by Jim Mancari
The game of baseball has been uniting father and son since the game’s inception in 1846. This past Father’s Day, June 18, scores of young ballplayers expressed their gratitude to their dads for sharing a mutual love of America’s pastime.
One of those ballplayers was J.J. Franco, the son of long-time New York Mets lefty relief pitcher John Franco. John, a Bensonhurst native, spent 21 years in professional baseball – 14 with the Mets.
John became the 26th member of the Mets Hall of Fame on June 3 during a pre-game on-field ceremony at Citi Field, Flushing. He was joined by his son J.J., as well as his daughters, Nicole and Ella, and wife Rose, in receiving the honor.
John grew up as a Mets fan attending Most Precious Blood parish and Lafayette H.S., both in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn. He went on to throw two no-hitters at St. John’s University, Jamaica, before being selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 MLB Draft.
His dad, Jim, grew up in the Red Hook projects in Brooklyn and worked for the N.Y.C. Dept. of Sanitation. Jim played a key role in John’s progression in the game of baseball. Jim always drove – sometimes long distances – to watch his son play.
“My dad was a very quiet man who would stay on the sidelines,” John said. “But he always had a big smile on his face when people would talk about me.”
John was pitching with the Cincinnati Reds in 1987 when his father passed away. Beginning in the 1988 season, John famously wore an orange N.Y.C. Dept. of Sanitation t-shirt under his uniform – a tradition that he continued while with the Mets.
As he experienced all his success with the Mets – including reaching the World Series in 2000 and becoming team captain in 2001 – his son J.J. was cheering his dad on along the way. Though John was on the road often, he always remained in close contact with his family. J.J. even stayed up late on nights John returned from road trips to greet his dad.
“Even from a young age, I understood why he wasn’t around,” J.J. said. “That was his job, and when he was home, he was always spending time with us.”
When J.J. was old enough, John used to take him to Shea Stadium almost every day during the summer. The two arrived an hour before John was scheduled to show up, and he threw his son batting practice and hit him ground balls.
John also listened to the advice that the Mets hitting and infield coaches gave to the professional players, and he’d then relay that information to his son.
Those tips paid off, as J.J. became a standout baseball player in high school at Poly Prep, Dyker Heights. He was one of the team’s top pitchers, but he also played shortstop when not on the mound. John enjoyed teaching J.J. about pitching since that was his area of expertise, but he was content with whatever his son wanted to do on the baseball diamond.
“I never wanted him to pitch because I never wanted him to be under that pressure or the microscope to try to live up to his father’s name,” John said.
J.J. was drafted by the Mets in the later rounds of the 2010 MLB Draft. Though he and his father were excited about the selection, the two agreed that more seasoning in college would pay off for the budding star.
J.J. chose to attend Brown University, Providence, R.I., where he is majoring in economics. He recently finished his sophomore season for the Brown Bears – earning Second Team All-Ivy League honors as Brown’s starting second baseman.
“Watching him compete in Division I baseball is very satisfying for me because I know the hard work you have to put in,” John said.
Just like Jim Franco did with John, John is now traveling the country to watch his son play. J.J. said he appreciates the constant baseball tips, especially when focused on the opposing team’s pitcher.
“The fact that he takes these drives so frequently to watch me play is just a testament to how devoted of a father he is to his children,” J.J. said.
Though John is still working for the Mets in a club ambassador role, he’s retired from playing, which allows him to spend quality time with his family. He’ll be heading out to Suffolk County often this summer to watch J.J. play for the Sag Harbor Whalers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League.
“Dad’s here to stay now,” J.J. said. “He’s going to be even more of a family man than he already is.”
As he continues his baseball career with aspirations of someday playing in the major leagues, J.J. said that the lessons he’s learned from his father have been invaluable.
“He (John) always taught me from a young age to eliminate the word ‘can’t’ from my vocabulary,” J.J. said. “That’s something that has stuck with me no matter what I do.”
Not only is John ecstatic that his son is continuing the family tradition of baseball, but he also looks favorably on the way J.J. carries himself. Despite the time John spent away from his family due to baseball, he certainly played a key role in raising a fine young man.
“He (J.J.) followed in my footsteps in working hard,” John said. “My wife and I are very proud of him, not only of his accomplishments on the field but in the classroom also.”
Baseball will always serve as a bonding tool for father and son, and John and J.J. Franco would agree.
Contact Jim Mancari via e-mail at email@example.com
MLB Has Local Ties
On June 14, 1997, the San Francisco Giants and the Anaheim Angels met in interleague play, which had been introduced for the first time in baseball history that season. During that game, reserve infielder Rich Aurilia of the Giants hit the first-ever interleague grand slam off Angels lefty Allen Watson.
Ironically, Aurilia, a product of Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, got the big hit off Watson, who pitched at Christ the King R.H.S., Middle Village. Giants manager Dusty Baker gave Aurilia the start at shortstop against Watson, since the two had faced each other 10 years earlier in a CHSAA baseball game.
St. John’s B-ball Camp
St. John’s Prep, Astoria, will host summer basketball camps. Call athletic director Ed Flood at 718-721-7100 (ext 645) for more information.
Boys: July 9-13, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Girls: July 16-20, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
6-10th graders welcome
Registration deadline: July 2
$200 without meal plan
$225 with meal plan
Guest speaker: Former New York Knicks guard John Starks