BY STEVE KRAH
Ryan Feyerabend appreciates what his community and a game have done for him.
That’s why he’s decided to give back by becoming the head baseball coach at his alma mater.
Feyerabend is a 1996 graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School. He is now in his sixth season of leading the Grizzly Cubs program after three years as an assistant.
“I do it because I owe a lot of people,” says Feyerabend. “A lot of people helped me a long the way.”
Feyerabend played for two head coaches at FCHS — Noel Heminger and Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.).
Heminger retired and turned the program over to Mercer for Feyerabend’s senior year. He was the head coach when he extended an invitation to coach to Feyerabend, who stayed for two seasons helping Paul Strack before taking over the reins.
From Heminger and the elder Mercer, Feyerabend learned the importance of team.
“We did not worry about the opponent,” says Feyerabend. “Worry about Franklin Community and doing your job. What is your piece in this puzzle?
“The class ahead of me was loaded with talent (including future minor leaguers Randy Phillips and Brian McMillin). I knew I could be a small piece on a great team. If I worked harder, I could be a bigger piece on a great team.”
The Grizzly Cubs advanced to the Richmond Semistate in 1995, bowing to the host Red Devils 7-3 in nine innings in the semifinals.
Feyerabend recalls that when Mercer made out his lineup card, he asked himself, “Does this make Franklin Community High School better?.”
It’s that approach that has simplified things for Feyerabend as a coach.
Not that the job doesn’t keep he and his assistant coaches busy. There is batting practice to throw to 40 players and fungos to hit and so many other details.
Feyerabend has learned that being a sale engineer, spending several hours a week on baseball and raising a family is demanding.
“But it’s all worth it,” says Feyerabend, who lives in Franklin with fiancee Brooke, Lyric (10), Zain (3) and Preston (14 months).
“There’s so much to do,” says Feyerabend. “You have to be there of the love of the game.”
His 2019 coaching staff features Dustin Peddycord, Travis Miles, Dalton Carter (pitching coach), Tyler Urban (Feyerabend’s nephew) and Chad Brown at the varsity level with Dylan Drybread and Dane Johnston leading the junior varsity. All but Carter and Brown are Franklin Community alums.
Feyerabend wants his players to know there is system to follow and it will only work if they commit.
“We’re not working toward a participation certificate,” says Feyerabend. “To make those lifelong memories, you have to buy in. Everybody has a job to do.
“In the winter time, we focus on our swings if we’re not playing basketball. We work on strength and conditioning. We can’t skip steps in the process.
“There’s a process to everything we do. I’m trying to build a monster here. We’re going to do the best job we can do.”
Feyerabend took hitting lessons from Jeff Mercer Sr., even before playing for him and is close with the whole Mercer family, which was honored in April when the Franklin Community diamond was dedicated as Mercer Field.
Mercer Sr., is retiring this year as a business administrator at Franklin. Feyerabend and he talk frequently about baseball or life.
Mercer Field is an on-campus facility is in its 13th year like the rest of the school, which is on the north side of town. With its location, wind and wind chill is always a factor at the diamond in the spring.
“I tell the players it might be OK in the parking lot,” says Feyerabend. “But when they get up to the field they’re going to need sleeves.”
Feyerabend played with the Indiana Bulls in the fledgling years of that elite travel baseball organization in the early 1990’s. His head coach for three summers was Craig Moore.
“He was one of the most intense human beings I’ve ever been around,” says Feyerabend of Moore. “He cared about us. But there was no gray area for him. We performed or we got replaced.”
When Moore told a 15-year-old Feyerabend that he needed to work on his conditioning, he took it to heart and improved in that area.
“Coaches like that, their wisdom is so appreciated,” says Feyerabend. “Kids today don’t work on their deficiencies. My body had to get fixed or I wasn’t going to have an opportunity.”
With the Bulls, Feyerabend was a teammate of top-flight players like A.J. Zapp and Eric Bruntlett.
Corner infielder Feyerabend went on to Indiana State University, where Hall of Famer Bob Warn was head coach and Mitch Hannahs (now the Sycamores head coach) was an assistant.
“(Hannahs) is one of the best baseball minds in the country,” says Feyerabend, who recently got to take his team to ISU’s Bob Warn Field to play Bloomington South thanks to Hannahs and West Vigo coach Culley DeGroote.
Feyerabend is grateful to Mercer Sr., for bringing him back to the game after being away about a decade after college.
“The other reason I do this is that we have great, great kids and human beings in Franklin,” says Feyerabend. “Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
“We’re not winning state championships yet, but we have state-champion character guys.
“We’ve been really, really competitive.”
Franklin Community (enrollment of about 1,570) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community).
“It’s super competitive,” says Feyerabend of the MSC. “They’re a lot of good coaches. You know you’re in for it every night.”
A tough non-conference schedule includes Bloomington South, Center Grove, Columbus East, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Cathedral, Roncalli, Silver Creek, Southport and West Vigo.
“We can’t measure the kind of team we are if we don’t play the meanest and nastiest,” says Feyerabend. “We’re going up against the best we can put on the schedule.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we playing are best baseball when we walk into that sectional?’”
The Grizzly Cubs are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville and Whiteland Community. Franklin Community has won five sectionals — the last in 2013. The was the same year the school won conference and Johnson County titles.
Three recent Franklin Community graduates are college baseball rosters — Evan Giles (Indiana State), Alec MacLennan (Judson University) and Jacob Heuchan (Franklin College).
Senior shortstop Luke Miles has committed to Purdue Fort Wayne. Senior Tyce Miller is going to Rose-Hulman to play football. The other three seniors — George Admire, C.J. Brown and Nathaniel Whetstine — have not yet announced college choices.
Franklin Community graduate Jeremy McKinney is currently a relief pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization.
A feeder program for the Grizzly Cubs is Franklin Youth Baseball, which generally serves 7U through 13U.
“We try to keep the kids in Franklin playing together as long as possible,” says Feyerabend.
Mercer Field is the baseball home of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School Grizzly Cubs.
Mercer Field, which was dedicated with the new name in April 2019, is in its 13th year like the rest of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School campus on the north side of town.
The location of Mercer Field at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School means that wind and wind chill is almost always a factor during the spring baseball season.
Franklin (Ind.) Community High School baseball head coach Ryan Feyerabend (right) and son Zion share a ride around Mercer Field. Zion is clutching a baseball.