Family values: La Jolla High’s Gary and Howard Frank model a love of baseball, history and tradition

La Jolla High School head baseball coach Gary Frank and his father, Howard Frank
La Jolla High School head baseball coach Gary Frank and his father, Howard Frank, have been part of Vikings baseball since Gary attended La Jolla High in the 1980s.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

In the La Jolla High School baseball program, family is everything. The coaches instill a multi-age sense of ownership, with seniors working alongside freshmen. And leading by example are coach Gary Frank and his father, Howard Frank, who have been part of Vikings baseball since Gary attended La Jolla High in the 1980s.

Howard has a contagious enthusiasm for baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs (his cellphone ringtone is still Steve Goodman’s “Go! Cubs! Go!”), and having him cheering from the sidelines and helping with the team “goes to what we preach to these guys,” Gary said. “We’re all part of the same extended family, and it helps for them to see family here.”

Howard said his love of baseball started “like most people,” when he was a youngster going to games with his dad.

“Part of it, I think for me, was growing up in Chicago and getting to go to Wrigley Field. There is no place like it,” Howard said. “Even if you are not a fan of the game, you fall in love with baseball if you experience Wrigley Field. I don’t think there is anything more difficult than hitting a baseball, and I have tremendous respect and admiration for those that can do it and ... do it well. And I love seeing it.”

He added that he’s a “big believer in history and tradition, and … baseball is history and tradition.”

To pass that tradition on, Howard started taking Gary to games when he was an infant.

Howard Frank takes his son Gary, then 7 months old, to his first baseball game.
(Courtesy of Gary Frank)

“From before I can remember, he was taking me to games and putting it on TV. [Love of the game] feels genetic, like it was engrained,” Gary said.

Gary had moved to San Diego by the time his love for the game developed, so his favorite team is the Padres.

Gary went on to play as a La Jolla High Viking, then in college and a few years in independent minor leagues. Looking to stay involved as he got older, Gary started coaching as an assistant 26 years ago and became La Jolla’s head coach in 2004.

Through it all, Howard was there. In addition to being a proud dad watching his son play in high school, Howard was a founding member of the La Jolla High School Foundation and stayed on while Gary was in college.

“I was involved in various aspects of the athletic program, but my main passion was working with the baseball program,” Howard said. “When I wasn’t traveling to see Gary play, I stayed here to help with projects here. We totally renovated this facility [at Muirlands Middle School, where the La Jolla High team plays] over the years.”

When Gary stayed involved in baseball into adulthood, “I was obviously pretty happy,” Howard said. “It allowed us to have this tremendous thing in common.”

Some of the baseball philosophies Howard passed to Gary, Gary has passed to the team.

“Baseball is a sport that anyone could participate in; it doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow, fat or skinny, you can have success,” Howard said. “If you have a little bit of ability and a good work ethic, good things can happen. And it’s great to see that.”

Gary agreed, saying: “It’s not about how big you are but how big your heart is. We have a guy on our team who is 5-foot-7 and 120 pounds and another guy who is 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. There aren’t a lot of sports where you can have that big of a difference and, so long as you are willing to work at it, you can have a reward.

“It goes along with life — you get out of it what you put into it. That’s a huge thing we try to instill in them. Control what you can control. You can’t control whether I put you in the lineup, but you can control how ready you are when you get that opportunity.”

“[Love of the game] feels genetic, like it was engrained.”

— Gary Frank

Amid the sounds of cleats hitting the ground and bats hitting balls during a practice, Howard smiled and said watching the La Jolla teams develop and grow “is as good as it gets.”

“It’s fun to watch a kid who couldn’t hold a bat six months ago get a base hit and see the look on his face. … It never gets old.”

This year’s team has a healthy mix of “youthful exuberance” and senior leadership, Gary said. The Vikings have been “really resilient” so far this season after a rocky start. For the first week of games, the team had no regular catcher due to injuries. A captain broke a bone in his hand.

“The first few games, we lost to some big schools and we took our lumps,” Gary said. “The guys could have said, ‘Ah shoot, we’re not very good,’ but we fought back and won five of ... six, so they are starting to believe in themselves. They compete against each other and with each other and build that bond.”

When he was a freshman, Gary said, “we did not speak to the seniors unless spoken to. … They may as well have been major-league players to me.”

So he said he’s enjoyed seeing freshmen not only on the varsity team but interacting with the seniors.

“For the freshmen and sophomores, when we lose the first game, they feel down on themselves. Then you have the seniors to remind them that it will be OK; just stay with what we’re doing and it’ll work out,” Gary said. “We want to build a program where the seniors teach the younger guys. We want them to come back when they are college and say, ‘I taught that guy how to do that.’” ◆