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Franco's fortunes turning at last

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


NEW YORK -- For most of his 17-year career, John Franco was usually in the wrong place. Now, he couldn't be in a better spot.

A lifelong New Yorker raised in Brooklyn's Marlboro housing project, pitching the Mets to victory in a World Series game against the Yankees.

"That's something, huh?" Franco said Wednesday. "Fortunately for me I was on the mound at the right time."

Franco is 40, and the rocking chair in front of his locker tells you he knows it, and he's handling it. He spent six years with the Reds when the Mets were good in the late '80s, then was traded to the Mets in 1989, just before the Reds won the Series.

He suffered through some bad years in New York, but, with the benefit of age and wisdom, he knows that just makes the good times better. And to do it in his hometown has made his success into something of a family affair.

"It's been great," Franco said. "I mean, this is something when I first got here to the Mets in 1990 that I dreamed of happening a lot. But it hasn't until the last two years."

Success has come with a price. When the Mets acquired Armando Benitez before the 1999 season and made him their closer, Franco was forced to accept a role as setup man. They wanted to keep him for his experience, and he wanted to stay because of what they might experience together.

When the Mets clinched the NL pennant, Franco led the sprint from the bullpen to celebrate on the mound.

"I'm just happy I'm here," Franco said. "It took so long to get here."

His only regret is that his father, a New York City sanitation department worker, is not alive to share the experience.

After handing Tuesday's game over to Benitez to seal the Mets' 4-2 victory, Franco became fixated on a bright star in the sky.

"Al (Leiter) asked me what I was looking at, and I said that big bright star was my pop," Franco said. "He lost his dad, too, so we said they were probably up there having a beer laughing at us."

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