New York -- There are three degrees of separation between Babe Ruth and Giants rookie Kevin Frandsen. When Ruth played for the Yankees, the equipment manager was Pete Sheehy, who was still there in 1981 and decided rookie pitcher Dave Righetti should wear No. 19.
Righetti and Frandsen both grew up in San Jose. Their families were tight, and Righetti knew Frandsen when the lad was in diapers.
When the Giants returned home from their last trip, Frandsen was stunned to look into his locker and see his uniform. Under his name was the number 19, which Righetti had worn for 10 seasons in pinstripes. He wore it when he threw a no-hitter, wore it when he pitched for the Giants from 1991-93, and has worn it since he became pitching coach in 2000.
One cannot understate the sentiment of a uniform number to an athlete. Just ask Deion Sanders' jeweler, who no doubt made millions forging 18-karat gold into the shape of a "21" for Prime Time.
Righetti giving his number to a rookie after wearing it for 25 years was an unusual and selfless act, particularly given its symbolism in the Righetti household. Dave's father, Leo, a fine ballplayer in his own right, died on the 19th of the month. His 14-year-old triplets, Nicolette, Natalee and Wesley, were born on the 19th.
Another child was born on the 19th of a month. His name was DJ Frandsen, Kevin's older brother, who grew up idolizing his dad's friend, the Yankee and Giant Dave Righetti. Naturally, 19 was DJ's favorite number.
Two years ago, DJ died at 23 after fighting cancer for practically his entire life. Kevin's devotion to his brother cannot be missed. Kevin's upper back bears the only tattoo on his body, the letters "DJ" superimposed over the number 19. He scrawls the same symbol under the bill of his cap.
To wear 19 on his Giants uniform is almost overwhelming for the 23-year-old infielder.
"It's pretty special," Frandsen said. "It's not something I asked for. He offered it. I'm pretty excited about that."
Righetti had broached the number change with Giants clubhouse manager Mike Murphy, who in turn raised the idea with Frandsen.
"I didn't want to take it because that had been Dave's number for so many years," Frandsen said. "I didn't know how to react. I was excited, but there was a reason my brother loved the number so much. I told Dave, 'It was because of you.' He said, 'You go take that number.' "
This story begins four decades ago, when Righetti was an 8-year-old ball rat who served as a batboy for a team Dave Frandsen played for. Frandsen was five or six years older, "a guy I looked up to when I was a kid," Righetti said.
The families live close by and stayed close. Dave Frandsen is a teacher at Leland High in San Jose and was its basketball coach. Naturally, when Dave Frandsen married and had children, the kids grew up knowing Righetti, this big-league pitcher. Righetti often visited the house, and whenever DJ had a bad bout with his illness, Righetti would come by the hospital.
"The bond was always there," Righetti said.
As Righetti spent his years pitching in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Oakland and Chicago, then moved into coaching, Kevin Frandsen was maturing into a fine baseball player in San Jose.
"I started going to San Jose State alumni dinners and I see this young kid out there, and I'm thinking, 'You're kidding me? Kevin's here?' Next thing you know he's the all-time hit leader at State. Then he gets a chance to come to the Giants," Righetti said.
As soon as the Giants drafted and signed Frandsen in 2004, Righetti said, he thought about handing his number to Frandsen if ever made the big club. Frandsen had worn it in the minors, but not at San Jose State, he said, "because I always had to just take the littlest jersey."
When Righetti got 19 in New York, it was not random, but an honor. Any number that ended with 9 was reserved for a pitcher with promise. Ron Guidry wore 49, Ron Davis 39, Catfish Hunter 29 and Dick Tidrow 19.
"I believe Don Larsen threw a no-hitter wearing that number. I was the next Yankee to throw one after him, so to me it was good luck," Righetti said. Nevertheless, knowing the bond between the Frandsen brothers, DJ and Kevin, Righetti had no reservations about handing it down. Murphy then assigned Righetti 46, Kirk Rueter's number. That was meant to be an honor, too.
Frandsen can guess what his late brother would have thought about seeing Kevin wear No. 19 in the majors.
"He'd just say, 'Don't screw up wearing that number,' " Frandsen said.
DJ Frandsen died on Sept. 16, 2004.
He had battled cancer for most of his years -- 19, to be exact.