Frankly, this is a family affair

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Frank Catalanotto was at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon.

And so was Frank Catalanotto Jr.

The Blue Jays outfielder grew up in nearby Smithtown, Long Island, as a Yankees fan, his family intertwined in Yankee lore.

When his grandfather -- also named Frank -- attended St. John's University, his English professor was Bob Sheppard, now the Yankee Stadium public address announcer.

Sheppard now rolls the name off his tongue from high above "KAT-an-uh-lott-oh."

"I remember my first trip to Yankee Stadium, my mom laid out my Yankee t-shirt the night before my father took me to the game," Frank Jr. said in the visiting clubhouse.

"Rick Cerone hit a home run. The next day a picture of Cerone was in all the newspapers. You could see my father and I in the background, five rows behind the Yankee dugout."

The Yankees, behind left-hander Ron Guidry, beat the Oakland A's 7-3 that day, July 18, 1982.

"My father was my coach in Little League and helped me become the player I am," he said. "He taught me my stance and played catch with me in the yard. I was never afraid to screw up. He never put pressure on me.

"I can remember a few teary-eyed trips home from games when I didn't do well, but he never yelled. He explained what I could do better next time. My father's approach was always: 'It's no big deal, we'll get 'em next time.' "

Frank the coach learned how to be a good one early. His son was pitching in the St. James/Smithtown Little League.

"I was yelling 'Throw hard! Throw hard!' My wife was in the stands yelling 'Slow down Frankie, slow down,' " the coaching father explained. "Frankie was nine, he steps off the rubber, tears streaming down his face, looks into the bench and asks 'Dad, what do you want me to do?' "

So pops called for time and went to the mound.

"I apologized for the misunderstanding, told him to throw hard and everything would be okay. I learned a valuable lesson about coaching that day."

Sports always were a big part of young Frank's life, inside and outside their house in Smithtown. Pops tells the story of the circular area of the house where he would throw a ball against the wall, young Frank would speed around the house, from the den, to the kitchen to the hallway and slide sometimes safe, sometimes out, as his father applied the tag.

"My wife Sharon wasn't real pleased," the father said. "Frankie slid so often that he wore a hole in the old shag rug."

In high school, pro scouts came to see other players on the Smithtown high school team. But they came away impressed with the hustle of the 5-foot-10 Catalanotto.

"I remember one night Frank hit an outside pitch down the left-field line for a triple," his proud father said like it was yesterday. "Joe DeLuca, who was scouting for the Cleveland Indians then, came over and said 'A lot of scouts think that your son can't get around on the fastball.'

"He said 'But your son did the right thing, he hit the ball where it was pitched. The game is played along the foul lines.' "

The Detroit Tigers, not the Indians, selected Catalanotto in the 10th round of the 1992 June draft and, six years later, he was standing along the first-base line for the Yankees' home opener.

Catalanotto, 31, grew up to be a spray hitter with a sweet swing, still hitting the ball where it is pitched.

Yesterday, he bounced out, singled to left when the Jays scored in the third, walked, lined to right with the bases loaded in the sixth and grounded out against Mariano Rivera to end the game, won by the Yankees 6-2.

The career .296 hitter, who grew up idolizing Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly, is now hitting .289 as the Jays come home from their 5-8 trip to play host to the Cleveland Indians in a three-games series which begins tonight at the Rogers Centre.

"My father passed away in 1974, my mother in 1989, before Frankie made it," Frank Sr. said.

"But I look up to the skies every now and then. I know they are up there, looking down, watching him."


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