Volume 23, Number 6 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 18 - 24, 2010
Picking college over the big leagues
BY Joseph Rearick
On June 7th, in the 42nd round of the 2010 MLB Draft, the Mets called an eerily familiar name, a name the club called upon to close out games for nearly fifteen years. Sitting in his Tribeca apartment, John (J.J.) Franco, Downtown Little League alumnus and son of beloved former Mets closer, John Franco, had no idea his life-long dream had come true. In fact, he thought it was a practical joke.
Franco, an 18-year-old shortstop and pitcher who recently graduated from Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School, used to dream of being drafted to the Major Leagues out of high school and playing for the Mets. He grew up watching his dad pitch and spent afternoons dashing around Shea Stadium, tracking down fly balls from the likes of Mike Piazza. So, when his schoolmates sent him congratulatory text messages, he smelled a hoax.
“I said, ‘No way, you’re messing with me’,” recalled Franco. “It felt way too coincidental.” But when teammate James Friel confirmed the news that the Mets had selected him as the 1262nd pick, the reality of the moment set in. Then came a phone call from Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya. If this was a prank, it was a really good one.
“It was more surreal than anything,” he said of the hours after his selection. “I’ve wanted this since I was little, and just to have that moment in front of me was really surreal.”
Franco had some idea of the possibility of his selection after being invited to several showcases and tournaments supervised by the MLB Scouting Bureau.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” he said, despite his accumulation of baseball accolades, including selection as Class B Player of the Year by the New York State Sportswriters Association this year. He’s quick to mention the skill of his peers at elite pro-scouting showcases, from whom, he said, he gained perspective.
“They were so good, so polished; it opened my eyes and made me work harder. I always knew I could play baseball, but this brought to my attention to the fact that there are a lot of other kids that can also play really well and it’s always important to keep working hard.”
Perhaps this humility stems in part from his time with the Downtown Little League as a 6th grader. Although he only played one season with DLL, he remembers his time with the league fondly. “It was a big difference, because when I played on Staten Island, I had to get driven to every game,” he said. “But with Downtown Little League, if my parents couldn’t make a game, I could just walk to the field. I felt much more independent.” Franco also recalls his teammate’s character. “Whether it was a standout kid or someone on the lower end, every player was really nice. It was always a good time.”
Having a good time has since become part of his baseball mantra, especially under the tutelage of Poly Prep’s Coach, Matt Roventini, whose teams are marked both by their success and enjoyment of the game. “I told Rov, playing for Poly…the biggest part was learning to be loose and have fun.”
And Franco wants to continue having that sort of fun for at least a few more years. He plans to decline his chance to play with the Mets and pursue a collegiate career at Brown University, where he committed to play this fall. He cares about his education, and wants to experience college life. But he has no intentions of abandoning his professional aspirations.
“Hopefully, if I go to school and work hard and play well, I can get drafted higher and get a bigger and better opportunity,” he said. “The thing is to become more consistent (with batting), because pitching is one of the major upgrades in college. Also, I want to get fitter, because I’m a little on the smaller side,” he said. “I probably want to put on a few pounds of muscle.”
And he’s taking a page from his father’s book: John Franco Sr. gained valuable collegiate experience at St. John’s before going on to earn the fourth-most saves in MLB history. So, if genetics is any indication, this year’s draft is neither the first nor the last to include the name John Franco.