For former MLB star and Smithtown native Frank Catalanotto, walking away from the sport he loves was no easy task. He enjoyed a 14-year professional career playing for the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets.
However, for the past decade, Catalanotto, 37, has used his talents to support a cause close to his heart.
He and his wife, Barbara, are the co-chairpersons of the Vascular Birthmark Foundation (VBF)—an organization based in Albany, NY geared towards networking families that have a loved one with a vascular birthmark to the proper physician to get an accurate diagnosis.
Vascular birthmarks are benign stem cell tumors that only grow for the first year of an infant’s life and have no known cause. According to the VBF, vascular birthmarks are the most common infant defect, afflicting one in every 10 children—400,000 of the four million live births per year.
Catalanotto’s first of four daughters, Morgan, 12, was born with a vascular birthmark on her nose. After pediatricians assured him that the birthmark would eventually disappear, Catalanotto sought another opinion after the birthmark began growing larger.
While playing for the Rangers in 2000, Catalanotto contacted Linda Rozell-Shannon—the president and founder of the VBF. Shannon said that many doctors were unfamiliar with the tumors and outlined a treatment plan for Morgan.
After two laser treatments and a reconstructive surgery, Morgan’s birthmark was removed successfully and permanently.
“Now you couldn’t even tell that she had a birthmark,” said Catalanotto.
As a result of this encounter with the VBF, Catalanotto started his own foundation—the Frank Catalanotto Foundation—that donates its profits to the VBF. He and his wife attempt to promote awareness of vascular birthmarks for families seeking education on the subject.
“This is a foundation that helped my daughter out, and I feel like I owe them,” Catalanotto said.
The doctors at the VBF are grateful for Catalanotto’s contributions. Though he could have easily moved on after Morgan was cured, Catalanotto and his wife are loyal to the VBF and continue to serve as the organization’s co-chairpersons.
“Literally through his generosity, he has saved lives,” said Dr. Gregory Levitin, director of the Vascular Birthmark Center of New York. “He has helped to network children to physicians to get the early treatment that is so critical.”
Both Shannon and Levitin’s daughters were born with vascular birthmarks, which led to their involvement with the VBF.
“We wouldn’t even be able to stay in existence if it wasn’t for them [the Catalanotto's] over the last 10 years,” Shannon said. “They’ve brought in well over $100,000 for us.”
During his playing career, Catalanotto was known as a great teammate and clubhouse leader. These traits have benefitted him in his foundation, and his years of experience have allowed him to become a widely recognized figure.
“It brings a level of professionalism to us,” said Shannon. “If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be as credible as we are.”
In addition to his foundation, Catalanotto is involved with several baseball-related endeavors. He enjoys speaking to Long Island little leaguers to encourage them to pursue their dreams, using himself as the example.
“I try to stress to them that just because you’re not the best player on your team doesn’t mean you can’t move up to the high school level, college or minor leagues,” Catalanotto said.
He also runs Prospect Sports summer camps on Long Island where he oversees the development of young ballplayers.
“I’m happy to give back to the Long Island community,” he said.
In the coming months, Catalanotto will step up the efforts to raise awareness for the foundation by hosting his first annual charity golf outing October 3rd at the Cold Spring Country Club in Cold Spring Harbor.
Call 516-393-5870 to reserve a tee-time ($400 per golfer/$1,500 per foursome) or inquire about sponsorship opportunities.
“I’m hoping that people will realize that I’m trying to do good things for the foundation, and hopefully it will be a big success,” said Catalanotto.
For more information, visit www.frankcatalanotto.com.
Follow Catalanotto on Twitter @fcat27. He will be doing a live Twitter chat Tuesday, Aug. 2 from 6-7 p.m. EST.