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Starkey: Frattare at peace on Opening Day

| Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It is 10:23 a.m. Monday, Opening Day of the Pirates' 2009 season, but Lanny Frattare is nowhere near Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the first pitch is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

Rather, he is strolling along a sidewalk on the bucolic campus of Waynesburg University, eager to greet a visiting reporter.

In his right hand, Frattare waves a lit, peach-flavored cigar.

On his left wrist, he wears a silver bracelet inscribed with his sobriety date: "November 23, 2008."

The reporter immediately notes that Frattare seems more relaxed than usual. Frattare affirms the observation -- but make no mistake, the calm appeared only after a heavy storm.

Frattare's life slid out of control six months ago.

On Oct. 1, with one year left on his contract, Frattare retired after 33 years as a Pirates broadcaster (he says the decision was his, unpressured). Though he believed his performance had been slipping, he wondered if he'd done the right thing. He feared for his future.

And he started drinking heavily. Frattare had always enjoyed a few drinks after games. Now, he sank deep into his cups.

"I started to abuse alcohol," says Frattare, 61. "I never was someone who could just sip alcohol. But after I stepped away (from baseball), I had all this free time. I found myself drinking all the time."

Luckily for Frattare, his daughter, Megan, 27, had a front-row seat to his decline. The two live together in Collier Township.

Unbeknownst to her father, Megan arranged an intervention in which she and her brother, David, 34, and their mother -- Frattare's ex-wife, Liz Frattare -- would confront him.

On the Sunday morning of Nov. 23, Frattare and his son went to see the latest James Bond movie. When they returned, the intervention commenced. A stunned Frattare agreed to get help. Megan had reserved a spot for him at Glenbeigh, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in northeast Ohio, near Ashtabula.

"I checked in at 6 o'clock that night," Frattare says. "I went into it scared to death, but after a day or two I knew I'd done the right thing."

During his two-week stay, Frattare — who says he has continued a strict recovery program — did a lot of praying. One of his frequent prayers went like this: "God, where do you want me to be next?"

One place, apparently, was Waynesburg, a private Christian school of 2,500 students an hour southwest of Pittsburgh. Frattare will begin teaching classes in August. He applied for the athletic director's job at Upper St. Clair High School, but when he was looking at a newspaper ad for that job, he spotted next to it an ad for a teaching position at Waynesburg.

Frattare was hired as an "assistant professor." He will teach four courses — sportscasting, script writing, public speaking and a critique course — and work as a special assistant in university relations. Never one to under-prepare, he rises each morning at 6 and drives to school to observe and mingle and refine his course outlines. His office is located in a brick A-frame house in the middle of campus.

Sitting in that office, Frattare looks downright professorial. He wears a button-down shirt under his sweater and peers through those familiar Frattare eyeglasses. The silver bracelet on his wrist — the one bearing his sobriety date — was a gift from his family.

Later in the day, Frattare is scheduled to coach the Bishop Canevin junior varsity baseball team in its game at Northgate (the game would be postponed). He took that job, on a volunteer basis, after a tip from his godson, Patrick Leyland, a junior catcher at Canevin and the son of Frattare's good friend, former Pirates manager Jim Leyland.

Staying so busy has helped Frattare cope with what he terms his "withdrawal" from broadcasting.

One thing he learned from Jim Leyland was that when ties are broken with an organization, it's best for both parties if you move on fast and don't look back. This is why Frattare declined a much-appreciated invitation from Pirates president Frank Coonelly to have a day in his honor at PNC Park this season.

Fact is, Frattare does not plan to follow the Pirates closely at all. It's nothing personal, he says, but rather the best way he can deal with the situation.

"I probably will not listen to a broadcast, and I will not be going to the ballpark," he says. "I won't be able to listen to the games, because it will be too tough on me mentally. It may sound like a coward's way out, but I know my mental make-up well enough to know it's the best thing.

"I've suffered much of my life with insecurity and depression (he was granted a 10-day leave in 2004 because of a bout with clinical depression), and therefore, I know that for my well-being, this is best. It's not that I don't care, but I cared so much for so long that it's now important to me to care about something else — and that something is my family, my sobriety, my faith and Waynesburg."

Frattare worked his 5,000th game Aug. 10. He never dreamt he would last that long when he was named as part of the replacement team for the legendary Bob Prince in 1976 — especially after some harsh early criticism.

The pressure was enormous, because the Pirates had fired Prince.

"There were a number of critical articles and letters early on that really got into my head," Frattare says. "Now, when I look back, it is pretty remarkable that I lasted 33 years. I owe it to the ballclub and the fans. I don't believe anyone can stick around 33 years if the fans don't like much of what you're doing.

"It took me a long time to realize I couldn't please everybody."

Frattare insists he didn't think about Opening Day one time yesterday morning. He didn't even know the start time. Were he in St. Louis, he says, prompted by a question, he'd be finishing his pregame lunch at the team hotel and getting ready to walk to the ballpark.

But he is nowhere near St. Louis.

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