TORONTO - A successful closer needs to be able to throw strikes, have a fastball in the mid-90s, and a short memory.
Blue Jays Frank Francisco has all of that, but on Mother’s Day he had a long memory of his mother Vicenta, her tribulations, work ethic and sacrifices.
Vicenta raised 10 children, eight of her own, plus two more from her husband’s family in the Distrito Nacional area of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Vicenta would tell a 14-year-old Francisco how he had to be home by 9 p.m.
“I’d be hanging out on the street corner with my friends, joking around and she’d come and grab me by the arm and take me home. It would really embarrass me in front of all my friends.”
And the next day?
“They’d tease me at school ... and the next night she would have to come and get me again,” he said wiping his left eye, sitting at his locker after his Blue Jays fell 5-2 to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday at the Rogers Centre. “It was a good thing she did, she saved me from some bad choices. We’d hangout and smoke cigarettes.”
Vicenta struggled raising Alfredo, Eusebio, Foel, Robert, Ingrid, Alexandra, Frank, lucky No. 7, and Arismendy, plus his step-sisters Francia and Jenny.
“It was hard, real hard,” Francisco recalls. He said his mother would wake up at 4 a.m. each day and cook. And cook. And cook.
Vicenta would make beans and rice, pork, steak and chicken to be sold at her roadside stand to students at a nearby university, then cook breakfast for her large brood and lunch “our biggest meal of the day.”
“And she would have to save enough money to buy food because the people didn’t pay until Saturday,” Francisco said. “We didn’t have enough money to pay for a permit so police would make her move. I remember after they made her move, her coming home crying. I didn’t say much. I was about five at the time. I’d just walk away.”
Francisco has not walked away from his role as bread-winner of the family.
While his five sisters have professional careers, his brothers sometimes need help.
He accompanied his mother to her food stand on Saturdays as his brothers helped.
“I saw the love people had for her,” he said.
When mom was not grabbing young Frank by the arm to bring him home, she was preaching how his older brothers should return to school. When they didn’t, she hired a teacher to come to the house and tutor her.
“My mother could read and write, but she wanted to improve,” Francisco said. “From the time she was 38 to 40 (years old) a teacher would come. She would tell my brothers Ślook at me, you are never too old to learn.’”
When Francisco was at double-A Frisco in the Texas Rangers system he phoned home and told his mother if he ever made the majors she could retire.
Since then, he’s bought his parents a house, put money away and they live off the interest, which he can do earning $4 million US this season. He’s bought 15 acres near the Los Angeles Dodgers academy where he’ll build a house for his brothers to live with a hoops court, swimming pool, ball diamond, barbecue and an area to play dominoes and chess.
On Mother’s Day, Vicenta was far away from the Rogers Centre and the Dominican Republic. The closer had flown his parents to Spain to see their daughter Arismendy.
“When my mother used to come and get me off the street corner, she’d say she was doing Śthe right thing and some day I’d understand,’” Francisco said.
“All my friends don’t have what I have thanks to my mother. Now, I understand.”