NEW YORK -- The first time Mariners coach Lee Elia crossed paths with a young infielder named Julio Franco was during Spring Training in the late 1970s.

Elia, now the special assistant to manager John McLaren, was managing in the Phillies organization, and Franco was in camp as a second baseman.

"I don't remember the year, but we were very blessed at the time, having three or four second basemen with Major Leagues written all over them," Elia recalled on Sunday. "And he was one of them. We could see he had talent, a very special talent."

Nearly 30 years later, that talented player finally stopped playing.

Franco, now 49, put his cleats away on Friday, officially retiring from the Mexican League Quintana Roo Tigers.

Elia recalled that Franco stood out from the beginning.

"There were something like 140 players in the complex that spring," Elia said, "and seven or eight of them really stood out. Julio was one of them. We had some good ones, and, in fact, [Ryne] Sandberg was below Franco on the depth chart.

"He was a real flexible kid, a second baseman who had a lot of leverage in his swing. I don't recall him having the bat wrapped around his head. That's something he developed later, as he got stronger.

"But he had a great career, no doubt about it. He always had a smile on his face, loved to play the game, and nobody would mess with him."