By Tom Weckerle, West Metro Atlanta MSBL
For those of you who know Frank John, and there are hundreds of you from the last 35 years, he is truly an ambassador for this game we love. I had the opportunity to visit with Frank on a recent Sunday afternoon. We sat leisurely in, of course, a dugout as he kept score for his Sunday team as part of the West Metro Atlanta MSBL. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than talking about baseball, faith, and life in general with someone that you admire?
Frank did not play this summer in the 55+ league with the Navy Braves because of cancer and the effects that chemo was having on his body. Frank can no longer play the game he loves.
Before moving to the Atlanta area Frank played in the Lehigh Valley MSBL for Turk Starniri and Dick Prue on the Diamonds and the Dodgers. This past summer Frank was inducted into the Lehigh Valley MSBL Hall of Fame.
I have always found Frank to be a kind, sincere gentleman, and the absolute best teammate imaginable. You all know that kind of teammate I am about to describe. The one that you look forward to seeing each week. The kind of man that you are excited to see pull into the parking lot at the field or disappointed when he may not make a game for a family commitment.
Frank John just turned 75. He is the son of a patriot, an Air Force pilot. Frank grew up all over the place. He played little league in Fairbanks, Alaska where I Imagine the season ran about 10 days. He then attended Woodson High School in Northern Virginia where he pitched and in 1965 had an ERA of 0.21! He made the Washington Post’s Metropolitan All-Star team. He went on to attend Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania where he added a nasty knuckleball to his pitching repertoire.
Frank’s first experience with MSBL was back in 1989 in Lehigh Valley, PA. When his Hall of Fame honor was bestowed upon him around 12 former teammates that he had not seen in years were all present for his induction ceremony. What a testament to the character and impact he has had on others. Frank has been a part of nine MSBL Championship teams over the years, playing in around 70 tournaments around the Country including 26 times to the MSBL World Series.
I might also add that on four occasions in his baseball life Frank came within one pitch of a perfect game but had to settle for some measly “No Hitters.” Dealing a fastball, curve, and, slider that makes you look silly when you’re up there, he sometimes mixes in the knuckleball which you are so surprised to see that you just watch as it flops in for a strike.
Now as impressive as his skills as a player are, this is not the complete man. Frank’s faith comes above all else. I believe he said to me when asked. Faith, Family, and then baseball in that order. If there is such a thing as an Aura, Frank’s shines bright. Everyone is drawn to the man. He is one of the most articulate and well-spoken people I have met. Kind of like, “When EF Hutton speaks people listen.” Frank often speaks of his wife of 54 years, Cornelia. Together they have five children and enough Grand Kids to field a team of their own.
Two of Frank’s fondest memories as a player are when he pitched an MSBL World Series game against San Jose back in 1996 and won by a score of 2-1 in the Semi-Finals and back playing in Lehigh Valley in 1994 when his dad came to watch him, and he hit two home runs! Frank is very proud of that game with his dad.
Leroy Hatcher, who is the one on the team that always brings a cooler packed with Ice, Gatorade, water, and Gummy Bears to every game shared a story about Frank. During two different seasons, Frank took him aside and handed him a $100 bill each time. He said that I’m giving you this because the other guys probably won’t kick in. This is the kind of guy Frank is.
On a personal note, a few years back I had a health issue which I eventually rebounded from and almost a year to the day of my incident I hit a home run. Give you it was on a smaller field but did in fact clear the fence by a fair amount. Frank John disappeared during the game and came back with the ball to present to me. This was one of the most thoughtful and caring things anyone had ever done for me on a ball field. I told him as much during our interview.
When you have a chance to pick the brain of someone that has played in the MSBL for this long there were two things I really needed to know. First, what does his Slider grip look like? He was happy to demonstrate and what would he see as perhaps a shortcoming of the leagues or what might be an opportunity for improvement. He explained that he wished the team rosters were somewhat more equitable in that new players were distributed more fairly throughout the league. This would contribute to a more of a competitive balance. For those of us who just enjoy playing, the wins are secondary. I do not think MSBL has ever been about winning. It is about the comradery of it all. The looking forward during the week to meeting the fellas and playing. That feeling of the wood bat hitting the ball, and the dugout conversations are priceless, especially with a man like Frank John.