F.P. Santangelo Jr., didn't just sense the curiosity from the stands, he heard it.
The whispers and raised eyebrows made him wince, taking away the joy of the game. It's not easy being the son of a former major-league player with the same name who attended the same school and who bears a striking resemblance.
"Middle school was the hardest," said the Oak Ridge High School senior outfielder, whose father logged seven big-league campaigns before retiring after the 2001 season and is a broadcast analyst for the Washington Nationals.
"I could hear the whispers in the stands, 'Oh, that's F.P. Santangelo's son. Is he any good?' " he continued. "It got to me then. I was sick of all the comparisons, but I overcame it. It all empowered me. It made me a better player and person."
And those whispers now? Gone. Comparisons are still being made in the stands, home and away, but the words are more enthusiastic, with an emphasis on the "Oh, that's F.P.'s kid?"
"Oh yeah, now it's awesome to hear it because now I can show what I've got, who I am," Santangelo Jr. said, his excitement clear. "I'm very proud of who and what I am."
This is what Junior is: A split image of his father in that he attacks the game with reverence, and he could make a living talking about the game.
See, it's hard to avoid comparisons. Junior lives for this game. He talks about it, studies it, dreams about it. You can't beat him to the ballpark because he's already there, wondering what took you so long.
When Oak Ridge coach Todd Melton said he needed help in the outfield on the eve of the season, the first hand that shot up was Junior's, hopping off his seat.
"You just love coaching kids like Junior," Melton said. "Hardest-working guy, and dude just loves the game. I love the dirt-bag kind of guys, the gritty, dirty player who will sac bunt, do a safety squeeze, hit, anything you need. It's great to see him enjoy this season."
Santangelo Jr. is batting .328 with 14 RBIs for the area's hottest team. Riding a 12-game winning streak, the Delta River League's top seed bounds into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs at Sacramento City College next week as a title contender.
Sac City is where the elder Santangelo played ball, winning a state championship with the Panthers in 1988. Junior will enroll in the fall and play for the Panthers.
And now more comparisons?
"Now I say bring it on," Santangelo Jr. said. "I love the pressure now."
Santangelo Sr. liked hearing what his son had to say. He doesn't get to watch his son compete live, but he's in touch. He communicates with Junior daily. Senior peers at Junior's at-bats via cellphone video, sometimes peeking at clips while on the air.
Senior said all he wanted was a kid who was a good student and who competed in uniform. He's got one.
"I know it wasn't always easy for F.P.," Santangelo Sr. said. "We've had talks: 'You can use the comparisons for you or let it work against you.' The thing is, I wasn't very good in the majors. It's not comparing him to a Hall of Famer."
Father and son are close, and the distance pains them. They crave each other's company during Junior's rewarding season, but both understand the game's vagabond nature. You go where the work is.
"It rips my heart out not to see him play," Santangelo Sr. said. "I'm more proud of the man F.P.'s become. That will always be the case. He gets it. He has a huge heart. He worries about others. He's intelligent, caring. I'm happy he's happy. I don't care how he does in the games, as long as he enjoys it."
Santangelo Jr. said that as a youth he was delighted to have a dad in the big leagues. He'd ask classmates: "So, what team does your dad play for?"
"Or kids would ask, 'What does your dad do?' and I'd go, 'Oh, he plays for the A's or the Giants.' I brought baseball cards to school to prove it."