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For Eric Frain, these words no longer represent an impossible fantasy.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