2002-07-27 / Sports

Mets’ Franco Pitching

In For N.Y.C. Kids
By Bryan Hoch
Mets' Franco Pitching In For N.Y.C. Kids By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist

Mets' Franco Pitching
Baseball Columnist

John Franco cupped his hand to guard the bright mid-day sunshine and gazed out at a sea of chattering day campers, each wearing the logo of his prospering baseball academy on their t-shirts. He couldn't help but smile.

"There were never camps like this," the Brooklyn-born Franco reminisced, looking back on days gone by when playing baseball in New York meant not reporting to Shea Stadium, but rather long summer days on sandlots with scuffed balls and whatever could be found to resemble a base.

Some thirty-odd years and 17 major league seasons later, Franco is looking to give up-and-coming young players in the city opportunities he never had to hone their skills and pursue major league dreams.

Franco's All-Star Baseball Camp is flourishing, with over 125 campers signed up for sessions that run through the summer months at New Dorp High School on Staten Island and at the storied Lafayette High School in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn.

"It's good to keep the kids involved in their community," he said, "especially in the summertime when there's not too much to do. It gives the kids something positive to do for a couple of hours, to come out here and learn the fundamentals of the game and learn to respect the game."

"There's a lot of good talent, the kids out here are very talented," said Jim Franco, the camp's coordinator. "The kids out here play in their respective Little Leagues -- after they leave here, a lot of them will go on to play in tournament games and playoff games."

Supervising the players who will make up the teams of tomorrow for high schools and perhaps beyond, Franco's team of instructors - comprised of high school and college-level coaches and players from the area - guide their â018rookies' on their respective areas expertise, including batting, fielding and pitching.

They are given one specific instruction from the 41-year-old lefthander, who has certainly seen his share of arm troubles in baseball, including his own, during a professional pitching career that began in 1981 -- no curveballs.

"I know there are a lot of Little League coaches out there who only care about winning," he said. "Young pitchers should stay away from the curveball until they get older (at least 12 or 13 years old). The idea is to have fun, not to get hurt."

Franco's organization of a camp at Lafayette High -- his old stomping grounds -- is the latest in an effort to revitalize a once-proud baseball tradition that also included the attendance of major leaguers Sandy Koufax, Bob and Ken Aspromonte and Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon.

However, recently, Lafayette's baseball program has fallen upon hard times, with school officials finding it necessary to cut the budget altogether last year.

"It's struggling right now," Jim Franco said. "I hate to use the word, but it's going downhill. What we can do is bring camp there for a couple of weeks and hopefully it brings a little interest back to the area, we hope."

During a Q&A session, one camper asked Franco to state what velocity he was throwing when he was in Little League. Franco didn't quite recall, but the message was clear.

"If you have a big heart and big desire, you can be anything you want to be," he replied. "If I listened to what the scouts were saying, I never would have made it to where I am now."

More Info: John Franco All-Star Baseball Camp is open for boys and girls ages 6-15. Sessions will be conducted at Lafayette High School from July 29-August 2 and August 12-16. Contact Jim Franco at (718) 333-2752 or e-mail JFBaseballCamp@aol.com for more information.

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