By STEVE KRAH
In the heart of Montgomery County is a high school baseball program that’s hard to beat.
“We have something kind of unique here for a small community,” says Froedge. “Kids who come into the baseball program expect success so they work hard.
“Any of the programs that have had long-standing success have a formula. This is how we do Crawfordsville baseball and these are the expectations.”
The cornerstones of the Athenian way have always been structure, discipline and a love of baseball. With continued success came tradition and expectation.
In the past 26 seasons, Crawfordsville has won 14 IHSAA sectionals, five regionals, two semesters and two Class 3A state championships as well as 20 Sagamore Conference titles.
C-ville has earned at least 20 victories in 21 of those 26 campaigns. The average record during the span is 24-8.
The 2016 Athenians went 25-5 and won the conference title, but not the sectional. For the first time since 2003-05, Crawfordsville has gone three straight seasons minus a sectional crown.
“We’ve got a bunch of really hungry seniors,” says Froedge of the 2017 squad. “We’ve virtually got the entire team back.”
While proud of the tradition, Froedge deflects from the stress of keeping it going.
“They don’t want to be the first group to go through here and not win something big,” says Froedge. “I tell them ‘Just play the game. There is no pressure. You’re not playing for the legacy. You’re not playing for the past. This is your team.’
“I want them to experience that success at the end of the year. But they’re not going to get it if they’re all uptight about it.”
Froedge, a 1976 Southmont High School graduate, is bearing down on 750 career victories. He is in select company among active Indiana high school coaches. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur is in the 900-win club. Twin Lakes’ Jake Burton has surpassed 800 while Froedge, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Indianapolis Scecina’s Dave Gandolph and Jasper’s Terry Gobert have all surpassed 700. All six are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Froedge’s induction coming 2010.
Early in Froedge’s career, he saw success happening at places like Jasper and LaPorte and said why not Crawfordsville, too? He made it a point to take to LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber when attending the IHSBCA State Clinic each winter.
“When you’re trying to build your program, you find out who try to talk to the best,” says Froedge, who also learned about the game while playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.
All but one of Crawfordsville’s IHSBCA North/South All-Star selections — Damon Brown (1978) — have come with Froedge in charge. The others are Matt McCarty (1994), Brett Motz (1995), Adrian Norris (2002), Brandon Moore (2004), Ross Wheeler (2006), Andrew Swart (2008), Brett McKinney (2009), Steven Rice (2010), Cory Rice (2011), Caleb Rasmussen (2012) and Jordan Jackson (2013).
When Crawfordsville won the 3A state crown in 2008, Hobson (win) and Rice (save) handled pitching duties in topping Marian.
Hobson went on to pitch for the University Dayton. His professional career took him as far as Triple-A. Rice was a part of Vanderbilt University’s 2014 College World Series champions.
“It sounds cliche, but we’re a team,” says Froedge. “Year in and year out, we’re not the most athletic, the most gifted. We develop strong pitching — and it’s no different this year — but it’s everybody pulling together and working for a common cause.
“We have kids that are super loyal to the program. We have had kids do well by working hard together.”
Kids coming up through feeder programs like Crawfordsville Youth Baseball (CYB-Crawfordsville Youth Baseball on Facebook) and Crawfordsville Middle School dream of one day playing for the Athenian varsity.
There’s also a real family feel. John’s wife Debbie is always around. Son Brandon Froedge, who played for C-ville in the 1990’s, left the baseball staff last year to help assistant his sister Britney Carpenter in her role as Crawfordsville’s head softball coach.
John has been at it long enough that he can now say he has coached several fathers and sons in the royal blue and yellow gold.
Welliever, whom John calls a “baseball junkie” has been pitching daily batting practice for decades.
“One day we counted and he threw 750 pitches,” says Froedge. “He’ll throw to the whole roster multiple times and come back the next day and do it again.”
Tony Bean, Tommy Coy, Daryl Hobson and Connor Smith are also trusted assistants for the Athenians. Justin Dugger is in his 20th season of doing multiple jobs for the team. Bob Taylor has been shooting video of every game for the past 25 years or so.
The current CHS school building opened in 1993-94 and Athenians moved from Miligan Park/Baldwin Field (the program’s home field when it won sectional trophies in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974) to the on-campus facility in 1995.
“We’ve got a really beautiful field and the kids do all the work,” says Froedge.
In the Sagamore Conference, Crawfordsville meets Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone. Many non-conference games are against bigger schools and the Athenians go to Tennessee at the beginning of the season seeking the best competition available. The final of the C-ville tournament April 15 pitted 3A No. 1 Crawfordsville against 4A No. 1 Carmel (won 13-5 by the visitors).
John Froedge is in his 36th season as head baseball coach at Crawfordsville High School. The Indiana Hugh School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer is bearing down on his 750th career victory. His Athenians won Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2011.