Frank Menechino was taught by his father how to use a jackhammer, a pick and a shovel — among other tools of the construction business — while growing up on Staten Island.
But the 43-year-old man with a thick New York accent is interested in perfecting the use of only one particular instrument as it pertains to the Marlins: a bat.
After going through hitting coaches like batting-practice baseballs, the Marlins have tasked Menechino, a backup infielder and career .240 hitter for seven big-league seasons, for correcting the team’s most glaring weakness: its impotency at the plate.
“It’s Baseball 101, man,” Menechino said.
If it were only that simple.
The Marlins not only ranked last in the majors in scoring runs last season, but scored 85 fewer runs than the next-closest team. Toss in the fact the Marlins play in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, and the challenge to turn things around becomes that much greater.
The Marlins believe Menechino is up to it.
“He absolutely did a helluva job selling us on why he was the right person,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said of Menechino’s job interview with club officials, including owner Jeffrey Loria and manager Mike Redmond.
Jennings said Menechino has a “New York brashness” they found appealing.
Menechino said he was raised in a middle-class family. His father worked construction jobs and introduced his son to the field when he was only 13.
“He made sure I’d have a trade if I didn’t make it in baseball, and I worked construction as a kid — demolition, paving, regular contracting work,” Menechino said.
But Menechino preferred baseball and went to the University of Alabama on a scholarship.
“It was like the movie My Cousin Vinnie,” he said. “I had the best time of my life down there.”
Menechino was a 45th-round draft pick but eventually made it to the majors, spending most of his career with Oakland and hanging around in the minors before calling it quits after 2008. He knew he wanted to become a coach, but decided to sit out of the sport for a full year.
“I took a year off from baseball,” he said. “I didn’t even watch ESPN. I didn’t want to be that coach that grabbed the bat out of the kid’s hand and say, ‘Here, let me show you how to do it.’ I wanted to distance myself and get my feelings out of the game, and then start fresh.”
After taking his one-year sabbatical, during which he hunted and fished, he joined the New York Yankees organization as hitting coach at Double A Trenton, N.J. Now he’s returning to the majors with a difficult challenge.
Menechino said he intends to instill in Marlins hitters the same work ethic that got him to the majors.
“I had to work for everything I had,” he said. “I had to be better than everybody out there. I was a 45th-round draft choice. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. You’ve got to make it your goal that you’re going to outwork the other guy.”
Menechino said the Marlins have the talent to succeed, but that the players have to decide they’re going to put in the extra effort.
“I want to see a team come together and compete for each other,” he said. “I want to see a team police each other. I want to see a bunch of guys out there getting after it. I want them to leave it all out on the field. And at the end of the day, [if] you can look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I gave it everything I had,’ you’ve got no problems.”