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Seminara Homecoming Is Reason for Revelry : Brooklyn Native to Start for Padres at Shea

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cosentino’s Fish Market in Brooklyn will be closing shop early today. Customers who want to pick up their dry cleaning at Donel’s on Third Avenue better stop by before game time.

The entire Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn might be a ghost town tonight.

Frankie’s coming home.

For the first time since leaving home in 1985, Frank Peter Seminara is returning to the ‘hood as a major leaguer. He’ll step onto center stage tonight at Shea Stadium as the Padres’ starting pitcher against the New York Mets.

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“That’s all anyone is talking about,” said Joe Seminara, Frank’s father. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook all week. I haven’t been able to do any work. Everyone wants tickets. We’ve got relatives calling that we haven’t heard from in years.

“It’s going to be an emotional moment for all us tonight.

“My God, this is the miracle of miracles.”

Anita Seminara, Frank’s mother, spent the week just cooking for their family get-together Thursday. She was making all Frankie’s favorites: roasted peppers, pasta, eggplant appetizers, and of course, her special pasta sauce.

“I don’t think Frank has even comprehended the magnitude of the enthusiasm around here,” Anita Seminara said. “This is all anyone is talking about. I walk down the avenue, and everyone stops me. Everyone knows what’s going on.

“This is beyond belief.”

The Oggi, the Italian newspaper in New York, has hyped the event. Seminara’s alma mater, Columbia University, is honoring him after the game. Family and friends will attend, and seemingly most of Brooklyn.

It’s not just a baseball game, it’s an extravaganza.

“People are going pretty wild right now,” Seminara said sheepishly. “Truthfully, I think they’ve been waiting for this day a whole lot longer than I have.

“The hardest thing for me is treating this game like any other. I can’t look at it like I’m still a kid, and rooting for the Mets. I’ve got to go out and pretend it’s just another place.

“I wish it was that easy.”

Seminara, who drove home with his parents after Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, walked into his bedroom and back into time.

There are pictures in his bedroom wall of Tom Seaver. There are baseball cards of the former Mets in his drawers. You can even find torn, faded newspaper clippings of the Mets’ glory days in his closet.

“What can I say, I loved the Mets,” Seminara said. “I was wearing their uniform when I was in sixth grade. That was my team. That was our whole family’s team.”

Seminara, who grew up on Harbor View Terrace, lived only 10 minutes from Shea Stadium. He and his buddies took in every game they could. He was there at Shea when the Mets won the World Series in 1986.

Joe and Anita Seminara, however, didn’t share their youngest son’s passion for baseball. Sure, it was nice to be a fan, but to make a career out of baseball?

“To tell you the truth,” Anita Seminara said, “we thought maybe Frank was wasting his time. We were hoping Frank would eventually give up baseball.”

The Seminaras were suspicious of the baseball industry.

It was understandable. Joe Seminara, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Palermo, Italy, was a self-made man. He entered the country not knowing a word of English, and today is one of the most prominent lawyers in New York City, owning his own law firm.

“I’ve run for Congress and city council, too,” Joe Seminara said, “but I’m a Democrat in a Republican area.”

Anita Seminara, who grew up in Brooklyn and met Joe at Brooklyn College, spent 26 years teaching mathematics at William McKinley Jr. High 259. Their kids all became engineers or lawyers.

Except for Frankie.

“Like any father, you want to see your son grow up and be successful,” Joe Seminara said. “God blessed him with a brilliant mind. So you dream of your children inheriting the law practice you worked so hard to build.

“Frankie is so smart, but he couldn’t get baseball out of his head. It’s not like I didn’t want him to excel, but you know how hard it is in baseball. There’s so many broken hearts.

“So you’re cautious. You prepare him for the disappointments. You wonder if he’ll make it.”

Seminara, who grew up playing stickball on the streets and was organizing games at the age of 5, appeased his family’s wishes by attending Columbia University. He had scholarship offers from several universities but applied only to Ivy League schools.

Once he was at Columbia, his family believed Frank would give up this silly notion of baseball and be a lawyer or engineer.

