ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A few hours before a recent game here, left-handed pitcher Danny Boone heard the words that ballplayers dread: "The manager wants to see you in his office."
"You never know when you'll get released," said Boone, who, like Crash Davis, the aging minor-league catcher in the movie "Bull Durham," has seen it all.
But Greg Biagini, manager of the Rochester Red Wings, wanted to tell Boone that he was going to start that night.
"I hadn't started a game since '82," Boone recalls. "But I was ready."
After being out of professional baseball six years, he had perfected a new pitch on weekends. His tale is more than a baseball story.
His dream was to pitch in the major leagues, which he did, briefly, eight years ago. But now he is a 36-year-old minor-leaguer. That makes him 12 to 15 years older than most of those toiling away in baseball's farm system. He's also 5 feet 8 inches and 145 pounds, which means he is inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than most pitchers.
Moreover, he must deal with his name. He insists that his birth certificate actually has "Danny" Boone on it, but both his baseball card and the baseball encyclopedia list him as Daniel Boone.
It's a natural mistake because he descends from Benjamin Boone, a brother of frontiersman Daniel Boone.
He figures that if it takes a legendary name to attract attention, that's fine with him. Because if anyone in baseball gives him a close look, they'll see that the quality of his pitching this summer has probably earned him a chance in the majors.
His size didn't keep him from being a high school star in Norwalk, Calif., but it did prevent baseball's hide-bound scouts from choosing him in the 1972 June draft of high school seniors. So he went to Cerritos Junior College, where he went 26-2 over two years.
He went to California State University at Fullerton for two more years, where he was 23-6. After college, his local boyhood team, the California Angels, drafted him.
He spent the next three years moving up, from Salinas in the Class A California League to El Paso, a AA team in the Texas League and finally Salt Lake City in AAA.
In 1980, despite some of the best credentials in the Angels' system, he was released. Angels manager Jim Fregosi thought Boone too small. Fregosi reportedly said: "I'd never have the guts to put him in a game."
By then Boone was no longer young by baseball standards. Still, the San Diego Padres signed him to a typical minor-league contract at about $1,700 a month. They sent him back to AA, to hot and windy Amarillo, where he set the Texas League record for saves.
In 1981, he was invited to big-league camp, and there 6-foot-7, 290-pound former slugger Frank Howard, the largest man ever to manage in the big leagues, chose one of the smallest lefties in baseball history to be the 10th and last pitcher on the Padres roster.
Boone appeared in 37 games that year. He was 1-0 with two saves in three chances and had an ERA of 2.86.
During the off-season, Frank Howard was fired. Boone appeared in 10 games with the Padres in 1982, then was traded to the Houston Astros.
They sent him down to Tucson. With a month to go in the 1983 season, he was sold to Vancouver, part of the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. He didn't pitch well in Vancouver in 1984 and in July was released. At age 30, he seemed finished.
He would have been, too, except for a couple of minor miracles.
The first was the formation of the Men's Senior Baseball League, a national over-30 amateur organization designed for those who find slow-pitch softball a poor substitute for hardball.
Boone signed up and went 40-3 in two years.
Then a group of ex-major leaguers formed a highly touted senior league in Florida for players older than 35. And about Thanksgiving last year, Boone, then almost 36, got a call.
He left behind his job as a construction company superintendent and headed for Florida. His salary was about $5,250 a month and his goal was one last shot at the big leagues.
It was there that he began mixing his fastballs and curves with the knuckleball that he had fooled around with for years.
The Baltimore Orioles offered a contract with their Rochester affiliate of the Internationa League. There, he outpitched Ben McDonald, 22, the former Louisiana State University star, who, at 6 feet, 7 inches had a 90-mph fastball. Earlier this month, McDonald got called up to the Orioles.
Meanwhile, Boone is becoming a sentimental favorite in Rochester.
"He makes us old guys proud," said Joe Gogolsky, 42, an engineer who pitches batting practice to the team as his hobby.
Up in the stands, usher Gary Marcus adds, "Whatever happens now -- whether he gets called up to the majors or not -- he never gave up on his dreams."