It's something that we always talk about and something we will always have a connection about."
During the school year, the two will drive to the ballpark right after the last school bell and sometimes get home past midnight -- the late hour a result of hanging out at the clubhouse. During the summer, the home clubhouse bat boys will arrive at AT&T Park at 7 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game, or at 1 p.m. for a night game.
"The hardest part about it is balancing out with school and my friends and my family, it takes up so much of my time," Dominic, a high school senior, said. "I know that it's something that I'll cherish for the rest of my life and that not a lot of people will get to do. I just want to work hard and work through it ... my friends are understanding and come to the games a lot."
For Marco, the hardest part of the job is keeping the players and coaches happy, because "if people aren't happy, you're doing something wrong," he said. Beyond his bat-retrieving duties, Marco is responsible for setting up the dugout with gum, towels and chips before the game.
"I think any time a child has a responsibility like that it's just a matter of accountability. You can't get up one morning and say, 'I don't feel like going today.' You can't come and go as you please and I think both boys have learned that," said Mario Alioto, the boys' father and senior vice president of revenue for the Giants. "They realize that this is not about them and there's a lot to do."
And Mario Alioto should know -- he was a bat boy in the Giants' visitors clubhouse with his brother from 1973 through 1978. Mario grew up near Candlestick Park and when his father would stop by the ballpark as part of his route for a linen company, the family got to know Equipment Manager Mike Murphy.
"I still remember standing by the door and seeing all the players and thinking how neat that was. One day, I helped them for five minutes, and Murph gave me 5 bucks," Alioto said.
Alioto attended St. Mary's College and, in his sophomore year, was offered a position as visiting clubhouse manager. After he graduated college, he worked in the front office and has been in the Giants family ever since. When his eldest son was looking for summertime employment, Visiting Clubhouse Manager Harvey Hodgerney offered him Alioto's old position.
"This definitely was not planned, but when I look back on it, it is a pretty neat feeling," Alioto said of his family tradition. "I always remind (my sons) that you can't take this stuff for granted. This is the experience of a lifetime to see what happens at a major game from the field level."
In addition to understanding the great opportunity they have been afforded, Alioto said he and his wife Kelly make sure to keep their boys grounded. Baseball is a family affair with Kelly and 12-year-old daughter, Giuliana, attending most games.
"It's fun for my wife and my mom to see our kids out there, it's this family thing," he said. "When you're a parent and your kids grow up and start getting involved as teenagers, there's not so many things you can talk to them about. But we all have this connection."
In addition to the shared experiences of working for the San Francisco Giants as teenagers, the Alioto family got to enjoy one particularly momentous occasion together: the 2010 World Series-winning game.
"The second we won, we waited for everyone to run out then we came out right behind them. The players were extra excited, a couple guys must have been crying. I think most of the guys have never won a World Series," Marco said. "It's something you dream about as a kid growing up ... because you don't actually think it would ever happen. I thought, 'I'm one in 30 guys in the big leagues running out to the field during the first time we won a World Series in 50 years.'"
Marco and his family flew with the team back to San Francisco and participated in the celebration as players passed the Series trophy around the plane.
"The World Series is a night I'll never forget, especially for how long I've been here. As a guy who's worked here for as long as I had, to see my boys be in a position to experience that is pretty special," Mario Alioto said.
But it's not all celebration; being a bat boy for the Giants comes with regular embarrassment. Pitcher Sergio Romo is known for pulling pranks and on one occasion, put a piece of chewing gum on the bottom of Marco's paper cup, placed it on his helmet and sent him onto the field.
"Everyone near the field, in both dugouts, started laughing. It fell off and I got it very quickly and ran," Marco said, adding that he now constantly checks his helmet for cups. "People always tell me I should get him back one day."
When players aren't pulling pranks, both Dominic and Marco said they are keen to help with homework and even throw a couple of baseball tips their way. Romo regularly tries to help Dominic with his math homework while Marco said Matt Cain taught him how to throw a change-up.
"People always tell me that I can ask players advice on baseball, that's what people are the most jealous about," Marco said. "People always come up to me and ask me questions ... kids from 8 years old to 58 years old, their eyes get all big."
Marco said he'd like to work for the Giants as long as possible, perhaps becoming a "clubhouse guy" when he ages-out as a bat boy at 21, and would like to play baseball in college. Dominic will attend Regis University in Denver next fall and said he may try to work with the Rockies in a few years, but had no specific plans.
Even if he doesn't stay at the ballpark, Dominic said he has taken away life lessons from the Giants.
"I think the biggest thing I take away is the discipline and responsibility it's taught me. I've learned how to work out stress, because sometimes it's stressful on my personal life and with school," he said.
"That's the thing about baseball, it's something that you pass down from generation to generation," Mario Alioto said, adding that even his grandfather had season tickets to Giants games. "It's something that's been a part of our family ... but it's fun for the boys to experience the game in a different way."
The San Francisco Giants will open the 2012 season at home tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates.