John Franco was one of the most reliable relief pitchers of his time, or any time, for that matter. He began his baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1984, but spent the majority of his 21-year career playing for his hometown team, the New York Mets.
The Mets also happen to be the hometown team of our household and it would be difficult to find a bigger fan than my 10-year-old son.
My son recently interviewed Franco and, considering the Mets legend that he is, my son was expectedly nervous. But soon after meeting Franco, all of my son’s nervousness was gone:
What did it feel like to be a Major League Player?
John Franco: What did it feel like? It felt very, very good. When I was a lad about your age: 10 or 11 years old, I had always wanted to be a baseball player. I wanted to be in the big leagues. And plus to play for the team that I rooted for, the Mets, it was really an honor.
What is the hardest part about being a Major League Player?
John Franco: The hardest part about being a Major League player is being away from your family: No. 1, that’s pretty hard. And No. 2 is just trying perform at a high level every day is really hard. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s time consuming. And you have to make sure you stay in shape and perform at a high level.
What was it like to be away from your family so much?
John Franco: It was kind of sad, because I have a daughter and a son and I missed a lot of recitals, baseball games, a lot of things; family parties, birthdays. It was hard being away from them. What was it like to play in your home city?
John Franco: It was great. I grew up a Met fan and finally had a chance to come home and play in front of my friends and family. And the best thing about it was I didn’t have to uproot my family. I could see my kids more than I was seeing them. I would be away a week and come home a week. I could see them more.
When did you know your baseball skills were special?
John Franco: I would say in High School. I started playing real well in High School and took a step or two in front of the other players.
When did you work extra hard at baseball?
John Franco: I always worked hard; ever since I was a kid, 10 or 11 years old. Whenever I had a game, I would take extra batting practice, extra fielding practice. And when the game was over, I would go home and play ball with my friends and we played all day; till we got tired. Till it got dark. Till our parents said come in and eat.
Have you ever had a coach that pushed you too hard?
John Franco: Did I ever had a coach that pushed me too hard? Uh, not really. All of my coaches were really cool. They pushed me, but not too hard. They knew exactly how to push me, but not overdo it.
Were you ever nervous before a game or while you were in the bullpen?
John Franco: Always nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach all the time. But as soon as you throw that first pitch, all those butterflies fly out of your stomach and it’s all business. Every day I was nervous.
Did you ever get so mad at another player that you threw the ball at them?
John Franco: Can’t tell you that one. (Laughs) No, not really. You try not to hit other players on purpose. But sometimes you have to pitch inside to get them off the plate.
Did you ever cry after a game?
John Franco: Pretty close when we lost the 1999 playoffs to the Braves. It was a tough series. And when I retired I kind of cried.