There’s almost a half-century between the sandlots of Gary, Ind., and the environs of South Philadelphia, but for Zenos Frudakis, hometown baseball is just that — hometown.
"Every time I would drive by the site of the new stadium, I would think to myself, ‘It’s got to be a local guy to do the work. I’m the one who has to do it.’"
Frudakis, a 52-year-old area artist, has a highly successful career in monumental sculpture. So it wasn’t the money the commission would bring in, it was the whole idea of baseball. And so it is that Frudakis is molding four 10-foot bronze statues of Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.
The statues are part of the overall concept of the new baseball stadium — Citizens Bank Park — where the history of the Phillies, the Athletics and even big-leaguers from this region who played on other teams will be remembered. The 16-ton Connie Mack statue, for example, will be moved from Broad and Pattison to the west side of 11th Street across from the park.
The Richie Ashburn sculpture will grace Ashburn Alley, a concourse that will span the entire outfield from left to right, extending some 625 feet. The statue, which will be in center field, will depict the late legend running the bases. Ashburn was a five-time All-Star center fielder and two-time batting champion during his 12 years with the Phillies. He joined the Phillies broadcasting team in 1963 and stayed until his death in 1997. Ashburn wound up with 2,574 hits, a .308 average and induction into the Hall of Fame in 1995. He is often called the game’s foremost leadoff hitter.
Carlton, number 32, is the second-winningest lefthander of all time. Carlton is also second on the all-time strikeout list. He was the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards, and had six 20-win seasons. The hurler was also dangerous at the plate, with a .201 career average and 13 home runs. Carlton, who earned a reputation for avoiding the press, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993. His statue will be at the entrance gate on the left-field side.
Roberts’ statue will be placed outside an entrance gate along the first-base side. Frudakis tells a story from the time Roberts posed for him. The sculptor happened to mention that he had created a statue of Joe DiMaggio, to which Roberts replied that DiMaggio was always known for having belted a home run off him to win Game 2 of the 1950 World Series. "But if you looked it up, you’d see that I struck him out a whole lot more times," the former pitcher said.
Roberts, the ace of the staff for the 1950 Whiz Kids, was a right-handed workhorse who never missed a start during the 1950s. For six years in a row, he won 20 games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.
The statue of Schmidt, the greatest third baseman to ever play the game, will — fittingly enough — be located on third-base side. A major part of Phillies and Philadelphia history, Schmidt retired in 1989. He hit at least 30 home runs a season for 13 years and won the home run title eight times, along with 11 Gold Gloves. He was an All-Star as many times. Schmidt was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
Although Frudakis has had some assistance from the living players to create his sculptures, most of his work is done from photographs. The oldest son of a Greek immigrant, Frudakis grew up in Wheeling, W. Va., as well as Gary. He tells a story that is so good, one doesn’t want to question it. He arrived in Philadelphia with little to his name, and got a first-year scholarship at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts by submitting a pencil self-portrait done the night before. Other scholarships followed, and after the Academy, he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania.
Frudakis is a member of a number of professional societies and academies, has won national awards and, among other commissioned work, he has created monumental sculpture for the Air Force Memorial, the Molly Maguire statue in Mahanoy City, Pa., numerous statues of golfers and, of course, the Joe DiMaggio in Hollywood, Fla.
A student of his media, Frudakis used modeling clay with the unique pedigree of having been the same clay used by Samuel Chester French in making the Lincoln Memorial. Frudakis already has created 36-inch versions of the four ballplayers and soon will be taking them higher. The finished models will be cast in bronze at the Laran Foundry in Chester.
Just for the record, Frudakis throws right and switch-hits like his sandlot hero, Mickey Mantle.