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Friday, August 16, 2013

Interview: Frank Cacciatore, Head Start

Reading infielder Jim Murphy at the plate in Harrisburg in August 2013. Murphy's hitting coach is Frank Cacciatore. (G21D Photo)
HARRISBURG, PA - Frank Cacciatore wasn't really looking for a head start on his second career in 1976, he recalled recently, he wanted to continue with his first.

That first career was hardly two seasons, Cacciatore playing in the Tigers system as an outfielder out of Florida Southern College.

As it turned out, though, that head start has continued into a second career that has lasted now nearly four decades, Cacciatore serving as a coach and manager in the minors and in college.

"I had always had in the back of my mind that I'd like to coach at one time," Cacciatore told The Greatest 21 Days. "It just happened earlier for me and I got a lot more experience coaching at an early age than a lot of these guys coaching now, and I think I'm better for it."

Cacciatore is continuing that career in 2013, as his fifth season spent as hitting coach at AA Reading in the Phillies organization.
Reading hitting coach Frank Cacciatore, left at rail, at Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg. Cacciatore is in his fifth season with Reading in 2013. (G21D Photo)
Cacciatore spoke with The Greatest 21 Days before an August 2013 game at rival Harrisburg's Metro Bank Park. Cacciatore covered his career from college at Florida Southern, to his brief career as a player in the pros.

He also spoke of his early transition to being a coach in college, and his later return to the minors in 1988, a place where he remains.

Cacciatore also went down a roster of his 1990 team at single-A Asheville, recalling several members of that young Astros minors squad.

Cacciatore, 58, began his career in baseball in college, at Florida Southern. There, he was a part of the school's Division II National Championship team, an experience Cacciatore recalled as a fun time.

Coming out of school, Cacciatore signed with the Tigers, getting passed over in the draft. He played that first season at single-A Lakeland, hitting .223 over 72 games. He returned for 1976, but got into just nine games at AA Montgomery before being released.

Frank Cacciatore, Reading hitting coach, in the dugout at Harrisburg in August 2013. Cacciatore has spent more than three decades in various dugouts. (G21D Photo)
Cacciatore recalled the experience as a bit frustrating, being in the organization as a non-drafted player. Being on the other side for so long now, Cacciatore said he can understand what happened in his case.

He also pointed to the strength of the Tigers system then, with that Montgomery team that Cacciatore got cut from having the likes of Alan Trammell, Tom Brookens, Lance Perrish and even a young Jack Morris. They were all players that went on to help the Tigers win the World Series eight years later.

With no room for Cacciatore as a player, it was a natural for him to go into coaching, he said.

"For me, it was a thing if I wanted to stay in the game, that's what I had to do," Cacciatore said. "I got released and at that time I didn't get picked up, so the next best thing was to start coaching."

To do that, he went back to his old school, Florida Southern. Cacciatore's coach had moved on to be Athletic Director, but the new coach, Joe Arnold, brought Cacciatore on as an assistant coach.

"I started with him," Cacciatore said of Arnold, "and learned a heck of a lot about the other side of the game."
Reading's Troy Hanzawa at bat in Harrisburg. Hanzawa's hitting coach is Frank Cacciatore. (G21D Photo)
After helping Florida Southern to another national championship in 1981, Cacciatore tried his hand at being a head coach, at Palm Beach Junior College. There, Cacciatore continued having success there.

He then took some time away from the game in 1986, moving into business. By 1988, he was ready to return and the Astros came calling.

"They kind of recruited me, started me off with Houston, and I never looked back," Cacciatore said.

Cacciatore started off managing in the Astros system, including at short-season Auburn and at Asheville. He then went on to manage and coach in the Giants, Marlins and Expos systems. Most recently, the Phillies system.

In all the years that Cacciatore has been coaching now, he said he doesn't see much of a difference between the players he worked with then and the ones he works with now.

"There are players that just love to play, you can't get them out of the cage. They just will work all day long," Cacciatore said, "and there's some players that you have to push. That hasn't changed."

But seeing his players be successful is what it's about, he said.

The players that go into baseball, he said, are guys who knew what they wanted to do at an early age. That makes his job that much easier.
Reading hitting coach Frank Cacciatore. (G21D Photo)
"All you've got to do is give them an idea how to go about doing it and they just take the ball and run with it," he said.

A couple teams that stood out for him, he recalled was his 1995 Shreveport Captains team and his 2001 Brevard County team. Cacciatore served as hitting coach on both.

That Shreveport team won the Texas League championship and included several players with significant time in the bigs. "That team was just so loaded, that it was just a real fun team to be with," Cacciatore said.

The Brevard County team, Cacciatore called a gutty one. There was also his first team with Houston, short-season Auburn, that included Luis Gonzalez and Kenny Lofton.

"You can go on and on and on," Cacciatore said. "Having been in pro ball for 26 years, there are so many guys that have gone up the ladder. There's a lot of other guys, that all of a sudden you'll see them, haven't seen them in years, and now they're successful in business and in life and have their families."

That, he said, is what makes baseball special.

There's also the guys that go on to be coaches themselves, at the high school level, college and the pros.

"Over the years they go from a player, coach, to a peer, to a friend," Cacciatore said. "There's a lot of people in this game. I don't have any sons, but I feel like I've got 3,000 of them."

Read Frank Cacciatore's recollections on the 1990 Asheville Tourists

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