The month of May began with first-year Head Coach John Frascatore leading Nature Coast into the Class 4A, District 8 championship game and the Sharks to their third regional appearance in as many seasons.
Before May ended, the magnet school already reeling from several highly-publicized issues opted to fire the former Major League relief pitcher from his coaching position.
“I just think it’s best for the program,” said Nature Coast’s outgoing principal, Tizzy Schoelles, adding that she discussed the matter with the incoming principal, Sonya Jackson.
When reached for comment, Frascatore said he could not answer any questions, deferring to Schoelles. He still remains a teacher at the school, according to Athletic Director Travis Lamle.
“We chose to go in a different direction,” Lamle said.
Lamle’s own future as head of the athletic department remains cloudy, and as with the recent hiring of Mark Lee as head football coach, he has not been involved in deciding Frascatore’s fate or replacement.
Frascatore was hired last summer, making him the third Shark headman in as many seasons. Dan Garofano coached Nature Coast for four seasons before taking a job in Georgia in 2007.
The school originally filled the void with an out-of-state hire, David Brown, but he pulled out just before the start of that school year when a job opened up in his home state of North Carolina.
Longtime assistant Bob Shepard took the reigns and guided the Sharks to a second straight 4A-8 runner-up trophy and the first regional victory in team history.
Yet Shepard, a painter who works in the school system, was not retained. The school sited a contractual obligation to give the job to a teacher, though union policy does not make that mandatory.
That opened the door for Frasactore, who from 1994-2001 appeared in 274 games and pitched 371 innings over seven Major League seasons, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays.
He took over a Nature Coast club hit hard by graduation and expected to take a step back in 2009.
Though the Sharks posted just a 13-9 record and finished fifth in the 4A-8 standings, they defeated top seed Springstead in the district semifinals, 16-2, before barely losing to Pasco in the final, 10-9.
They lost to eventual state runner-up Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic in the regional quarterfinals, 9-2.
So why fire Frascatore? There are rumors of verbal abuse, though Schoelles said, “That was not it at all.”
According to junior first baseman Eddie Castro, one of the allegations is that Frasactore used a racial slur against him, something Castro said never happened.
“I’m hurt, upset, just wondering what my future is going to hold now,” Castro said. “…He made us from boys to men. I have matured in the game of baseball and in the classroom.”
Castro credited Frascatore with helping the team’s two seniors, Mike Adams and Jonathan Russell, sign with colleges, and for instilling discipline, including making the players wear shirts and ties on game days.
“After baseball season, our lives felt empty without wearing those shirts and ties,” said Castro, who went on to describe Frascatore as a father figure.
His parents, David and Mimi Castro, also appreciated Frasactore’s efforts, adding that they never heard the coach swearing at or speaking inappropriately to the players.
“We have parents that want to bring everything from Little League and think they can do the same thing,” David Castro said. “And what’s going on is we’re not in Little League anymore, we’re in high school.
“…I saw it in Dixie and it’s the same parents doing it at Nature Coast.”
“I’m in shock, for the simple reason that this was a coach that actually brought our team somewhere,” Mimi Castro said. “He was looking out for those kids and for them to not want to give him the opportunity to do it another year, I don’t understand.”
Vito Tambasco, whose freshman son Thomas was a call-up from junior varsity, estimated that the problems with Frascatore stemmed from four players and did not reflect the majority’s feelings.
“A lot of people are very annoyed about it because John brought us a lot of stability in that program,” Tambasco said. “I love the work ethic he instilled in my son. I love how he made him dress up. He helped turn my son into a man.”
Tambasco said that 20-30 people are emailing the school board members, anticipating that Frascatore will fight a decision they feel was hastily made.
In the meantime, Schoelles said the school would post the opening and go through the typical interview process.
Lamle said he had heard that JV head coach/varsity assistant Pete Ruiz would get the job, and though Ruiz said that he was interested, he has heard nothing official. He also complimented his now former boss.
“I think baseball-wise, (Frascatore) did a wonderful job,” Ruiz said. “The discipline was wonderful. The majority of the kids responded well.
“The record speaks for itself. Only having two seniors, I believe we did a wonderful job.”