Friends play the game Frankie loved

first_imgBY DANIEL HOWLEY Staff Writer F our baseball teams took the field at West Long Branch’s Valenzano Park on April 18 to remember one young man who touched the lives of many. Frankie Caltabilota Jr. Frankie Caltabilota Jr. was only 18 years old when on Jan. 19, 2000, his life was cut tragically short in a fire that was set inside his dormitory at Seton Hall University in South Orange. Since that fateful day, Frankie’s parents, Frank Sr. and Joanne Caltabilota, have never stopped thinking of their son, and neither have Frankie’s friends. A gifted young man and native of West Long Branch, Frankie lettered in three different sports during his time as a student at Shore Regional High School —baseball, football and basketball. But it was baseball that was Frankie’s true passion. “That’s why he went to Seton Hall,” Frank Sr. explained. “Because he wanted to be a baseball player, and that is a Division 1 [university].” To celebrate Frankie’s memory and his love for baseball, friends and former teammates gathered on the very field that was named in his honor to kick off the 2009 baseball season with a two-day round-robinstyle tournament. CHRIS KELLY staff Frank Caltabilota throws out the first pitch during the opening ceremonies of the Frankie and Friends Spring Invitational Baseball Tournament at Valenzano Park in West Long Branch on April 18. “It surprises us, because you know we think of Frankie all the time, but it’s amazing to know that other people do, too,” Joanne said, prior to the start of game one of the tournament. “They haven’t forgotten him and they wanted to do a wonderful thing like this,” Frank Sr. said. “It’s a lot of hard work, and they are all willing to do it. “We are just so happy and proud that he left this memory with all of his friends,” he added. Organized by friend and former teammate Andrew Meisner, the Frankie and Friends Invitational Baseball Tournament saw teams from across Monmouth County, including the West Long Branch Blue Devils, Long Branch Thunder, Jackson Red, and Middletown Brewers, come together to play the game that Frankie adored. “For years everybody’s been trying to get on the field and make something and do something,” Meisner said. “It just occurred to me that I knew everybody that was needed to be involved to create something like this, and I was fortunate enough to have everybody’s email addresses and shot everybody an email last fall,” Meisner explained. “It just seemed right. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” Meisner and Frankie met during freshman year at Shore Regional. As members of both the school’s baseball and football teams, the two became fast friends. When not playing sports during the school year, the two young men would spend their summer days playing as teammates on a summer baseball league. “Every game that I was at, Frankie was at second base and was smiling,” Meisner said. “He always wanted to be on the field. “I played a good amount of games with him in high school, and I can’t remember a game where he walked off the field disappointed,” Meisner said, adding that even if their team lost, Frankie was still happy to have simply played the game. “He was a fantastic person,” Shore Regional High School baseball coach Fred Kampf said. “He listened, he was very coachable, liked to succeed and worked extremely hard at doing so,” Kampf said. “He was a hardworking young man; he tried to do the best he could every time he did something.” A coach at Shore Regional for 30 years, Kampf said he had worked with Frankie when he was trying out for Seton Hall’s baseball team. “Every young person when they play baseball, they want to go on to the next level, and not many of them do,” Kampf said. “[Frankie] tried, he wanted to,” Kampf said. “I tried to help him out when he went to Seton Hall, and you know all you can do is try as a coach, but everybody has that same feeling about wanting to go on to the next level. “This is nice to sit here and watch a few ex-ballplayers out here play ball,” Kampf said while watching the first few innings of the first game of the two-day tournament. “It’s a great thing to remember Frankie Caltabilota.” Although the tournament had been in the planning stages for some time, Meisner said he had little trouble getting the volunteers he needed to help him get the teams together to play. “To be honest, it was pretty easy,” Meisner said. “I mean, I knew all the teams, I knew the people who were in charge of the field, and the Caltabilotas, and along the way people were so willing to give and help out that it was so easy. “Everybody loves to come out and everybody knows the Caltabilotas, and it’s an easy thing to get behind,” Meisner said. “Nobody even had to think about it.” The overwhelming support Meisner saw from people willing to help with the tournament is a testament to the kind of person Frankie was, his father said. “Andy Meisner came over to us last year and told us that he wanted to have this and wanted to have it at this field that was named in Frankie’s memory in 2001,” Frank Sr. explained. “We don’t realize that everybody thinks about him,” Frank Sr. said. “We can say over and over again that we wish [Frankie] was here, but I’d say I think he’s here today,” Joanne added. The fact that the tournament was held at Valenzano Park, on the field that was named in Frankie’s honor, was especially touching for his parents. “I used to bring Frankie and his brother here and practice on this field, and they decided to name it after [Frankie], which we were honored to have,” Frank Sr. said. While baseball was a large part of his life, Frankie was also a dedicated student, Joanne said, adding that her son had always dreamed of someday being a pediatrician. “He knew when he was 5 or 6 years old that’s what he wanted,” Joanne said. Because he was both an excellent athlete and student, the Caltabilotas established the Frank Caltabilota Jr. Scholarship Fund in Frankie’s honor. Available to students at both Shore Regional and St. Jerome’s grade school, which Frankie attended as a child, the scholarship is awarded to students who exemplify Frankie’s drive and determination. To help raise money for the scholarship, Meisner ensured that any proceeds and donations that were collected during the tournament would be donated to benefit the scholarship. Prior to the start of the tournament, Frank Sr., standing at second base and surrounded by a crowd of players and spectators, thanked those who were involved in organizing and who donated supplies for the tournament. “This past Thursday, April 16, was Frankie’s 28th birthday, and from the time when he was 5 years old, he loved to play baseball,” Frank Sr. said. “He’d grab a bucket of baseballs and a bat and say, ‘Come on, Dad, let’s go hit some’ in this very field named after him. “Frankie loved playing baseball with and against some of you guys here today,” Frank Sr. said. “I want to thank you all for remembering him, and let’s play baseball today and tomorrow the way he loved to play this game.” After thanking the crowd, Frank Sr. walked to the mound and threw out the first pitch of the day in honor of his son. Contact Daniel Howley at dhowley@gmnews.com.last_img

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