One night in November, Frankie Melendez was sleeping when his family woke him.
It had been six months since his father, Frank, suffered his first stroke, shaking the Lowell family. Frankie walked into the dining room that night and sensed what was occurring.
His father sat at the table. Tears streamed down his face. He was pale and confused.
“I was noticing those symptoms again and we were worried,” said Frankie.
The next morning, Frank was rushed to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed a stroke on the left side of his brain. The first stroke last May was followed by a month-long stay in the ICU. This one affected Frank’s short-term memory, speech, and vision.
“It’s been a hard year,” said Frankie’s mother, Michelle. “You kind of learn to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We’ve had to be resilient. It’s been really hard for Frankie as his only son.”
Frankie, a standout righthanded pitcher at Central Catholic, called the weeks following the November stroke the lowest point of his life.
All he did was worry. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Frankie was unable to visit his father often in the hospital. He waited for updates and tried to take his mind off the worst by focusing on baseball and school work, relying on teammates and friends for support.
In the weeks following the stroke, his father couldn’t remember Frankie’s name.
“I was so down in the dumps,” said Frankie. “December was such a low point of my life. I was worried about everything going on. My friends, teammates, and girlfriend really helped me through those low points.”
Through all of the uncertainty over the last year, the baseball diamond has served as a respite. The 6-foot-2-inch junior said throwing a baseball helps release the feelings of stress and darkness.
Frankie relishes the peace of mind he receives when he shows up to the park, jokes with his teammates in the dugout, and competes on the mound. Central Catholic coach John Sexton said Frankie’s upbeat demeanor has not changed. He’s still the perfect teammate despite the struggles at home.
“I’m so proud of him, of how he’s handled this situation,” said Sexton. “The game of baseball has provided solace for him. I think he’s used baseball as an escape. He’s still a teenager and he needs a break.”
Six months after his latest stroke, Frank is progressing. He receives outpatient treatment three times per week at Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston. He walks with a cane and struggles retaining short-term information.
Frank has attended most of Central Catholic’s games this spring. After each game, the Melendez family writes down the game recap on a sheet of paper. Frank’s job is to recite the summary, helping ignite his memory and speech.
“We have a lot of good communication in our family and they all help out so much around the house,” said Frank.
Frankie said his father’s strokes have helped him mature and understand the gravity of life. Already a close-knit family, Frank, Michelle, Frankie, and his twin sisters, Madison and Marissa, have united even more the past year.
“My mom is such a rock star doing everything for my dad,” said Frankie. “It’s taught me that your family is always going to be there for you. During these times, you just have to stay grounded, relaxed, and love the ones around you.”
On the field, Frankie has dedicated his season to his father. He inscribed “Team Frank” with a Bible verse on his cleats. Prior to each inning on the mound, Frankie traces his father’s initials on the dirt.
When Frank suffered his first stroke last May, Frankie threw a no-hitter that day. This season, Melendez — who committed to play Division 1 baseball at Army in September — has recorded a 1.54 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 22 innings for the No. 12 Raiders.
“It’s amazing to me that he has the ability to channel those emotions and perform,” said Michelle.
Wednesday was a full-circle moment for the family. After Central Catholic outlasted North Andover on a walkoff, Frankie left the field. There were Michelle and Frank waiting for him. Hugs ensued.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” said Frankie Melendez. “To have him there means everything.”
▪ Conference championships were being claimed left and right this past week. Shawsheen Valley Tech captured its second straight Commonwealth Athletic Conference crown Thursday, one day after Milton defended its Bay State Herget Division title. On Wednesday, North Attleborough clinched the Hockomock League’s Davenport Division crown, Franklin secured a share of the Kelley-Rex Division title, Nauset captured a second straight Cape & Islands League Atlantic Division championship, and Austin Prep beat Bishop Stang to take home its second straight Catholic Central Cup. On Tuesday, Stoneham won the Middlesex’s Freedom Division championship, one day after Arlington locked up the Liberty Division. Also Tuesday, Chelmsford clinched the Merrimack Valley Division 2 title and Catholic Memorial wrapped up the Catholic Conference championship. On Friday, Lincoln-Sudbury wrapped up the Dual County League Thorpe title, while Waltham secured at least a share of the DCL’s Foley Division.
▪ New Mission coach Modesto Gomez and Norwell coach Tom Jacobs joined the 200-win club this past week. Gomez picked up No. 200 with a 12-2 Boston City League victory over Madison Park. Jacobs followed two days later with a 16-1 victory over Excel Academy.
▪ Foxborough freshman Nolan Gordon set a school record for wins in a season when he improved to 6-0 by beating North Attleborough on Monday. Gordon allowed one unearned run on five hits, lowering his season ERA to 1.11 in 42 innings . . . Milton starters Charlie Walker and Brian Foley picked up their sixth wins.
▪ It’s been a season for walkoffs. This past week saw Amesbury’s Jake Harring, Mashpee’s Sean Fancher, Bishop Feehan’s Jake Rosati, Dedham’s Matt Lombardi, Whitman-Hanson’s Jackson House, and Salem Academy’s Jacoby Casinelli Tarasuik win games with walkoff hits . . . Aidan Barry and House pitched six innings in the same game for Whitman-Hanson as it beat Marshfield, 1-0, in 12 Thursday . . . King Philip infielder Brendan Weddleton committed to Springfield College.
Games to watch
Monday, No. 4 Franklin at No. 20 King Philip, 3:45 p.m. — The No. 1 team in the Division 1 power rankings and the No. 2 team in Division 2 go head-to-head in a Hockomock League showdown.
Monday, No. 7 BC High at No. 9 Chelmsford, 3:45 p.m. — The Lions put their six-game win streak to the test in this nonleague matchup.
Monday, No. 6 Westford Academy at No. 16 Lincoln-Sudbury, 4:15 p.m. — The Ghosts look to avenge their only loss of the season.
Monday, No. 10 Catholic Memorial at No. 8 North Andover, 4:30 p.m. — Another nonconference matchup of top-10 teams.
Wednesday, No. 17 Bridgewater-Raynham at No. 13 Bishop Stang, 3:30 p.m. — Yet another fun nonleague matchup features two of the best teams from the South Coast region.
Wednesday, Bristol-Plymouth at Diman, 3:30 p.m. — The Mayflower’s Large Vocational division title will be on the line.