Former Met Frank Catalanotto was named the new head coach at NYIT last month. It was a bit of a surprise as he figured his coaching career would be in the pros.
“The thought of college never even dawned on me until I was approached,” Catalanotto said.
This way he’s able to begin his coaching career and stay close to his family, which is less than an hour away from the school.
Coaching in the majors or minors would’ve meant about eight months of the year away from home. “As I became older in the major leagues, the travel kind of wore on you a little bit,” Catalanotto said. “When you’re a young 23-year-old kid, you enjoy all that travel but I’m a lot older now so I’m happy I don’t have to travel that much.”
As someone who played 14 seasons in the major leagues, he should at least have a recruiting edge over his competitors.
“I like to believe that I’ve got a lot of experience and hopefully that will help in recruiting some players and hopefully that will legitimize what I’m trying to teach these kids, the kids will really respect me or respect what I have to say to them, so I’m thinking that it can only help,” Catalanotto said.
He was a standout at Smithtown East High School on Long Island and skipped college to sign with the Tigers. “It’s a little ironic that now I’ll get my chance at college,” Catalanotto said. “And just to see how, to learn how the whole college game works and I’m interested and curious just to see the differences from college baseball to professional baseball.”
He grew up as a Yankees fan, watching games with his dad. And as a left-handed hitter, his favorite player was Don Mattingly. “I would always try to emulate his swing,” Catalanotto said. “He would change his swing from time to time and I would always change my swing to basically make it be just like Don Mattingly’s. And he seemed like such a great pure hitter and a great guy. It was nice to be able to get to meet him while I was in the major leagues.”
If there’s one manager he would try to model himself after it’s Larry Parrish, the All-Star third baseman with the Expos and Rangers who manages Catalanotto in Double-A and again in the majors. “He was great. He was a good communicator,” Catalanotto said. “He also knew the game very well but I think the most important part of managing a team is being able to communicate with the players and basically let everyone know where they stand. For me as a player, I knew that I didn’t want to be questioning am I going to play today or why am I not in the lineup, things like that. With him, you always knew if you were going to play the next day and if you were in the doghouse or you weren’t, and I think it’s good to have that open communication with your players.
After being drafted in 1992, Catalanotto made it to the majors in 1997.
“It was very eye-opening,” Catalanotto said. “Especially my first game at Yankee Stadium as a rookie when I came out and walked on that field. I was just amazed to see all those people there in the stands and it just brought back memories of when I did go there as a kid. It was definitely overwhelming and to be able to be on the field with some of the greatest players in the world and guys that I looked up to. I remember I even had a Ken Griffey Jr. poster on my wall and playing against him one of my first games in the major leagues, it was surreal.”
From 1997-2009, he played with Detroit, Texas, Toronto, Texas again and Milwaukee. In 2010, he joined the Mets. “It was awesome,” Catalanotto said. I’ve always wanted to play in New York in front of my family and friends and be able to sleep in my old bed. It was great. It was great to wake up, have my kids there with me, have breakfast with them and then go off, go to the ballpark and be home and, like I said, sleep in my own bed that night. Even though I was only there for a month and a half, I really enjoyed my time with the Mets.”
He knew the 2010 season would be his last one and was glad to make the team out of spring training, even though he was let go after batting .160 in 25 games.
“I was really enjoying every moment,” Catalanotto said. “I was savoring it, even though I wasn’t playing much. Every time I’d go to the ballpark I’d consider it a blessing to be able to be there and it was a good way to go out.”
With his playing days in the rearview mirror, Catalanotto looks forward to coaching.
“I definitely want to be an aggressive type of manager,” Catalanotto said. “Kind of a go-for-it type of guy. I’m not going to sit back and bunt the runner over.”
What he wants to do most is focus on instructing the young players. “That’s what I enjoy. There’s a lot of things that I learned at the major league level that I can impart on them and hopefully it will help them become better players and make us a better team.”