Ballpark grill man was big influence on Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon
The man wearing an apron and working the grill at Joker Marchant Stadium stepped inside the visitors’ clubhouse and handed Dee Gordon a couple of his creations.
Two hots dogs with all the fixings.
Gordon gave one to teammate Marcell Ozuna. The other he kept for himself.
“Thanks Eddie,” Gordon told the grill man before he turned and walked out.
The Marlins second baseman and the grill man go way back.
His name is Eddie Roper, and most every summer when Gordon’s dad, Tom, was pitching in the majors, Roper became almost like a fill-in father to Dee and his younger brother.
“I got a little part in it,” Roper said with a hearty laugh while flipping burgers and turning dogs on his grill. “Daddy’s got the biggest part.”
After Gordon’s mother was murdered when he was 6, Tom Gordon began raising his son. But raising a young child as a single parent and major-league player to boot is no easy task.
My dad brought him to make sure we had someone looking after us. He made sure we went to the parks and played. Played basketball. Played baseball. Played football. He took care of us.
Marlins second baseman
Tom Gordon played for teams in Kansas City, Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Arizona during a career that spanned 21 seasons. When his teams were playing on the road, Tom Gordon needed someone to help look after his two young sons.
That person was Roper, his long-time friend.
“We grew up in Avon Park,” Roper said. “It was a small town, so you knew everybody. Tom was real athletic. He played football, baseball, basketball. I liked sports and played a little bit. So that’s how it all came together.”
Tom Gordon asked Roper to join him in whatever city he happened to be playing for at the time. Dee and his brother, Nick, also spent the summers in those cities.
“During the major-league season, when Tom was on the road, I would be at the house with the kids,” Roper said. “Me being there helped a lot. So that’s what I did.”
Roper took the two boys to the park to play sandlot baseball or to the local gyms to play basketball.
“We were little boys,” Dee Gordon recalled. “We didn’t want to sit in the house with women, so my dad brought him to make sure we had someone looking after us. He made sure we went to the parks and played. Played basketball. Played baseball. Played football. He took care of us.”
Roper said Dee Gordon was always athletic and that basketball was his first passion.
“He didn’t talk too much, but he loved sports,” Roper recalled. “He was a good kid. All kids are bad at some point. But he turned out to be a pretty decent kid. I didn’t let him get in trouble because [he knew] I’d tell his dad. And he knew what Tom would do to him if he caused me any trouble.”
Eventually, Tom Gordon’s career ended, the sons grew up, and Roper went his own way. He now lives in Lakeland.
“I work here for the Tigers,” Roper said. “I cook for the team. I cook for the suites. Whatever they need me to do, that’s what I do. Burgers and hot dogs. Sometimes chicken.”
But Roper still pays close attention to Gordon’s baseball career and is proud of all his accomplishments. When Gordon won the batting title in Philadelphia on the final day of last season, Roper was glued to his TV, watching.
“I knew he could do it,” Roper said, turning his hot dogs over the flame to keep them from burning. “On the last day, I knew he wasn’t going to let me down. I was really excited for him. I really got excited when he hit the home run. I knew it was over then.”
To Roper, Gordon is almost like having his own son.
“Everybody is proud of him,” Roper said. “I knew it was in him. It was just a point of getting it out of him. I guess the Marlins got it out of him.”
▪ With no pitcher pegged for the Opening Day roster making the trip to Lakeland for the Marlins, the Detroit Tigers handed Miami a 9-2 loss on Sunday at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Justin Bour went 2 for 3 with an RBI, and Cole Gillespie was 2 for 2 and drove in the Marlins’ other run.
Gordon went 0 for 3 on Sunday and is 0 for 6 so far this spring.
▪ Reliever A.J. Ramos, who has not pitched this spring because of a calf injury, threw a simulated inning Sunday in Jupiter.
“He looked OK,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He seems like a guy who’s tough on himself. But I thought he was fine.”
Mattingly said there is no timetable on when Ramos will pitch in a spring game.
Jarred Cosart also threw off the mound on Sunday for the first time since bruising his right knee on Friday.
“He looked like he didn’t have any ill effects,” Mattingly said. “We’ll see where it goes after [Sunday] and then start lining him up [for his next outing].”
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez at Washington Nationals RHP Tanner Roark, 1:05 p.m., Viera.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler vs. New York Yankees LHP CC Sabathia, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.