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Frank Viola III Developing his Game in Lansing

Knuckleballer gets great advice from Dickey, Wakefield, Hough, and dad

Frank Viola III Developing his Game in Lansing

June 30, 2014

Frank Viola III is learning the art of throwing the kunckleball. (MiLB.com)

Frank Viola III is learning the art of throwing the kunckleball. (MiLB.com)

The Blue Jays made headlines when they signed knuckleballer Frank Viola III in March. The second generation pitcher is looking for a second shot at pitching in the big leagues after many thought his career was over when a series of injuries sidelined his development in the Chicago White Sox minor league system.

Throwing the knuckleball is still relatively new for Viola, but he is appreciating the transition he has made to get a second opportunity in professional baseball.

“Learning the knuckleball is a mental journey,” explained Viola. “It’s still a work in progress, but the organization feels it’s ready to take the next step to test things to see what works and what doesn’t.”

It’s safe to say the transition is working so far in Lansing as Viola is 2-1 with a 3.54 ERA and 11 strikeouts through 20 1/3 innings of work with the Lugnuts.

Even though Viola is pitching well in Lansing he’s really enjoying the opportunity to work with the Lugnuts coaching staff. Specifically, he really appreciates the ability to learn from former professional catchers and left-handed pitchers, which makes up the Lugnuts coaching staff. Pitching coach Vince Horsman was a major league lefty, hitting coach Ken Huckaby was a major league catcher, while manager John Tamargo Jr. is a son of a former major league catcher who caught a couple games in the minors himself.

“I love the coaching staff in Lansing. They’re baseball guys,” said Viola. “Catchers are my favorite players to talk to because they know the game better than anybody. They remind me of caddies in golf. I might shake a catcher off once, but never twice because they know what’s happening out there.”

“I really like left-handers too,” he added. “I think that comes from my Dad. I tried throwing left-handed, but never got it down. I consider myself an internal lefty.”

Viola gets a big boost from working with his new teammates. He thrives off of the passion and talent that exists in the Lugnuts clubhouse.

“My teammates are great guys,” stated Viola. “They’re young in their early 20’s which is fine with me. I was their age not too long ago.”

“The talent here really stands out,” he added. “The talent in Lansing is just as good as AA, AAA, and the big leagues. It’s just a matter of finding consistency out of these kids and figuring out what they need to do to move forward. I hope with me being an older guy I can impart some of my wisdom on them to better their games. They’re great kids.”

Knuckleballers are said to be a part of a secret club since nobody else fully understands the pitch and what it takes to throw it with consistency. As such, Viola credits his success on the coaching and advice he has received from R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, and Charlie Hough.

“I wouldn’t have gotten here without the help of Dickey, Wakefield and Hough,” he said. “The knuckleballers are in a fraternity, because we’re the only ones that understand the success and failures of the pitch. It’s a very hard thing to do; because you’re throwing one pitch you’re not fooling anybody they know what pitch is coming to them. I’m just looking for consistency.”

Inspired to be a pitcher from his father Frank, the younger Viola is looking to take the best parts of his father’s 421-game big league career and insert his best parts to make the best version of himself.

“My dad was a major influence on my career,” Viola said, smiling. “I think every boy wants to be like their father and in my case it’s pretty damn hard. My dad was always a great influence and my hero growing up. I accept the fact I will never be quite like him, but I can be the best me I can be. I’m trying to take his best parts being my father and combine them with my best parts and be the best I can be.”

Enjoying the opportunity to help Viola out, Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman is enjoying the opportunity to coach a knuckleballer and impart the knowledge he has on the pitch from being around the game a long time.

“I’m going on what Frank says,” explained Horsman. “Working with a knuckleball guy is harder, because there are not a lot of them around. I’m using information from him and from other knuckleballers like Tom Candiotti, who was a teammate of mine, and from watching Tim Wakefield pitch to figure out the dynamics.  I’m helping with the mental side of the game as he needs to adhere to the mechanics of pitching. The knuckleball is a feel pitch and a very unpredictable pitch. Frank is still new to it, but he’s doing well throwing the pitch and I’m doing well coaching a kid who can throw it. It’s been a good experience.”

Watch for Frank Viola III as he continues to develop the knuckleball and work his way up the Blue Jays minor league ladder.