Just beyond the rightfield fence of the University of New Haven's baseball field is a simple granite monument with a bronze plaque attached. From a distance it looks like a headstone. But this stone honors a living legend, Frank Vieira.
The inscription reads, in part: THROUGH HIS COMPETITIVE DRIVE, HE MOTIVATED HIS PLAYERS TO ACHIEVE EXCELLENCE.... The name on the plaque reads: FRANK "PORKY" VIEIRA, and therein lies the story. Vieira's entire two-act life is reflected in that name.
In Act I, he was Porky, growing up in Bridgeport, Conn., in one of only five Portuguese families in a predominantly Irish and Italian neighborhood known as the Hollow. He paid the price for that minority status on his chin, nose and knuckles, but became a local basketball hero.
In Act II, 20 years later, he became known as Frank, because his new boss at the University of New Haven told him that Porky wasn't a dignified name. Frank started the baseball program at New Haven in 1962 and built it into a powerhouse that has gone to the Division II championship series 12 times and this season appears primed for its first national title.
But no matter what folks call him, Vieira is what he has been all along: the son of Florindo and Concepcion Vieira, Portuguese immigrants who settled in Bridgeport, where they labored in a brass-works. Through years of ethnic slurs around the Hollow, Vieira became first "that little Portugy" and finally Porky. He was a tough kid but had supervision from his parents, both of whom worked the 3-11 p.m. shift.
One day Porky went with his older brother Gus to the Middle Street Boys' Club. "The second I set foot on that basketball court I knew that was what I wanted to do," he recalls. "I immediately wanted to be the best."
Porky blossomed at Bridgeport Central High, where he averaged 28 points a game as a senior. Though only 5'6", Vieira was a magician with the ball. But he lacked discipline.
Not much of a student, Vieira "bombed out" of nearby Arnold College (which later merged with the University of Bridgeport) after less than a month, and then he knocked around Bridgeport for a year. His father finally stepped in to rescue him, getting Porky a job as a crane operator's helper at Bridgeport Brass.
"It was the greatest awakening of my life," says Vieira. "I thought, Where the hell am I? God, I'm in the Bridgeport Brass. I knew my father was telling me it was time to go back to school."
This time Porky got serious. He jumped at a scholarship offer from coach Tuffie Maroon at Quinnipiac College, in Hamden, Conn. He still shares the second-best career scoring average (32.8 ppg) in Division II history. Maroon also promoted his star player in the papers and, in Vieira's senior year, got him a spot in the prestigious East-West College All-Star game to be played at Madison Square Garden. But in a scrimmage the day before that game, Vieira cracked knees with Louisville's Charlie Tyra and had to watch from the bench in civvies.