Al Frank's Passing Draws Flood Of Tribute From Former Players
By Keith Mills
Mario Scilipoti will never forget the night he made the short trip from his home in Bel Air to watch an over-40 baseball game at Harford Community College.
Scilipoti, a standout soccer player at Archbishop Curley and Loyola College and a member of the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame, was also an outstanding baseball player at Curley during the mid-1970s for legendary coach Al Frank.
"One of the pitchers in the game was a guy named Phil Hunt, who played with me at Curley in 1974," said Scilipoti, now 55 years old. "So there's a ground ball back to the mound, and Hunt catches it. Anyone who's ever played for Al Frank knows when a ball's hit to the pitcher, everybody screams, 'Crow hop.'
"It's instinct, second nature. So I did that from the stands. I yell, 'Crow hop,' and Phil freezes. He's looking around, and then he crow hops and makes the throw to first for the out. That's Al Frank. That was the impact and influence Al Frank had on all of us."
After losing a long and brutal battle with cancer, Frank was buried July 10 at a ceremony at Archbishop Curley. He was 74 years old and an institution since he arrived at the East Baltimore Catholic school during the early 1960s.
"He taught history for 40 years," said Scilipoti, a 1975 graduate of Curley who went on to play on the Loyola soccer team that won the 1976 Division II national championship and also served as the school's soccer coach and athletic director. "He coached baseball and basketball for 40 years. So how many kids did he touch? Do the math. What an unbelievable man."
Frank, who grew up in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area and attended Catawba College in North Carolina, arrived at Curley in 1962 and retired in 2004. He is the second Curley coach, and third in the area, to pass away from cancer in the last year. Last September, Pep Perella, the former soccer coach at Curley, died and last month Mike Whittles, the football coach at Archbishop Spalding, lost his 16-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Frank briefly coached the junior varsity basketball at the school, although he was known more for his work on the baseball field as the Friars' head coach. He won 546 games and six MSA and MIAA A Conference championships.
"Teacher's the word to describe him, not only in the classroom but on the baseball field," said Tim Norris, The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year at Curley in 1977, the year before he and fellow pitcher Bobby Jones and Dave Schroeder led the Friars to their first championship. "To be honest, to play for him wasn't easy. He was very demanding. But he gave it 100 percent himself, gave it everything he had and he expected you to do the same."
Norris was drafted out of Curley in 1978 and spent five years in the Orioles' farm system. He eventually returned to coach with Frank at Curley. When Jack Thomas stepped down as Curley's coach during the spring of 2010, Tim's son, Brooks, was named coach. Tim assisted his son with the team this past year as the Friars made it back to the A Conference championship game, losing a heartbreaking, 1-0 decision to Calvert Hall.
"Throughout the year, a lot of things we'd do and how we'd teach the game, the name Al Frank always came up," said Norris, who also coaches the Youse's Maryland Orioles College team and the Oriolelanders Fall Showcase team. "I know Al was following us from home. We came up a little short against Calvert Hall in the final. We felt obligated to win it for Al. It's still Al's team. I don't care who the manager is now, or 30 years from now. It's always going to be Al's team."
Brooks Norris was a member of Frank's final championship team at Curley in 2001 and Tim Norris delivered the eulogy at Frank's funeral on Wednesday. When the service in the school's auditorium ended, the hearse carrying Frank's body took a slight detour before heading to the cemetery. It stopped at the baseball field.
"That was appropriate," Scilipoti said, "because he was the baseball program."
Scilipoti played shortstop and left field for Frank's teams during the mid-1970s. Along with Jimmy Foxwell, Jimmy Bruno, Donny Sacha, Jimmy Anderson, Jerry Wysocki, Jimmy Louden, Tim Carey and Ricky Walker, Scilipoti and the Friars of '75 helped set the table for what happened three years later. That's when Norris, Jones, Schroeder, Ray and Joe Lawder, Joe Sombrowski and Tony Lombardi led the Friars to an A Conference championship victory against Mount St. Joseph.
Both Scilipoti and Norris remember what were universal elements to Frank's approach -- attention to detail and emphasis on fundamentals.
"We had what we called an idiot sheet," Norris said, "and you didn't want to go on the idiot sheet, because that meant you made a mental mistake, and he was big on being mentally ready to play -- first and third plays, double steals, cutoffs, relays. It was all about playing the game mentally and knowing how to play."
"He stressed the fundamentals," Scilipoti said, "doing it right over and over and over, situational baseball. My senior year, we were 3-5 to start the year and our idiot sheet had about 16 things on it that we did wrong. He worked us hard in practice, on the little things, and we ended up winning 12-13 games in a row, and by the end of the year we had maybe one mistake on that idiot sheet, if that."
"I was fortunate enough to play five years of pro ball," Norris said, "and Al taught me more about baseball than anybody. When I got to pro ball, it kind of shocked me. At Bluefield, we had sort of this little mini-spring training the first week. They're going over bunt plays and first and third plays and some guys are like: 'What's that? What's going on here?' I'm thinking: 'How did they get here? They don't know how to play!' I knew I had learned a lot at Curley, but that's when I really appreciated what Al did."
"You take any player who ever played for Al," Scilipoti said, "they'll tell you the same thing. He taught you how to play, made sure you did the little things, or you didn't play. Al was larger than life, and everybody respected him. You always knew where you stood. His role in the classroom, his role on the baseball field, he was a huge influence on all of us. I was actually fortunate enough to be the athletic director when he won his fourth championship, in 1983, and I served on the board of directors with him. I saw a different side of him, but he never changed. He was consistent. What a great man."
Scilipoti met Frank long before he first stepped on the Curley campus in 1971, because Scilipoti's father, Tom, took the team picture. Norris met Frank when he arrived at the school as a freshman during the mid-1970s.
"As a freshman, I wasn't allowed to ever try out for the varsity," Norris said. "That was just his way. He was a little intimidating. Al coached at Curley for 40 years, and to be honest what he did the first year he did the 40th. He had his set ways. Even when we were stretching, you had to concentrate. We didn't see him a lot the last couple of years, but there isn't a day goes by, when we all get together, that when the name Al Frank comes up, that it doesn't bring a smile out on our faces."
Posted July 12, 2012