I have never seen – or heard – a person hit a Wiffle Ball as long or as hard as Pat-Med’s varsity baseball Coach Anthony Frascogna.
The violent smack of that hard yellow plastic bat smashing the perforated plastic ball is among the most treasured echoes of my childhood.
Not that my competitive 17-year-old juices allowed me to like that much at the time.
But I was always in awe of the way my high school football team’s quarterback tested the resiliency of the Wiffle Ball.
The way Ant could drop his hands and loft my sinking knuckle-curve into the stratosphere was something to behold.
In fact, my dad often points out that Ant holds the record for the longest Wiffle Ball home run ever hit in the backyard of our home on Waverly Avenue in Patchogue – a 140-foot blast that cleared the 30-foot high peak of our house and landed, I assume, somewhere on busy Waverly.
The ball was never recovered.
So it was of no surprise this month – some 33 years later – when we took the field for a one-inning matchup and he began crushing anything I tossed near home plate.
Frascogna was the catalyst for the best summer of my life, the summer of 1985 – the one between our junior and senior years at Patchogue-Medford High School.
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He, myself and three other varsity football teammates went to driver’s education early in the morning, played Wiffle Ball all afternoon and trained for football in the evening – always traveling in a pack on our 10-speed bicycles.
He smiled while recalling the infamous “Stump Rule” from that summer.
During the spring, my parents had about eight trees chopped down in the backyard, but some pretty sizable stumps were left behind. To improvise, Frascogna or myself suggested to make it an out when a hit ball strikes a stump. Whoever came up with the idea, Frascogna still loves it.
“I still think about those stumps,” he said, laughing and flashing his giant light-up-the-room, Magic Johnson-like grin.
“You could hit a rocket. But if it hit the stump, you’re out! That was the best.”
It was usually Ant – with his innovative ideas and infectious laugh – who set the fun tone for the day. If he had something else to do and couldn’t play Wiffle Ball, our backyard league shut down for the day.
I remember such days feeling like rainy days. I recall that when there really was a rainy day, Ant would lead the group in spending hours crafting parodies of our favorite songs.
We lampooned Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” and called it “Football.” Journey’s “Open Arms” was our “Wet Noodles” (a reference our driver’s ed teacher Mr. Fox made about people in a moving car who brace for a collision by extending their arms and pressing their hands against the dashboard. We all found that to be hysterical, for some reason).
And we changed Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” to “Summer of ’85.”
So … “Standing on your mama’s porch, you told me that you’d wait forever, those were the best days of my life.” became “Standing on Frascogna’s porch, it seemed Harmon could eat forever, those were the best days of my life.”
These days, Frascogna – athletics coach and middle school gym teacher by day and lead singer of a local rock band by night – is the engine driving so many good things around town.
This spring, his 19th season as head coach of Pat-Med’s varsity baseball team, Frascogna will likely eclipse 250 career wins – or as he humbly says, “God willing, with a timely base hit here and there.”
Fourteen times, Ant has coached the Raiders into the playoffs. Twice, in 2006 and 2007, his teams made it to the Suffolk County large schools championship. And twice, they lost in heartbreaking fashion.
“Both times, we were one out away from the championship,” said Frascogna, who lives with his wife and two children in Medford. And in both cases, a misplay in the field cost Patchogue-Medford the game, he said.
“The guys from back then still commiserate over those games,” Frascogna said. “But the cool thing is that I still talk to the guys who commiserate over that. Would our lives be much different had he caught the ball? Yeah, it would have been cool. But it’s kind of good as it is. Everybody from that team still checks in. It’s a pretty cool group.”
That group was led by a core of talented players, including Marcus Stroman, who now pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays. Several other players Frascogna coached have played professionally and dozens of others have played in college.
Frascogna said his best moment as the Raiders’ baseball coach came in his third season, in 2003.
“I had said to myself when I started that I’m giving myself three years to turn the program around. We had not won much, and had not been in the playoffs for a long time,” he said. “A lot of people warned me that this was a football school, that baseball was a thing of the past.
“Then, in 2003, we get into the playoffs. We go to play Connetquot, who was ranked sixth in the state. We were big underdogs. I had sophomores everywhere on the field. We took it to them pretty good that day,” Frascogna continued. “And during that game, my wife came up behind me to tell me she was going into labor with our daughter.”
A key to his success as a coach has been his goal to create something “that guys want to come back to.”
“With my most successful teams, I really try to make it like ‘I’m just a part of your team. This is your team. How are we going to do it?’” he said. “I try to get their input. ‘How do you think we should do this?’ Even in the games, I let them make a lot of plays on their own. I really wanted them to feel like they weren’t playing on my team, but that we were playing on the team together.”
Tapping into his influence as a leader in the community, Frascogna routinely conducts baseball-related fundraisers for charitable causes. Last year, he held impromptu youth batting clinics, and forwarded all proceeds to hurricane relief funds.
Often, Frascogna’s band Eddie Trap takes on gigs just for fun, donating most receipts to charity.
“We never ask for a lot of money to play. It’s usually easier just to pool the money and give it to somebody than split up $200,” he said. “We have a regular crowd now of Patchogue people. They’re awesome. If we play somewhere, they show up.”
The band is a blast, performing hilarious sing-along songs about aging, parenting, sex and college days. As a dad of young adult children, Eddie Trap’s “Daddy, Wipe Me” really hits home. It’s a clever tune about the sudden passing of our children’s youth, right before our eyes.
Consider the lyrics: “In my dreams there are bikinis and a winning touchdown drive and I begin to remember what it’s like to be alive. My dream girl pulls me closer, starts to whisper in my ear, then my eyes fly open when this is what I hear: Daddy, wipe me…Da-Daddy, wipe me.”
“I feel like I have a personality that If I always said what I was thinking, I’d probably get myself in trouble,” said Frascogna, who sings and plays guitar. “So the band is an outlet. I can just let it go. It’s a way for me to get it (what I’m thinking) out there.”
It was that summer of 1985 when Frascogna’s passion for music kicked in.
“My uncle took me to see Springsteen. When I came back from that, I literally went to the store and bought a guitar,” he said. “I missed a Monday football practice to go to that Springsteen concert, so I had to run sprints and do pushups for ‘extra help.’ During the pushups part of the extra help, the coach made me sing ‘Born in the USA.’
“That was a cool summer. The summer of 1985. It was like a lifetime in itself.”
I agree. Even after all those Wiffle Ball home runs he hit off me.
And by the way, he walloped me 9-2 in the one-inning game we played in his backyard this month.