A dream come true

Arch­bish­op Ry­an gradu­ate Eric Frain helped bring a na­tion­al base­ball title to Gloucester County Col­lege.

On top of the World: Eric Frain, a 2011 gradu­ate of Arch­bish­op Ry­an, re­cently helped Gloucester County Col­lege win the NJCAA Di­vi­sion III World Series. Frain, a former shortstop at Ry­an, bat­ted .391 and played second base for the Road­run­ners. PHOTO COUR­TESY ERIC FRAIN

Every boy who picks up a base­ball mitt dreams of his name be­ing punc­tu­ated by these three words: World Series cham­pi­on.

For Eric Frain, these words no longer rep­res­ent an im­possible fantasy.

And while he didn’t win a World Series play­ing second base for the Phil­lies or Yan­kees, it’s still something Frain will re­mem­ber for the rest of his life.

Frain is a 2011 gradu­ate of Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School. As a ju­ni­or shortstop, he helped lead the Raid­ers to one of the pro­gram’s most suc­cess­ful base­ball sea­sons in re­cent memory, ad­van­cing all the way to the Cath­ol­ic League title game be­fore suc­cumb­ing to Monsignor Bon­ner. He helped Ry­an back to the play­offs his seni­or sea­son, then gradu­ated and wondered if base­ball was still in his fu­ture.

With no schol­ar­ship of­fers in hand, Frain en­rolled at Gloucester County Col­lege.

“For me, it’s the best de­cision I’ve ever made,” he said dur­ing a Fri­day af­ter­noon chat at the kit­chen table of his par­ents’ Park­wood home. “Guys don’t know it, but play­ing at a ju­ni­or col­lege is a pipeline. There’s a ton of ex­pos­ure.”

After us­ing his fresh­man cam­paign at Gloucester to get ac­climated to a new level, as well as a new po­s­i­tion (he moved to second base in col­lege), Frain found his groove as a sopho­more. Not only did the Road­run­ners go an as­ton­ish­ing 49-3 this sea­son, but Frain found him­self right in the thick of things, just as he did at Ry­an. For the year, he hit .391, scor­ing 53 runs, knock­ing in 44 more and steal­ing 11 bases. 

Frain’s sea­son cul­min­ated down in Tyler, Texas, the site of the NJCAA Di­vi­sion III World Series. After dis­patch­ing re­gion­al op­pon­ents Northamp­ton (Pa.) Com­munity Col­lege and Cam­den County (N.J.) up north to ad­vance to Texas, Gloucester won games against Cen­tury Col­lege (Minn.), Niagara County (N.Y.) and Wau­bon­see Com­munity (Ill.) to qual­i­fy for the title game. 

There, on May 29, Gloucester used a 10-run third in­ning to knock off Cen­tury once more, 16-4, to win the whole thing. It was Gloucester’s second World Series win in four sea­sons.

The fi­nal out, re­cor­ded on a strikeout, as well as the en­su­ing cel­eb­rat­ory dog pile, is still a bit of a blur to Frain.

“Everything just erup­ted,” he said with a smile. “We all jumped on each oth­er, and there was a lot of scream­ing. It’s something I’ll nev­er for­get for the rest of my life.”

Bat­ting sev­enth in head coach Mike Dick­son’s lineup was a bit of an ad­just­ment for Frain, who was used to bat­ting in the middle of the or­der at Ry­an. However he nev­er showed it, go­ing 8-for-15 with three runs and three RBI in four World Series games.

“In the end, I still saw my role as the same (at Ry­an). I tried to be an En­er­gizer Bunny for the team,” he said. “I see my­self as a lead­er, an en­ergy guy and im­pact play­er.”

There are lots of mis­con­cep­tions about the level of com­pet­i­tion at the ju­ni­or col­lege level, with many pun­dits see­ing it as just a stop­ping point for play­ers who wer­en’t good enough to get a schol­ar­ship to a four-year uni­versity. 

In ac­tu­al­ity, some of Ma­jor League Base­ball’s most tal­en­ted play­ers, past and present, got their start at this level. Cur­rent names like Bryce Harp­er, Al­bert Pu­jols and Andy Pet­titte fol­lowed trail­blazers such as Mike Piazza, Roy Os­walt, Curt Schilling, Jorge Posada and Hall of Famer Kirby Puck­ett. Even Jack­ie Robin­son got his start at Pas­adena Ju­ni­or Col­lege be­fore break­ing base­ball’s col­or bar­ri­er in 1947.

This is not to say Frain pro­jects to the highest level, just that the pos­sib­il­ity is there for play­ers who stick with the sport after high school. In fact, Frain’s two years at Gloucester have opened the door for him to trans­fer to either Blooms­burg Uni­versity or Mans­field Uni­versity (both in Pennsylvania) in the fall, a de­cision he is still mak­ing his mind up on. Just as he had hoped, Frain will con­tin­ue his base­ball ca­reer and earn a de­gree — likely in busi­ness or fin­ance — from a four-year col­lege.

“It was just a good fit for me,” Frain said of his time at Gloucester. “I got to take all the classes I would take at any oth­er col­lege, plus I got to keep play­ing base­ball and stay pretty close to home while sav­ing money. People don’t real­ize it, but they have scout days where you get seen by a lot of big­ger schools. I would ab­so­lutely urge play­ers who don’t get a big schol­ar­ship to pur­sue the game at this level.”

Both of Frain’s coaches — Ron Ger­hart at Ry­an and Dick­son at Gloucester — saw something spe­cial in the scrappy, 5-foot-10, 165-pound middle in­field­er. Nev­er the tallest or strongest play­er on the field, Frain made up for it with double doses of hard work and fierce de­term­in­a­tion. After he de­veloped in­to one of the top play­ers in the Cath­ol­ic League, Frain began to real­ize his true po­ten­tial.

As a res­ult, win­ning and lead­ing at Ry­an taught him how to have suc­cess in all areas of life.

“It’s something spe­cial,” said Frain, who was an all-con­fer­ence and all-tour­na­ment se­lec­tion for Gloucester. “Look­ing back, I just want to put everything in a glass ball and re­mem­ber this time in my life. I still have a mil­lion thoughts go­ing through my head, think­ing back to day one as a fresh­man and mak­ing enough strides to do what we did … it’s awe­some.”

Though un­der­sized and over­looked, Dick­son knew what he had in Frain from the get-go.

“I saw a tough kid that had good de­fens­ive ac­tions and was very good aca­dem­ic­ally,” the coach said in an email. “He just needed to get stronger. He had a ma­jor role for us, and he’s what every win­ning team needs: a lunch pail, hard­hat, blue-col­lar kid. Now, he’s bet­ter than a lot of the kids who were re­cruited ahead of him out of high school.”

Wheth­er at Blooms­burg or Mans­field, Frain is ex­cited about the second half of his col­lege base­ball ca­reer. He’s not sure how much bet­ter it can get, but if his time at Gloucester taught him any­thing, it’s that set­ting goals and then at­tain­ing them is pos­sible in any of life’s aren­as. 

“Be­ing here really al­lowed me to blos­som,” he said. “Play­ing in the Cath­ol­ic League against such good play­ers — that helped me get here and be­come the play­er I have. These years will al­ways bring back great memor­ies. I just want to keep set­ting my goals high­er and keep it go­ing. Why stop now?” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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