Seminara made the dean’s list semester after semester, majoring in history. There would be no problem getting into law school with his credentials. But his infatuation with baseball remained.

When the New York Yankees drafted him in the 12th round in 1985, Seminara told his family he wanted to give baseball a try. He pleaded for their understanding.

“We couldn’t stop him from going to the Yankees,” Anita said, “but he promised us he’d give it until he was 25. If it became clear he wasn’t going to make it, he’d try other options.”

Said Joe: “I didn’t know how long it would last, but we knew at least that he had something to fall back on. We prepared him for excellence.

“What we didn’t realize about baseball was how pitching is as much mental as physical. Frank’s mind was going to be much more beneficial in baseball than we thought.”

Seminara’s confidence--almost a cockiness--sets him apart. It doesn’t matter that he has an unorthodox delivery that one Padre describes as a mechanical Rick Reuschel. It doesn’t even matter that he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball or a sneaky changeup.

“All that matters is that he believes in himself,” said Padre catcher Dan Walters, one of Seminara’s closest friends. “I’ve never seen him afraid one day in his life. And he’s not intimidated by anyone.

“When he got called up to the big leagues, I knew we’d never see him again in the minors.”

Seminara made his major league debut June 2 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and with his family screaming in the stands, he was a smashing success. He allowed only three hits in 6 1/3 shutout innings, leaving the game after he was hit by a line drive.

“I wasn’t cocky after that game,” Seminara said, “but maybe in the back of my mind I thought it might be easier than expected.”

The Atlanta Braves quickly changed that thinking. Seminara lasted only 4 1/3 innings in his next start, surrendering four hits and five earned runs. He faced Atlanta again six days later in front of 38,149 fans carrying tomahawks and was shelled again, surrendering six hits and four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings.

“That was a long night,” Joe Seminara said. “We went out after the game and he didn’t feel like eating.”

Said Anita: “You’ve got to know Frank. He doesn’t think he should lose at anything. Even when we played Monopoly all day long, or Scrabble to three in the morning, Frank didn’t take losses easily.”

Seminara blamed himself for his failure. He panicked. Instead of sticking with his sinker, which got him to the big leagues, he tried to fool the Braves with other pitches. It was a disaster.

“I had a taste of success and failure real quick,” Frank said. “I didn’t know how to handle getting beat up. I tried to change things, and it was stupid.”

Knowing that one more bad start could put him on the next flight to triple-A Las Vegas, Seminara beat the San Francisco Giants for his first major league victory.

Now 5-2, he hasn’t lost a game since.

He has won five consecutive decisions, posting a 3.20 ERA since June 13. He has given right-handed hitters fits, yielding a .149 batting average, and the Padres have outscored opponents 46-19 in his last six starts.

“I don’t want to sit here and make it look like a figurative genius,” said Ed Lynch, Padre farm director, “but this really does not surprise us. He’s such a fierce competitor, and has such confidence, that we didn’t worry about him if he struggled here. Actually, we were hoping he’d have a bad game in Vegas just to see how he bounced back.

“He’s just such a tough kid. His makeup gives him such a factor. Let’s face it, it’s different growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., than San Diego.”

Now, the entire Italian-Irish neighborhood of Bay Ridge knows all about Seminara. There’s a bulletin board reserved for newspaper clippings of Seminara at Cosentino’s. The neighborhood bar, The Press Box, gets Padre games on its satellite dish and is packed each night Seminara pitches.

Life has changed in the Seminara household.

“I cared less about baseball all of my life,” Anita Seminara said, “and now all I do each day listen to ballgames and listen to WFAN, the all-sports station. I’ll see more games this weekend that I did in my entire life. We’re even reading papers from the back, where the sports section starts.”

Even Frank can’t believe it. When his parents picked him up in Philadelphia, and they began to drive home, he couldn’t believe his own mother was demanding they listen to WFAN.

Said Frank, incredulously: “Ma, you’re really into this!”

Said Anita: “What choice do I have? I’m the mother of a major league pitcher.”


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