DI­A­MOND DAYS

Fa­ther, son fol­low D-backs to ev­ery Ma­jor League park

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BRITISH OPEN -

Frank Gen­nario lost his fa­ther to bone cancer when he was 16 years old, and more than any­thing else, he clings tightly to mem­o­ries of their days to­gether at Yan­kee Sta­dium.

As his son neared the same age three decades later, Frank made a de­ci­sion: The ball­park bond be­tween him and young Tony would have to be mem­o­rable — “some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” Frank said.

Over the past 10 years, the Gen­nar­ios have metic­u­lously fol­lowed their beloved Ari­zona Diamondbacks to ev­ery ma­jor league sta­dium, a quest they com­pleted last week­end with a se­ries at At­lanta’s SunTrust Park. The plan was hatched prior to the 2007 sea­son, and the 59-year-old fa­ther and 24-year-old son have now seen their fa­vorite team at 35 ball­parks, in­clud­ing the 30 cur­rent ones.

The ex­pe­di­tion was fu­eled by Frank’s pas­sion for the game, which he’s had since child­hood. Grow­ing up in Queens, N.Y., he played stick­ball on the streets, cheered tire­lessly for the Mets and went to games with his dad. His first in-park mem­ory is from 1965, as a 7-year-old at Yan­kee Sta­dium.

“I do re­mem­ber my dad telling me one day,” Frank re­called, “He said, ‘Frankie, I want you to re­mem­ber this. This is some­thing his­toric. You saw Joe DiMag­gio hit a home run in an Old Timers’ Game.’”

“I at­tribute a lot of my love for the game to the fact that he loved the game,” Frank said about his fa­ther. “He used to live and die base­ball.”

Frank grew up and landed in Phoenix, where he ea­gerly pur­chased sea­son tick­ets when the Diamondbacks en­tered the ma­jors in 1998. He has only missed two home games in the his­tory of the fran­chise — the day Tony grad­u­ated from Ari­zona State, and the day his 2-year-old grand­son, Brox­ton, died from a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease. Even on that dev­as­tat­ing day, Frank’s fam­ily urged him to get to the ball­park, but “there wasn’t any way I was go­ing to miss be­ing with the fam­ily,” he said.

Tony was 14 when Frank brought him to Den­ver for open­ing day in 2007, a trip that jump-started their quest. They checked off Mil­wau­kee and Chicago’s Wrigley Field later that sum­mer.

That was the easy part. What fol­lowed was a decade of scour­ing over sched­ules when Ma­jor League Base­ball re­leased them in Septem­ber, pick­ing out op­por­tune dates. Their big­gest chal­lenge was in­ter­league play. Games at most Amer­i­can League ball­parks are rare for the Diamondbacks — for in­stance, Ari­zona’s 2016 visit to Toronto was only the sec­ond ever for the fran­chise.

“Ev­ery year, the sched­ule would come out, and we’d sit down and say, ‘This is prob­a­bly what we’re go­ing to do,’” Tony said. “Ten min­utes af­ter the sched­ule came out, we had a ten­ta­tive idea of what our trip was go­ing to be.”

Frank used air­line miles and ho­tel points to stretch his salary as a sales­man at Qwest Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and he had plenty of va­ca­tion days to make it work. Their mis­sion got a boost when Tony be­came a bat boy for Ari­zona home games in 2012, giv­ing them an in for free tick­ets on the road. They knocked 17 cities off their list dur­ing his bat boy ten­ure from 2012-16.

Plus, Frank got to see his son hang­ing around in the Diamondbacks dugout dur­ing games.

“That was just sur­real,” Frank said. Their most mem­o­rable game is one they missed. In 2010, they skipped the first night of a se­ries at Tampa Bay in fa­vor of an Or­lando amuse­ment park. They were fin­ish­ing up their day when Frank got a text from his wife, Ann Marie: Diamondbacks starter Ed­win Jack­son was through seven hit­less in­nings.

Frank and Tony watched on tele­vi­sion at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., as Jack­son fin­ished the no-hit­ter. Tony’s phone blew up with text mes­sages, and he had to tell his friends that no, they weren’t at the game.

“We were on a roller coaster,” he replied.

Frank’s con­nec­tion to the game has be­come a ca­reer for Tony, who is now the vis­it­ing club­house man­ager for the Dou­ble-A Mont­gomery Bis­cuits. Frank isn’t lack­ing for ball­park com­pan­ions, though — his grand­daugh­ters are reg­u­larly with him at Chase Field, keep­ing score and cheer­ing on Paul Gold­schmidt. Since the Diamondbacks ar­rived, Frank has fas­tid­i­ously cat­a­logued ev­ery game, keep­ing score­cards and notes of who joined him at the park.

“When I think about the day that I pass, they’re go­ing to say, ‘Well what was your legacy? What have you left be­hind?’” Frank said. “It’s about, ‘You left the love of base­ball into so many of your fam­ily mem­bers.’”

So what’s next? Tony has al­ready started fol­low­ing around his fa­vorite foot­ball team, the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, although he still has more than 20 sta­di­ums to go.

“That’s go­ing to be a 30-year process,” he said.

Frank, mean­while, is think­ing about start­ing all over. His 10-yearold grand­son, Brody, tagged along for the re­cent se­ries in At­lanta — his first Diamondbacks road trip.

“Maybe it’s time the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to the next gen­er­a­tion,” Frank said. “We’ll see what the sched­ule looks like next year.”

“Ev­ery year, the sched­ule would come out, and we’d sit down and say, ‘This is prob­a­bly what we’re go­ing to do.’ Ten min­utes af­ter the sched­ule came out, we had a ten­ta­tive idea of what our trip was go­ing to be.”

— Tony Gen­nario

AP/FRANK GEN­NARIO Frank Gen­nario and his son, Tony, pose at SunTrust Park in At­lanta in this 2017 photo.

AP/FRANK GEN­NARIO

Frank Gen­nario (above photo) and his son, Tony, are shown at var­i­ous ball­parks through­out the years in this col­lec­tion of photos. (Left) In this 1998 photo the Gen­nar­ios at­tend a game at Bank One Ball­park in Phoenix.

AP/FRANK GEN­NARIO

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