Set for Life Bret Boone, the Reluctant Retiree

Bret Boone, the Reluctant Retiree, Confronts Life After Baseball

The mementos are on display in the home of the first third-generation player in the majors.
The mementos are on display in the home of the first third-generation player in the majors. (By Peggy Peattie For The Washington Post)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 26, 2009


The comeback was born here, silver spoon in its mouth, in a mansion outside San Diego, amid the spoils and luxuries of Bret Boone's 14-year major league career. It was surrounded, loved and nurtured by family. It never wanted for any material thing. It was given the space to grow at its own pace.

If you've ever wondered: Why do they come back? . . . And if you thought you knew the answers . . . yeah, it's all those things -- an inability to leave the athlete's life behind, an addiction to competition, a need for validation -- but it's so much more.

Bret Boone's 2008 comeback attempt with the Washington Nationals, after two full seasons out of the game, may have been born into a world of wealth and tranquillity -- a world made possible by a total of nearly $50 million he earned in his career -- but it was spawned from darkness. From the descent into the hell of alcoholism and the climb back out. From primal urges -- conquering demons, proving something to oneself, gaining closure.

If the athlete's playing career is life, and retirement is death, Boone -- or at least the ghost of him that showed up in 2008 -- refused to go into that good night until his career was given a proper burial.

"I struggled for that 18-month period where I was just kind of lost," Boone, now 40, says. "Your whole life, [baseball] is . . . not exactly what defines you -- but it's all I've done my whole life. You're Bret Boone, the second baseman, and all of a sudden you're not that guy anymore."

In all but a few pockets of the country that still cared about Bret Boone, the news went by in barely noticed flashes on a television screen or small headlines in a newspaper, stretched across a time frame that, in the mind's eye, could have been weeks or years: March 2006 -- Bret Boone Retires. February 2008 -- Bret Boone Making Comeback. April 2008 -- Bret Boone Retires Again.

But when it's your life and your career, it can consume you. The comeback lasted all of two months, encompassing one final spring training in Viera, Fla., and exactly 13 games in Columbus, Ohio, at the time the home of the Nationals' Class AAA affiliate, where Boone found the answers he sought and buried his career the proper way -- with dignity and finality.

"I had some closure," he says of that spring, when he hit .261 and played passable defense at second base for the Columbus Clippers, but walked away before the Nationals could call him up. "I could still play. I wasn't going to be what I used to be, but I could compete. I knew where I was. And I was okay with it."

* * *

It is 8:30 a.m. on a Friday in late May, and the productive portion of Bret Boone's day is over. The extent of his duties? Dropping off his four kids at their respective schools, the staggered starting times allowing the task to be done in two shifts, with a pit stop at Starbucks in between.

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