Ballpark a refuge for Mets minor-league pitching coach Frank Viola

The Mets' Frank Viola looks on during a

The Mets' Frank Viola looks on during a game in the 1990 season. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Otto Greule Jr

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JUPITER, Fla. - Frank Viola was on the mound again for the Mets on Sunday, throwing batting practice before their exhibition game against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.

Viola, the former 20-game winner for the 1990 Mets, is in his first season as the team's Triple-A pitching coach. He was happy to be in the ballpark. Very happy.

Viola returned to the team after Saturday's funeral for his mother in the Orlando area. Helen Viola, 85, died on March 9. Less than a month earlier, on Feb. 11, Viola's father, Frank Sr., died. He was 86.

The passing of his parents within a 26-day span was "difficult," said the former East Meadow High School and St. John's star and 1988 AL Cy Young Award winner.

"It's also something that everybody has to live with and deal with," Viola said. "For me, it's a blessing in disguise in that they got to be together for 64 years. The last thing my mom said to my dad, she held his hand in the casket and she goes, 'You behave yourself. I'll be with you soon.' Little did we know that was going to be three-and-a-half weeks later."

The changes in Viola's personal and professional life have been profound since the Mets announced on Jan. 8 that he was being promoted from Class-A Savannah to Triple-A Las Vegas.

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Viola, 53, will be tasked with tutoring the Mets' prized pitching prospects in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Noah Syndergaard, Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom could all start the season with the 176-game winner they called "Sweet Music" as their coach.

"I could probably screw up this rotation," Viola said, jokingly. "You don't want to see me do that. But yeah, the Triple-A rotation from top to bottom is going to be pretty good. My job is to make them ready for New York when the call is made."

It's the work and what he called "phenomenal" support from the Mets organization that has gotten Viola through these difficult days.

His father died right before Viola was set to report to spring training for his fourth season of coaching in the Mets' system. Viola did not miss a day of work.

"It was like my dad was saying, 'Frank, think about me, but not too long,' " Viola said. " 'You've got a job to do.' Mom and dad wouldn't want it any other way. They loved baseball almost as much as I do. They know that I'm doing something that I love."

Viola also has been watching the progress of his son, Frank III, who signed a minor-league contract on March 5 with the Toronto Blue Jays to try to make it as a knuckleball pitcher. Frank Viola III, 29, was a minor leaguer in the White Sox system who last appeared with the independent Saint Paul Saints in 2010.

The younger Viola spent four weeks this offseason in Nashville, Tenn., working on the knuckleball with former Met and current Blue Jays ace R.A. Dickey. "R.A. was absolutely wonderful, dealing with him on an everyday basis, giving him tips, working with him," Viola said. "Then he came home and Tim Wakefield took the time to spend a couple of days with him."

Viola also found out three weeks ago that he is going to be a grandfather for the first time. His daughter Brittany, who competed in diving at the 2012 London Olympics, is due in August.

When the call comes, Viola likely will be just where he wants to be. Where he has needed to be over the last month. A ballpark.

"This is my home away from home," Viola said. "It always has been. If there was ever a time where I just needed relief or release of something, it was the ballpark. This has been the saving grace for me over the last month."

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