Julio Franco, 55, wants 'back in'

Julio Franco is honest about why, at age 55, he's decided to put a uniform back on and try to hit against pitchers less than half his age.

"I want to stay in baseball and this is a neat opportunity for me to stay close to the game," said Franco, who will play for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent United League during the club's first homestand, which starts Tuesday night at LaGrave Field and is nine games long.

"If you stay home, people forget about you and you may not get back in. I want to get back in as a coach, hitting coach, bench coach, future manager. This is a great opportunity."

It's also a chance to play professional baseball in five different decades.

"That means a lot, but it doesn't stop there," Franco said.

Franco collected more than 4,200 total hits during a career which has taken him all over the world, spanning the majors, minors and international leagues.

He played in the majors for parts of 23 seasons and didn't stop until he was 49 years old. He's the oldest player to hit a home run, a grand slam, a pinch-hit homer and multiple home runs in a game.

Franco played for the Texas Rangers during his prime, winning the AL batting title in 1991 as well as being the All-Star Game MVP in 1990. He played for eight major league teams during his career.

So can he still step up to the plate and get some hits?

"I expect him to step in the box and be Julio Franco," Cats general manager Craig Brasfield said. "He's 55 years old, but he's a professional and he's playing in a good league, so there's some competition. But a man that keeps in shape like he does and the work ethic that he displayed, he can do it. I saw him [Monday], and he's a man."

Franco isn't putting any expectations on himself, saying that he's been taking swings for a few weeks and trying to make sure he's in the best condition he can be to succeed.

He will be a player and coach with the Cats, something he hopes can be a springboard to joining affiliated ball. He was the manager of the Mets' rookie team in 2009 and has coached and managed in Venezuela.

This isn't the first time a former big league player has signed to play in a handful of games with the Cats. Jose Canseco was a player-coach with the team in the first homestand last season. Brasfield said phone calls and ticket sales in anticipation of Franco's return have been higher than the buzz was for Canseco's appearance last year.

"Minor league baseball is all about promotion and there's some element in that here," Brasfield said. "But it's real baseball and lets Julio fill a void to keep that going at some level. It's a fun thing for everybody. Fans will enjoy seeing him at the plate again."

The Cats face Rio Grande Valley at 7:05 p.m. CT on Tuesday.