Two Sons Of Big Leaguers Team Up In California

When you grow up on the doorstep of Hollywood, maintaining a low profile isn’t easily done. But that’s precisely what the sons of two major leaguers are trying to do this spring at Crespi High in Encino, Calif.

Even in a town that entertainers from John Wayne to Ashlee Simpson have called home, when your last name is Bonds or Scioscia it’s not simple to blend in on the baseball field. But then Matt Scioscia, a senior catcher/first baseman, and Nikolai Bonds, a junior outfielder, have never led normal lives. Playing catch with Hall of Famers and chewing sunflower seeds with some of baseball’s biggest names have been commonplace. As the season started for the Crespi Celts, however, the sons of one of baseball’s most feared hitters and most respected catchers/managers have deflected the attention as best as possible.

“Pretty much, you wouldn’t know that they’re descendents of famous people unless you were told,” Crespi coach Scott Muckey said. “They mix in pretty well.”

Bonds hasn’t been the star of his youth and high school teams the way his father Barry and grandfather Bobby were before him. More focused on basketball, Nikolai is playing organized baseball for the first time in five years. Nikolai grew up with his grandfather teaching him about baseball–Barry rarely played catch with him or watched him play in Little League. So when Bobby passed away in August 2003, Nikolai’s interest and incentive to play baseball waned.

The urge to play suddenly hit him again this year. “I just thought, ‘I’m only in high school once, and I might as well try everything I can,’ ” said Nikolai, who shows some of the same mannerisms and habits in his swing and stance of his father, but lacks the lofty ambition for the game. “I just want to go to a good college and try to get my masters degree in business. If sports fall in, then I’ll do sports. But business is where I’d like to be.”

Matt Scioscia, on the other hand, wants to follow in the footsteps of his father Mike, who is in his seventh season as Angels manager following a 15-year career as a big league catcher. He has committed to Notre Dame, though he isn’t considered a premium draft prospect out of high school as his father was, signing out of high school as a first-round pick of the Dodgers in 1976.

Thanks to a recent growth spurt, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Scioscia is as tall as his father. Muckey said the younger Scioscia is still filling out, and he’ll need to make defensive strides in order to catch in college. As a junior, Scioscia batted .325/.388/.442.

Regardless of their attempts to keep a low profile, both players are aware their names make for high standards to live up to.

“If they hear the name, they might be like, ‘Oh my god!’ ” Bonds said. “But I hope they just think I’m another player. But if (high expectations) fall into place, I have no control over that.”

With a sense of leadership Muckey said is similar to his father’s, the younger Scioscia credits his teammates and the all-boys school environment at Crespi for providing a comfortable backdrop for Bonds and him.

“You just get to know people based on who they are, and not where they’re from,” Scioscia said. “They’ve created a great atmosphere and it’s fun to play.”

That atmosphere is also what attracted Bonds to Crespi High. In his first year with the Celts, Bonds said he already feels like a part of the team.

“I think he’s being accepted as one of the guys, and I think he’s doing a great job. He’s a cool guy to be around,” Scioscia said. “When we look at him, we look at him as Nikolai. We don’t really look at him as Bonds or whatever. He’s obviously got that cross to bear as far as that goes . . . like I do.”

While a trio of juniors–catcher Jeremy Rodriguez, infielder Carlos Lopez and outfielder Sean Gilmartin–are the centerpieces of the Celts’ offense, Scioscia has settled into a complementary role.  

Meanwhile, Bonds has found that his layoff from baseball has left him behind his teammates, and as a result he had seen little playing time.

“We have more experienced players ahead of him right now,” Muckey said.

Baseball’s professional ranks are full of big league bloodlines, but for the two sons of prominent major leaguers at Crespi, they’re not leaning on their heritage to punch their ticket to futures in baseball. They’re happy taking on that challenge on their own.