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Throughout the years, while the balls were cracking off bats and youth baseball players collected hits and rounded the bases, Frank Rocca made his way around to fans, collecting for the Jimmy Fund, which raises money for research and patient care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Rocca, who was a longtime youth baseball coach and president of Newtown Babe Ruth Baseball, later served four years as Connecticut Babe Ruth commissioner, as well as taking on the role of New England Babe Ruth Jimmy Fund Chairman. He stepped down this past fall, after more than 30 years of involvement with Newtown and statewide baseball. Just as he put in those efforts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, Rocca worked hard to organize leagues, and tournaments so those games would take place.
All of it on a volunteer basis.
“He is a wonderful human being. He is a great facilitator of youth baseball. He is a great citizen of Newtown. He’s always thinking of the children,” current Newtown Babe Ruth President Andy Via said of Rocca who, for his volunteer efforts throughout the years, has received The Newtown Bee’s Harmon Award for Sportsman of the Year.
Rocca, who in late January turned 64, began coaching his own children in Newtown in 1985 and, until this past fall, never stopped. During a pair of two-year terms with the state, Rocca helped bring tournaments to Newtown each year, and he enjoyed seeing success locally and statewide. A handful of teams advanced through New England Regional tournaments to the Babe Ruth World Series, including Newtown’s One-Eyed Cats.
“It was a great run in Babe Ruth. I have no regrets and it was fun,” said Rocca, whose career advancements necessitated stepping away from his volunteer work with Babe Ruth.
Rocca is the head project manager for the Jetworks division of VRH Construction Corporation, and installs jet bridges — which gets passengers from airport gates to their plane — at airports throughout the Northeast coast.
“It was tough moving away [from baseball] but sometimes the career takes over,” Rocca said.
For many years, baseball took over much of Rocca’s time.
“He’s a person who loves baseball, and that’s where he poured his energy,” Via said.
Since 1969, Babe Ruth League players, coaches, and officials throughout New England have been supporters of the Jimmy Fund, raising more than $1.3 million for research and patient care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Via said Rocca made sure his home state was represented well in the donation collection efforts, and raffled Yankees tickets to raise money.
“He did it with joy and he did it with determination,” Via added. “He ensured that Connecticut was the number one state in New England. He always wanted to out-fundraise Vermont, and New Hampshire, and Maine.”
Via, who has spent nearly a decade coaching and now running Newtown’s Babe Ruth program, following in Rocca’s footsteps, said he enjoyed working under the leadership of Rocca.
Rocca began coaching his son’s Newtown Parks & Recreation team and later became president of Newtown Little League. He was among the board members who voted to merge Little League and Babe Ruth after the 1996 season because Babe Ruth’s rules allowed for more playing opportunities. Rocca became president of Newtown Babe Ruth and assistant state commissioner in the early 2000s.
His responsibilities included overseeing nearly 100 leagues in the state — “we’ve got one of the biggest Babe Ruth programs in New England. The Babe Ruth program in Connecticut is tremendous,” Rocca notes — and handling scheduling of games and tournaments.
Since Rocca started, Newtown’s baseball participation numbers have roughly doubled, in part because he spearheaded the addition of divisions for 6- and 7-year olds. Rocca was also responsible for doing away with age-range divisions so athletes played with peers their same age. This was among the changes Rocca made possible despite resistance from some parents.
“He was always following the rules. He was always doing what was in the best interest of the children,” Via said.
“It’s time-consuming — hours upon hours. Everybody thinks it’s just a summertime sport with the kids. When you’re involved on the state and local level it’s year-round involvement,” Rocca said. “Newtown has been so successful since we turned the program around way back when and it’s mind-boggling to see the teams continue to compete at a high level. A tradition is carried on.”
Rocca sometimes bumps into players he coached 30-plus years ago. One of them works at a restaurant where Rocca went, and another is employed by UPS and delivered a package to his house.
“Seeing the kids develop and the relationships you’ve established with the parents throughout the years, and the kids especially, and having them remember you,” Rocca said, gives him a nice feeling.
Rocca’s career with youth baseball may not be done yet, and it may come full circle. He has grandchildren in the area, and Rocca thinks about the possibility of coaching his oldest grandson in a handful of years when, perhaps, he gets out there to run the bases.
“I have not ruled out the possibility of coaching down the road,” Rocca said.