Cy Young-winning pitcher Frank Viola is back in professional baseball and working for an organization he has long admired.
After his playing days ended in 1996, the former big league star spent 10 seasons coaching at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando and two seasons with the Florida Collegiate League's Leesburg Lightning.
He returned to the professional level three seasons ago, and was fortunate enough to do so with his favorite childhood organization. As the pitching coach for the South Atlantic League's Savannah Sand Gnats, he's under the minor league umbrella of one of his former teams, the New York Mets.
"My dad grew up in New York and he was a New York Giants fan," said the East Meadow, N.Y., native through a still-distinctive New York accent.
"When they moved to San Francisco, he had to find another team and that's when the Mets came into existence, so it became the New York Mets," he said.
"When I was born the first game I went to was a Mets game, so the Mets were the team I followed. This is my third year back with the Mets. I did one year at Brooklyn and this is my second year at Savannah and I'm having a great time."
Viola was the Most Valuable Player of the 1987 World Series, when he led the Minnesota Twins to their first world championship. His Cy Young-winning campaign followed in 1988, and after being traded he pitched for the New York Mets from 1989-1991. He finished his career in stints with the Red Sox (1992-94), Reds (1995) and Blue Jays (1996).
During the peak years of his career, from 1984-93, Viola won more games (163) than any other pitcher in the big leagues.
Viola said he uses his extensive experience to help teach and influence the young Mets' farmhands.
"It's all about credibility but you only have about a 15-minute window to show how credible you are," Viola said prior to the West Virginia Power's 5-3 win over the Sand Gnats Thursday evening at Appalachian Power Park.
"And then you have to take that credibility and let them know why you're doing things, for what reasons, and that it's in their best interests.
"Once you get through all that, I have a pretty good window where they've gotten to know me, they know that they shouldn't hesitate to ask any kind of question, because no question is a stupid. They know that I can answer any part of it because I've been from the lowest rung to the highest rung and everywhere in between.
Viola has also taken a few things he learned as a high school coach and applied them to the Mets' minor leaguers, some of whom are just a year or two older than his former high school players.