<< (Back) In Memory of Frank

Giamartino passionate about game

By JAMIE NORTON, Reformer Staff

Saturday, June 24

DUMMERSTON -- A New York Mets cap and a wreath of roses sit atop a wooden cross alongside the southbound lane of Route 30 in Dummerston.

At the bottom of the post are some red flowers, freshly laid dirt, and a couple of bottles of "Yoo-Hoo," and on the ground to the left is another wreath of flowers, these blue, white and orange -- the Mets' team colors. Inscribed on the cross is the name "Francis G."

The community remained in a daze Friday evening, four days after the news of the tragic death of local pharmacist, umpire and devoted Mets fan Frank Giamartino rocked Windham County and sent chills through everyone who knew him.

Giamartino was killed in a single-car accident Monday evening on his way to his Newfane home after umpiring a Babe Ruth baseball game. He tried to pass a couple of cars, but the road was too wet from the rain, and he lost control of his vehicle. Nobody knew it would be the last of hundreds of games he'd officiated over the years, during which time he won the respect of countless coaches, players and fellow umpires.

"It's devastating," said umpire and friend Paul Clough. "Frank was a lot of fun, he was a good official, he worked hard -- he's going to be missed. It's not something we're taking lightly, not at all."

"We're going to miss him tremendously," said Jon Reed, president of the Southern Vermont Baseball Umpires Association. "I just couldn't believe it. My wife woke me up and said she just heard (the news) on the radio. ... I can't believe he's not coming out next week."

The short, stocky 53-year-old was known throughout the area, not only for efficiently running a bustling business but also for efficently running a ballgame.

The number of people who relied on his pharmaceutical expertise when he wore his white jacket at the Hotel Pharmacy was no less staggering than those who depended on his opinion when he donned his blue polyester t-shirt on the ballfield. Some were the same people.

"He was my pharmacist," said Brattleboro baseball coach Chris Groeger, who also encountered Giamartino many times behind the plate or on the bases at Tenney Field. "He's certainly going to be missed beyond words. ... He was a guy who was just very passionate about the game. More than anything, I think it was just his love for the kids. He was always a staunch supporter of our program, and our kids are certainly taking it hard. They loved him."

Groeger added that he and Giamartino's family have been close for many years. In fact, Mary Giamartino, Frank's wife, is the godmother of Groeger's daughter. But that didn't stop them from going nose-to-nose on occasion when Giamartino umpired at Colonels games.

"We had a few confrontations, but it was always in the spirit of the game," Groeger said. "Even if we did disagree, he'd let me have my say. Ultimately, his say would go, and we'd always find a chance to chuckle about it."

"I can't think of any umpire better, or even as good, as he was," said Quinton Carr, commissioner of the Connecticut River Valley Baseball League. "He was deeply respected. People might argue with him or be mad that he called them out, but the respect was so great that nobody every really complained about it for very long."

It's true -- Giamartino, who umpired every level from Little League up through American Legion baseball and the CRVBL, built himself a reputation as one of the best umpires in the state. He achieved such notoriety because of two things -- consistency and authority -- both attributes that umpires strive for throughout their careers, and he was paid the ultimate compliment by appearing in numerous Vermont state championship games.

"You don't get to go to (the state championship game) unless you're good enough," Reed said. "It's not just a rotation. ... We all work for it."

"When he went out on the field, people respected him for his game presence," Clough said. "He did the game with authority and conviction. He was a very confident umpire and very capable."

One of the things that made Giamartino's umpiring so well-known was his unvarying strike zone, which included some generosity on the corners.

"Everybody will tell you exactly what his strike zone was," said Richard Bissell, who founded the CRVBL and has a son playing on the Pierce Lawton Post 37 American Legion baseball team. "You don't leave those low, outside pitches alone, because they're all going to be strikes."

Giamartino was also known for his banter with the players on the field, as well as the coaches in the dugout. He wouldn't hesitate to tell a first baseman he made a nice pick on a double play or to mention to a pitcher how nice his stuff was looking that day.

"He had a really good rapport with everyone, and when he complimented you on a play that you made, you really felt honored," Carr said.

"He was always talking with the players and joking around and having fun with the guys," Bissell said. "He was still very much the official when he had to be, but everybody's friend as well. It was always really enjoyable having Frank behind the plate or on the field."

The CRVBL has dedicated the remainder of its 2006 season to Giamartino's memory and plans to make a donation to the scholarship fund of his late son. It will also conduct a moment of silence before each of its games this weekend, and teams in the league are considering black bands or patches with "51," his umpire number, to attach to their uniforms.

The Brattleboro and Pierce Lawton Legion teams are also planning a moment of silence before they face each other on Sunday, and Chester Post 67 canceled its scheduled Saturday game against the O.E.C. Kings out of respect for those wishing to attend his funeral, which is scheduled for this morning at 10 at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church on Walnut Street in Brattleboro.

The SVBUA is also planning to do something in his memory.

"We haven't had the opportunity at this juncture to get all of our members together," Clough said, "but certainly for those of us in the south that worked with Frank on a game-to-game, routine basis, we're definitely going to be doing something."

It'll be a long time before Frank Giamartino's dynamic presence is no longer felt on the ballfields around southern Vermont.

No longer will players, coaches, and umpires alike be able to enjoy his his friendly but earnest persona, his boisterous laugh or his electrifying "strrrrIKE" call.

No longer will he be around to tell a catcher he did a good job blocking the plate or a third baseman he had that ball played perfectly.

No longer will he be at the Hotel Pharmacy to talk about the call he made that you didn't like.

"I'm waiting for a call on my cell phone about whether I'm a grandfather; my daughter-in-law's been in labor since 4 o'clock this morning," said Clough on Wednesday after an American Legion basesball game at which Giamartino had been scheduled to umpire with him. "And I'm not sure which set of emotions is appropriate to wear on my sleeve right now.

"I'm happy as hell -- and heartbroken."