At the age of three, Frank could throw a tennis ball from the front yard, over his two-story home, to his mother, Rosalie, in the backyard. By the time he was eight, he was playing competitive football; that same year his parents—his father. Frank Sr., is a sheet-metal worker—discovered he had a talent for the piano. It is difficult to escape from the Kingdom of the Dorks when you are forever remembered as the kid who had to leave basketball practice early to go to piano lessons.
"I hated piano lessons more than anything in the world." says Baur. "I begged Mom not to make me go back, but she made me go anyway."
Baur's teacher insisted on a repertoire that included only classical pieces. "I went to her once and asked her why she didn't teach him popular music," says Rosalie, "and she said she would never waste his talent that way, that Frank was too good for that."
In the family room at the Baur home, a silver loving cup that Frank received last season as the ECAC Player of the Year sits totemlike atop a mahogany Yamaha upright. On Christmas Eve the family gathers around the piano, and Frank plays carols while the others sing. A music major at Lafayette—he is minoring in business—Baur often performs at public recitals. "I get more nervous at those than at the Army game," he says. "People come because they want to see if the football player can hit the right notes."
For now, Baur has given up classical music almost completely, preferring the more eccentric syncopations of jazz and the blues. "When you play, there are certain things you've got to do—a structure you build around—but in between you can do what you want, make your own interpretation," he says. "That's why I like it when a play breaks down, because you have to react on the spur of the moment. That was also the nice thing about switching from classical to jazz. In jazz there aren't certain notes you have to play every measure. You just play what you feel."
What Baur felt when he was playing for Wyoming Valley West High School in Plymouth, Pa., near the Baur home in Forty Fort, was frustrated. He never got to take his best shot in football. Though he started and played well as a sophomore, he was injured in his junior season. "From what I understand, scouts really look at your junior year hard." he says. "When I didn't play that year, they all backed off. We didn't throw the ball that much anyway, so a lot of the big schools didn't want to take a chance on me."
Maryland was interested in Baur, but only if he would switch to tight end. He decided instead to spend a year at Wyoming Seminary Prep School in Kingston, Pa., just down the Susquehanna River from Forty Fort. A wealthy Seminary and Lafayette alumnus gave him a scholarship to the prep school to improve his grades but also with the hope that, like other recipients of the grant before him, he would feel obliged to enroll at Lafayette. But Baur, who set a school record in passing yardage that year, had other ideas. "Basically, I went to Sem because it was paid for and so I could get a chance to go to a big school," he says. "But when the big schools came around, the coach there told them I was going to Lafayette."
Baur felt as if he had won a consolation prize. Lafayette is a nice little liberal arts school of about 2,000 students, some of whom show up when the Leopards play in nice little 13,750-seat Fisher Field. Baur had something else in mind—like Penn State's 83,370-seat Beaver Stadium. There are times when he still does.
"I grew up in a big Penn State area, and I always wanted to be a Penn State quarterback," Baur says. During his year at Seminary, he even considered enrolling at Penn State and walking on. But when a Lafayette assistant called him during the April signing period to say he had a letter of intent waiting for Frank, Baur signed it. It was, he decided, the right thing to do.
He could never have anticipated that Penn State would fall on such hard times last season that the Nittany Lions would have to struggle to finish at 5-6, the school's first losing season in 50 years. "They started a freshman quarterback last season, and Joe Paterno never starts freshmen." Baur says. "If I had known then what I know now—that my game would get this much better—I would have walked on at Penn State."