Sal Fasano, manager of the Double-A Mobile BayBears, has always had good penmanship.
"I think I never got good grades in school because the teachers could actually read what I was writing," he said Thursday, with a laugh.
While this innate skill may have never translated to academic success, the former Major League backstop (and mustachioed cult hero) is putting it to good use in his current line of work. Since obtaining his first managing job in 2010 with the Lansing Lugnuts, Toronto's Class A affiliate, Fasano has honed his skills as a self-taught calligraphist.
"In the big leagues, it's something that I saw Jerry Narron do and later I heard that Don Wakamatsu did it as well," he said, referencing two baseball lifers who have held a variety of managerial and coaching positions. "I wondered if I could do that. So I found some calligraphy stuff, got the pens and tried some different fonts. Over time I tried to make something that was kind of my own.
"I always believed that being in the lineup was special," the 11-year veteran with nine Major League teams added. "Not something that should be treated with a Sharpie and scribble."
Fasano went on to pilot Double-A New Hampshire in 2011, followed by five seasons in the Toronto system as a roving catching instructor and pitching coordinator. This year marks his return to the managerial ranks; the BayBears are an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
As the years have gone by, Fasano has honed his autodidactic approach. Thus, his lineup cards have become increasingly elaborate, all inspired by a form of art that dates back thousands of years. He currently writes the home team lineup in black ink while color coding the opposition for righties, lefties and switch-hitters.
"My first year, in Lansing, I began putting up the lineup. If we lost a couple games, OK, then let me try a different style," he said. "Then, little by little, I began to change the way I write. By the All-Star break I was going to Michael's [a national arts and crafts chain] and starting to experiment more. I started out with more old-school gothic writing, and that evolved into more of a script type. The more you do it, the more you can try different styles and techniques.
"It's just practice and more practice. Getting the right pens, and the best ink, and you can't use regular paper. Card stock is great but parchment is even better. … I've always wanted a quill pen, a feather pen. That's how they always used to do stuff, how everybody rolled with it in the old days. And there are different types of nibs you can use, resulting in different thickness of the letters. There are so many things I'd like to investigate more."
That said, Fasano says that he is often "at the mercy" of whatever ballpark locale he finds himself in. The eight-team Southern League, featuring clubs in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and the Florida panhandle, isn't necessarily known as a hotbed for high-end art supplies.
"At the places we tend to hang out at here, there's not too much when it comes to calligraphy stores," he said. "And I've noticed the humidity of the Southern League makes it harder to write on paper. I'm going to have to get a dehumidifier for my lineup card."
Regardless of the conditions in which the lineup cards get made, the act of making them will always provide a beneficial effect.
"When I do the gothic-type writing before a game, it takes 35 to 40 minutes," said Fasano. "And a manager needs quiet time before games, to wrap his head around the different scenarios and focus on what he wants to see and the guys he wants to play. Quiet time for me is funny. I'm using a calligraphy pen and listening to heavy metal. Like, leave me alone so I can get my thoughts together. You throw in the fact that I look like a guy riding a Harley and it all makes for a pretty weird combination."
Fasano adds that the lineup cards "make a nice gift," and that he has often bestowed them upon players and coaches in honor of noteworthy games and performances. Soon fans will be able to get in on the act as well, as the BayBears announced an auction of Fasano's lineup cards on Friday, May 5.
And there'll be plenty more where that came from, as Fasano continues learning a craft which contains endless room for improvement and variation.
"I'll keep trying to use different pens, trying different fonts, and a little more of me will continue to come out in the writing process," he said. "It really is art. Right now there's a little bit of me in there and hopefully there will continue to be more and more."