LONDON — Frank Viola knows a thing or two about competing at the highest levels. After all, he was the MVP of the 1987 World Series.
Now, he’s taking a break from baseball to watch his daughter compete in her first Olympics.
Brittany Viola finished 14th in the 10-meter platform preliminaries on Wednesday night with 322.05 points. She was among 18 divers who advanced to the semifinals on Thursday.
She was sixth after two rounds before falling back when she overrotated on her fourth dive and created a big splash.
“I greatly enjoyed myself,” Viola said. “It’s so cool to be here. I’d like to do my third and fourth dives better than I did. I know I can hit my dives.”
Her father told The Associated Press that he was “a nervous wreck” before the competition. Viola had nearly 20 family and friends to cheer her on.
“I’ve got a lot of support and love here,” she said. “I heard a couple of my friends.”
Frank Viola compared watching his oldest daughter compete with what it was like to pitch in big baseball games.
“It’s a lot easier going out for Game 7 knowing you have the ball in your hand and you’re in control,” he said. “In the stands, you’re a parent and have no control.”
Viola was given six days off by the New York Mets to be with his family in London. He’s the pitching coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats, the club’s Single-A affiliate in Georgia. He chose to skip the U.S. trials in June, gambling that his 25-year-old daughter would qualify for the Olympics on her third try.
“I’m enjoying this as much as her,” he said before joining the rest of his family for a bite to eat in a restaurant at the jammed Westfield Mall outside the Olympic Park.
Viola’s wife, Kathy, and their other daughter Kaley arrived in London last week. Kathy spent time with Brittany in the athletes village. Her husband and son Frank Jr. were still fighting jet lag after arriving Tuesday.
Brittany was born in 1987 at the height of her father’s pitching career. Her biggest memory of those days is playing with the other players’ children during games, oblivious to her father pitching in front of thousands of people.
Nicknamed “Sweet Music,” Frank Viola helped the Minnesota Twins win their first World Series title that year, pitching them to a 4-2 victory in Game 7. He was named Series MVP, and the next season won the AL Cy Young Award. He was later traded to the Mets, and pitched for Boston, Cincinnati and Toronto before retiring in 1996.
Brittany came close to making the Olympics twice before, finishing second in platform at the 2004 trials and fourth in 2008. Last year, she was 10th at the world championships in Shanghai. She missed the 2010 season while recovering from two foot surgeries.
“There’s a lot of reflection going on,” she said. “So many moments and experiences that have brought me to this point.”
“The first time she did a dive she held her nose,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Brit, that’s not going to work.’”
Her first meet against top competition was in Montreal, and she traveled there with her dad, who was eager to make up for the time he lost with her as a child.
“I said, ‘First of all, is she going to survive up there?’” he said. “When she came off, she said, ‘That was the biggest rush I ever had.’”
Brittany is unfazed by plunging off the 33-foot tower — the equivalent of two of London’s famous double-decker buses — and hurtling toward the water at speeds fast enough to cause pain upon impact, especially if her entry isn’t perfect.
“She spit blood for a few days when she entered the water the wrong way,” her father said.
Her famous father wouldn’t be caught dead climbing to the top of the 10-meter tower, let alone the ladder on the 3-meter springboard.
“I go up 10 feet to put on Christmas lights and I’m ready to pass out,” he said, crediting his wife for Brittany’s lack of fear.The elder Viola says the only thing he takes credit for in his daughter’s career is encouraging her to have fun and go for her goals.
“Everything I achieved in baseball was done as a team. This is individual and for the United States,” he said. “She has to go out there for herself and have fun.”
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