Frank Viola had the wake-up call in March, learning he had to have open-heart surgery immediately after his preseason physical.
Now, the former Cy Young Award winner and World Series champion feels grateful to be feeling well, and it’s an added bonus he’s back on the baseball field with the Las Vegas 51s as the pitching coach.
After a two-month recovery that changed his life, he made his Las Vegas debut earlier this month with a new perspective.
Viola talked with The Oklahoman Sunday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark before the 51s faced the Oklahoma City RedHawks about his health, being a pitching coach and Father’s Day.
Q: How are you feeling?
A: “Great. It’s a hell of a wakeup call, but it was caught in time, they took care of it and I’ve changed a bunch of things in my life. I let myself get away, but I’ve lost 30 pounds since the surgery. I have to eat differently, but it’s given me a second chance of living, I’ve got so much more to give and I’m glad for the opportunity.
What kind of influence did your wife have on your recovery?
“She’s been very helpful. She had been trying to do that for years, I just never listened. It gave her an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I told you so.’ She’s been absolutely fantastic. After the surgery she started preparing healthy foods for me and it got me in the habit of knowing what was healthy and what was not, and I’ve been able to maintain. Without her, there’s no question I wouldn’t be where I am now and feeling as good as I feel now.”
What have these few weeks been like since you joined the team?
“It’s nice to be back after what I went through. The Mets were nice enough to give me plenty of time to recuperate and recover. I’ve been excited since the surgery was successful and looking forward to getting back here and doing my job, and it’s great being back on the baseball field so I’m very appreciate of that.
You’re coaching in Triple-A after spending a few years in Class A. What are the differences?
“It’s not so much teaching anymore like it was at the lower levels. This is more preparing, I would have to say. A lot of these guys have been in the big leagues, some of these guys are on their way up to the big leagues, some of these guys are holding on to get a chance to get back to the big leagues. Whatever the case may be, you still have to work with them, you still have to fine tune some things, but more than anything I think it’s the mental part with these guys.
“I’ve been through the seventh game of the World Series to the lower struggles of everybody else, so I’ve been through pretty much everything. If I can help in some way, especially the mental part of the game which is the toughest here, hopefully I’m doing a good job. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about them.”
Top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard is scheduled to come off the disabled list tomorrow. What have you seen from him?
I got to see him in spring training; I’ve known him since last year. He was a quiet guy when I first met him. Now he’s a little more outspoken, he feels better about himself but the reality of the situation is he’s still a 21-year-old kid. So, he has a lot of inexperience and he’s got to gain that in a hurry because of the gift that God gave him, which is an amazing arm.
You just recently lost your parents and you have three children of your own. What does Father’s Day mean to you?
“Well, when I woke up this morning and I got a text message from all three of my kids telling me how great of a dad I am that put it all in perspective. I retired from baseball in ’96. It was probably the toughest call I had to make in my career at that point. The reason why I opted out of playing baseball was to play catchup with my kids. I didn’t get back into professional baseball until 2011, so I had 15 years of watching my kids growing up and making up for the years earlier that I missed, and to see them at almost 30, 27, 25 still calling me wanting me around, we did something right.
“So Father’s Day is very special, just the fact that you know that you did something good in your life that has long-term significance rather than just throwing the baseball and making a short-term difference.”