On the first day of practice, the baseball team received a huge surprise when Head Coach Joe Urso announced that his friend and former colleague, Frank Maldonado, would officially be returning to the Spartans staff in time for the upcoming season.
Alongside other incredibly experienced faculty members on the team, Maldonado has accepted the position as assistant coach and will be a key addition to this season, specifically working with infield performance. Maldonado previously served as the hitting coach for five seasons, from 2006-10 at UT before branching off to accept a coaching job at the University of South Florida.
“At the time, I saw going to USF to work with their baseball program as an opportunity to move on and advance in my career,” Maldonado said. Maldonado worked at USF for four seasons as an assistant coach then later moved on to become the the Director of Baseball Operations. Aside from foreseeing the day-to-day aspects of base running, hitting and scheduling, he also volunteered his time to work with younger athletes at baseball camps that were run through the university.
While coaching at USF, Maldonado always kept a tight-knit relationship and remained in contact with his friends on staff at UT, especially Urso. Both coaches met through a mutual friend in California where Maldonado was coaching at his alma mater, California Lutheran University. Urso was playing ball in Cali and Maldonado had watched him play multiple times. After meeting and keeping in touch afterwards, Urso later contacted Maldonado to come work with him at UT.
“It really is funny how things work out,” Maldonado said. “Urso was already coaching at UT and one day called me up saying that he had a ‘possible’ position open on his coaching staff but couldn’t guarantee anything. I took a risk, and while we didn’t have any children, took a chance with my wife and moved across the country for what could have been a non-paid position. I got lucky and everything turned out great.”
Other coaches on staff had the pleasure of getting to know Maldonado prior to his return as well, specifically Assistant Coach Jose Jimenez, who played for him at UT as an infielder and catcher from 2006 to 2009. “Playing for Frank was a blast,” Jimenez said.“2006 was the first year for both of us in Tampa. Obviously, it was a great year with us winning the national championship.” Following his career as a Spartan, Jimenez went on to be selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the Major League Baseball Draft in the forty-seventh round and credits Maldonado as part of the reason for the opportunity.
“Frank brought a lot of knowledge and bonded with us instantly. He was our hitting coach and he helped me develop my game on the offensive side that allowed me to get a chance to play at the next level,” Jimenez said.
Maldonado’s current role for the season will focus on infield coordination, base-running and gameday defensive alignment. “It feels great to be back. It was the best decision for my family and I to return working at UT. I have been spoiled and am lucky enough that, on my first day, it had felt like I never left,” Maldonado said.
Not only is Maldonado grateful and enthusiastic to be back, but players on this year’s roster who have gotten to know him over the course of preseason training and practice, such as senior shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo, are just as excited to have him on staff. “Personally, I got to know Coach Maldonado before his return to UT while working with him at a USF baseball camp,” Alfonzo said. “As a team we all reacted really well to his return because he really does know the ins and outs of the game.” Since Maldonado has been working with the infield line-up, Alfonzo has closely witnessed the way he is prepping his guys for the season. “He’s a very positive guy and is always giving ups tips,” Alfonzo, “He’ll go position by position and work individually with each guy in the infield, modifying techniques to how each player is comfortable.”
In his previous years at UT, Maldonado greatly contributed to the success of UT’s baseball program, helping the Spartans to back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2006 and 2007. While coaching at Tampa, he helped the squad to a first-place finish in the Sunshine State Conference and was among the top five statistically in every offensive category in 2006 and 2007.
His coaching has helped five Spartan hitters have been named All-Americans. During his time, Spartan hitters set school records for batting average, home runs, runs, hits, RBI, doubles and slugging percentage. His goals for this season are quite similar achievements.
“I’ve had the opportunity of being apart of two national championships while working with this program,” Maldonado said, “My goal and the team’s goal is to set out for another one.”
Regina Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org