ORONO, Maine — As a kid, Mike Fransoso eagerly waited until his dad, Rick, returned home from his job with the U.S. Postal Service to play baseball.
“He’d get home from work around 5 o’clock and the first thing I’d say is, ‘Hey, can we go to the field?’” Mike said. “He didn’t even get to eat. He’d still be in his mail carrier uniform.”
Mike Fransoso’s relentless drive to improve, and the love and guidance of his parents, have been instrumental in his success on the baseball diamond.
“I was definitely driven myself by wanting to play the game, but they never pushed me,” Mike said. “I loved the game and they saw that, so they did everything they could to help me succeed in that.”
On Wednesday, the senior shortstop from Portsmouth, N.H., who on Tuesday was named the America East Player of the Year, will lead the top-seeded University of Maine onto the field at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass., for the first game of the America East Baseball Championship. The Black Bears (34-20) play No. 4 Stony Brook (24-32) at 4 p.m.
Despite suffering significant injuries, Fransoso will go down as one of the best shortstops in UMaine history. His slick fielding has been compared to that of former UMaine star Mike Bordick of Winterport, who enjoyed a lengthy career in the major leagues.
“I don’t think Mike can appreciate this yet, but he has stats that mimic some of the greatest players in Maine baseball history,” said UMaine head coach Steve Trimper.
Fransoso is the school’s career leader with 73 stolen bases, including 19 this season. He accomplished the feat despite undergoing three surgeries, two on his right hip and another for a sports hernia.
“Look at all the injuries, look at all the things that could have kept him out, and he still breaks the record,” said junior teammate Mike Connolly. “He could have broken more records. He played over adversity; that’s the biggest thing.”
Fransoso is No. 2 at UMaine with 64 career doubles, two behind All-American Mark Sweeney (1988-91) and in runs scored (200). He ranks fifth in hits with 263.
Fransoso has paced this year’s 34-20 ballclub. He ranks second on the team and third in the league with a career-high .356 batting average and leads America East in runs batted in (45), runs scored (41) and total bases (97).
He also ranks second in stolen bases (19 in 23 attempts) and fourth in doubles (16).
Small, but mighty
Fransoso wasn’t considered a Division I recruit by most. He spent his first two years of high school competing at 5-foot-6, 120 pounds. He also played basketball, hockey and football.
“I was just a little, tiny guy,” said Fransoso, who is now 5-11 ½, 175 pounds.
Former UMaine assistant Jared Holowaty saw him play and liked his intensity, so Trimper went to watch Fransoso play American Legion ball.
“Rick [who was coaching] called a suicide squeeze and Mike missed it [the bunt] and there was an out,” Trimper recalled. “One or two pitches later, boom, he hits a home run and comes sprinting around the bases. I’m like, that kid’s a gamer.”
Scholarship in hand, Fransoso arrived at UMaine in the fall of 2009. He earned a starting spot at second base, where he had never played before, and earned a spot on the America East All-Rookie Team.
Injury woes abound
Fransoso made the transition back to shortstop in 2010, but encountered health issues. A sore hip and a subsequent tearing sensation in his lower abdomen led to the diagnosis of a torn labrum in his right hip.
Tests also revealed a congenital bone deformation and he underwent surgery in Nashville, Tenn., by Dr. J.W. Thomas Byrd. Fransoso was expected to sit out his sophomore season.
Undaunted, he was determined to shorten his recovery and rehabilitation time.
“I was doing two-a-day rehab, trying to get back as quick as possible,” he explained.
“I knew there was no way I could sit out a full season and watch these guys play,” he added.
He got back on the field in March 2011, in Florida. He overcame a slow start caused by the extensive layoff, but eventually earned All-America East second-team recognition. He was an all-tourney pick and was named to the NCAA Chapel Hill All-Regional Team for the conference champions.
“Injuries come to all players and some people can give up, or take a step backwards,” Trimper said. “He always uses them as motivation to get better.”
That summer (2011), while playing at Old Orchard Beach, it was discovered he had been dealing with a sports hernia. It had occurred when he felt the ripping sensation the previous fall during weight training.
Fransoso’s resolve was tested again with another surgery. With support from teammate Nick Bernardo, he learned to put his injury woes in proper perspective through his Christian faith.
“I saw the man that he was and he was an awesome friend,” said Fransoso, who also credited Garrett Bernardo, Nick’s brother, with being a key influence. “I started going to church a lot more with him and a few of the guys. It was an awesome experience and my faith just grew tremendously.”
No holes in his game
Fransoso has excelled in every aspect of the game at UMaine. He has been productive no matter where he batted in the lineup (he’s a .325 career hitter) and has demonstrated the ability to steal bases, even through injuries.
“He’s not the fastest kid out there, but he works hard and does his best for the team,” Connolly said.
In the field, Fransoso has outstanding range, a strong arm and the ability to think the game. Junior Troy Black, the second baseman the last three seasons, marvels at his teammate.
“Playing with him’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” Black said. “I have the most confidence that he’s going to get his stuff done and everything just works together.”
Fransoso credits some of his skills to his father’s subtle efforts to groom his skills. Rick Fransoso is an accomplished racquetball player who often took Mike to the courts.
“I look back and think that’s why my hands and feet are so good out in the field, because it’s such a good thing for hand-eye [coordination] and quickness,” Mike said.
Setting the standard
Fransoso prefers to let his preparation and play do the talking in his role as a team co-captain.
“I think if I go out and do my job and play the game the way it’s meant to be played, people are going to follow,” he said.
“That’s kind of what you want in a captain is somebody that lets you play your game, and he plays his, but you look up to the way he plays his,” Connolly said.
Fransoso enjoyed good health during 2012, when he continued his ascent among UMaine’s all-time best by batting .327 on his way to an all-conference first-team nod.
He continued chasing his dream of playing professional ball last summer with Chatham of the Cape Cod Baseball League. Fransoso again began experiencing problems with his surgically-repaired hip and was forced to stop playing and undergo another surgery.
The labrum that was partially damaged before was now completely torn.
“I don’t think that it completely healed the first time because I came back so early,” he admitted. “That’s just my stubborness.”
One final opportunity
This time, he slowed down a bit. He did not participate in fall workouts and focused on being ready for his senior season.
Fransoso has responded with career highs in batting average (.356), RBIs (45) and stolen bases (19).
On May 14, he received a scare when he was hit in the right eye by a pitch at Boston College. He said his protective prescription eyewear may have saved his vision — and his career. Fransoso said Monday his vision is back to normal.
“I’m thankful and very blessed that I get to play this game every single day,” he said. “I’ve got to give all thanks and glory to God when it comes down to this, because without him I wouldn’t be here playing.”
Fransoso, a marketing major, hopes to get the chance to play pro ball. First, he and the Black Bears have some team goals they hope to achieve.
“I’m very thankful, this being my last year, that I had an awesome group of guys to play with,” Fransoso said. “Hopefully, we go out with a bang and get to the [NCAA] tournament again and see if we can make some noise.”