By Dan HIner
It’s a dream for every athlete to make it to the professional level. The thought of having your name called by a commissioner or receiving a phone call from a representative of a professional franchise is a luxury only few people ever have the chance to experience.
That dream became a reality for Youngstown State University outfielder Frank Califano. The junior baseball player was drafted in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Chicago White Soxs on June 10.
“It’s just a great opportunity honestly,” Califano said. “I was talking to the guy back and forth about when he was going to pick me. He basically just told me, ‘Hey turn on your computer and listen for them to announce your name.’ It was just a really exciting moment.”
Califano is the fifth player in the past six seasons to be taken in the MLB Draft, and the sixth player in YSU history to be selected in the first 20 rounds.
“I kind of thought that’s where he fit,” YSU head coach Steve Gillispie said. “He has skills that are above-average at the big league level. The way he runs and the way he defends are above average for an outfielder. I thought he was more of a senior sign after his senior year, just based on where the draft would be for him, but they liked him enough and they came to terms that met with what Frank wanted.
“It gave him an opportunity to sign and go on out and start playing. It wasn’t too much of a surprise that the scouts liked him. It was a little bit of a surprise that they were able to get a contract worked out.”
Recently former YSU baseball players have capitalized on several opportunities in the Minor Leagues. Last season, former Penguin Phil Klein made his Major League debut with the Texas Rangers pitching staff. Meanwhile, former YSU third baseman was promoted to the Bowie Baysox — the Double-A organization for the Baltimore Orioles.
“I told him if you get what you want, then go. You are more than welcome to come back. We’d love to have you back. If you get what you want, go ahead because it’s an opportunity that very very few get,” Gillispie said. “Obviously, a first team all-conference player to perform like he did — you’d take that in the program every year. It’s about three percent of everybody that plays get to a chance to sign professionally.”
Califano is currently playing in Great Falls, Montana in the Pioneer League. In his first five games of the season, Califano lead the team in batting average (.455), hits (10) and total at-bats (22).
Califano played his previous two seasons at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California. He went undrafted in his two previous attempts at entering the draft — first after he graduated high school and after his junior college career ended at Golden West College.
During his brief stint at YSU, Califano finished second in the Horizon League in batting average (.362) and stolen bases (19). His 19 steals were the most by a Penguin in a single season since 2001.
“It helped me by seeing better pitching. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t there. It helped me with my batting and my defense. Playing Division I ball was a great experience, and I was glad I went to YSU,” Califano said.