Looking at the smiling face of Frank Viola on Thursday night, you would never know the hardship he has had to endure in recent months.
Not long after losing both of his parents over a 26-day span, Viola was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta and underwent open heart surgery on April 2, putting his new position as the Las Vegas 51s pitching coach on hold.
Just over two months later, the 54-year old has received clearance from his doctors to resume his coaching duties, and will be suited up Friday night as the Mets Triple-A affiliate takes on the Fresno Grizzlies. Viola said he is grateful to be healthy and rejoining his team.
“I was very fortunate that they caught it when they did,” said Viola Thursday at the MLB Draft, one of his first public appearances since his surgery. “It’s a situation I am very thankful for. I got in, got it taken care of. It’s up to me now to rehab and do the stuff I need to do.”
The Mets organization was wonderful as far as letting me take my time to rehab and recuperate, and my wife was fantastic because for eight weeks she had to put up with my butt, so everything was good there.”
Viola, who in two-and-change season with New York went 38-32 with a 3.31 ERA, said he doesn’t look at coming back from his surgery to coach as a challenge, but rather just following the instructions of his doctors and taking things in stride.
“You can’t fast-forward a heart surgery,” he said. “You have to take it slow, you have to go step-by-step.”
It was just a question of doing what you need to do and once you get to that point you take off from there and the last couple weeks it has gotten so much better each day. “
Now physically able to return to his job, Viola said he cannot wait to work with some of the organization’s top pitching prospects, specifically mentioning Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. Viola actually texted Syndergaard to wish him luck in his first start since coming off the disabled list, to which the Mets young pitcher replied, “You can’t get here a day earlier?”
Viola hopes to be able to use his experiences throughout his career, both good and bad, to help teach New York’s budding talents.
“It’s just my job to keep the run going for these kids and to help them with the mental part more than anything,” said Viola.
“You know I’ve pitched in the seventh game of a World Series, I’ve struggled like anybody else, I’ve been through all of those stages. Hopefully they have questions for me and I’ll be able to answer some of those questions in their quest to get back to the big leagues or to get to the big leagues.”
Top photo by Clayton Collier