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Finding home

Posted: April 20, 2008 1:53 a.m.
Updated: June 21, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
His wife sits in the faded peach-colored seats beyond Reese Field, clutching a pastel-colored fleece blanket.

One of his five sons sits just below her.

Another behind her.

Yet another son stands just feet away from him on the baseball field.

The lone daughter runs around the seats with some friends.

A third son is on the other side of town, watching his team get ready.

And the fifth son is in Arizona, wishing he were here.

He said so, just the day before on the phone.

This is the reason why 52-year-old Chris Bando gave up his former life - the family life.

It's not the first transformation he has made.

In 1979, his brother and idol Sal told him he needed a change.

Chris' ambitions for success were more powerful than his faith.

The 100-percent Sicilian had been raised in a religious household and his brother Sal, a three-time world champion and four-time All-Star in the Major Leagues, became a full-fledged Christian because of the influence of former big-league manager Alvin Dark.

Sal passed the word onto his brother, but it didn't stick.

In 1979, after a strong spring training, Chris was told by former Major League manager Jeff Torborg that if a catcher on the Cleveland Indians would get hurt, Chris would be brought up to the big leagues.

Chris says at the time he wished a catcher on the team would break his leg.

On April Fool's Day, 1979, a catcher broke his leg.

It was Chris, sliding into a base.

"I was the fool because the fool said in his heart, 'No' to the Lord," Chris says now.

Now it's the biggest part of his life, other than family - and baseball.

Chris made a sacrifice last summer.

For 30 years, he had been involved in professional baseball.

With nine seasons in the big leagues, winning a world championship in 1989 with the Oakland A's, nearly 20 in the minor leagues as a coach or player, and his latest stint - an advanced scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks - the family lifestyle revolved around baseball.

The Bandos were nomadic.

Back in 1993, Chris greeted his wife Mary Beth at the airport in New Orleans.

To her sides were 24 suitcases, a dog and six kids.

New Orleans was just another stop along the way.

There's been Cleveland and Stockton. El Paso and Akron. Milwaukee and Gilbert, Ariz. to name a few. Even Australia.

And now Valencia.

Three kids are playing baseball for their respective schools - 20-year-old Mike (The Master's College), 21-year-old Phil (College of the Canyons) and 18-year-old Nick (Santa Clarita Christian).

Luke, a 16-year-old, plans on playing later.

Ben, now 24 and living in Arizona, played for The Master's College before going to Arizona State.

Angela, 15, keeps her mother company off the field.

Chris gave up his job with the Diamondbacks and is now an assistant coach for TMC.

"I used to say I'd stay in pro baseball as long as it keeps my family together. The moment it begins to switch, then it's time for me to switch," Chris says.

The switch came when TMC head coach Monte Brooks recruited Mike.

"I came out and visited last year. I didn't want to come out here. The team was horrible," Mike says. "Now we're all here because of me. I'm glad I took it."

Brooks also offered Chris an assistant coaching position and the family packed up and left Gilbert, Ariz.

Now Chris says he's done with professional baseball.

"This is it. No desire," he says.

Through family Bible study and something as simple as dinners at the dinner table, the family was able to deal with the professional baseball lifestyle. But now, with exception to Ben, they're all together.

"We saw what baseball could do to families because of the traveling and stuff," Mary Beth says. "We made a decision early we would do anything to keep the family together."

Yet baseball, in its purest form without the business, is keeping the family together.

The recruitment of Mike brought the family to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Now each one of the sons currently playing baseball has his own unique story.

Nick didn't pick up a bat for six years, deciding he'd give soccer a try - just to be different.

He picked up a bat for the first time at practice with Santa Clarita Christian this season.

The senior says he was terrible at first.

Now his coach Garrick Moss raves about his ability to consistently bang balls against the outfield fence.

Because of his natural talent, he's become the Cardinals' leading hitter at .528 with 17 RBIs.

He's also 5-1 on the mound thanks to a mid-80s fastball.

"I inherited it all from him," Nick says of his father.

But it's Chris' personality he's talking about.

On his third day at school, Nick went to a basketball came with his chest painted.

Nick says he's outgoing, like his father.

Mike is hitting .267 sharing duties at first base for TMC.

The Mustangs aren't horrible either.

After finishing 22-28 last year, they are 27-17 in 2008 despite losing five of their last seven games.

A similar turnaround is taking place at College of the Canyons, where the Cougars just clinched their first conference title since 2004.

Phil Bando, though, had to watch it from the bench because of a broken foot.

Phil has played sparingly because the Cougars have a stacked lineup.

But COC head coach Chris Cota says he's still made a large contribution to this year's team.

"We love him," Cota says. "He is an absolute great person to have on the field. He keeps the guys loose. He understands what happens on a baseball field because of being around baseball."

Because he's so positive, it's been easier for him to deal with all of his obstacles.

The brothers agree that the baseball desire is strongest in Phil.

Yet he missed three years of the game because of a stress fracture in his back - the result of the frequent swinging of bats.

He also has a blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Phil says it's a condition that could be fatal if not monitored.

"I hit my brothers than say, you can't hit me," he jokes of his condition.

Phil says he'll likely play at COC next year.

He's lost count of how many different places he's lived but says the Santa Clarita Valley is becoming home.

The object of baseball, after all, is to find home.

For the Bandos, though, the object has been to find home as a family - a team if you will.

"It's utopia, " Chris says of his current phase of life. "It's almost too good to be true."

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