Froats to lead deep Howland pitching staff

HOWLAND – Don’t dare used the term “dumb jock” when referring to the Howland High School baseball team.

The Tigers are living proof that such a stereotype doesn’t belong. The 32-man team holds a cumulative GPA of 3.8, according to coach first-year coach Sean Price.

“When I tell people our GPA is 3.8, they can’t believe it,” Price said. “It’s incredible.”

They’re pretty good baseball players, too.

The team ace – on the mound and in the classroom – is senior Jake Froats. The starting pitcher returns after a junior year in which he earned a 6-1 record, with his lone loss came in a Division I district semifinal against Solon. He posted a microscopic 0.85 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 33 innings. Yet those numbers pale in comparison to his 4.0 GPA. Froats will be attending High Point University in North Carolina where he’ll study business financing and entrepreneurship.

All those brains doesn’t mean Froats isn’t a competitor. He made sure to point out he intends on bettering last year’s success, when the Tigers set a school record for wins with a 20-7 mark.

“I want to win the district championship game,” Froats said. “We did it in soccer a few years ago, and I’d like to do it in baseball. It was an incredible feeling for the team. I’d love to have that in baseball as well.”

Froats will be the catalyst if that’s to happen. Price, a longtime Howland assistant, said aside from throwing in the mid 80s, Froats mixes things up with a knuckle ball.

“He throws a hard knuckle ball, which is a little different, kind of like R.A Dickey (of the Toronto Blue Jays),” Price said. “His knuckle ball is probably 78-80 miles per hour.”

Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner, is the reason Froats started throwing it at a higher speed.

Froats started throwing the knuckler at age 10, when a friend’s dad showed him how. He didn’t begin using it in a game until he was 13, and he slowly developed the pitch from then. Froats said he saw the success Dickey had with a higher velocity and decided to change his approach.

“I always threw it soft,” Froats said. “Then R.A. Dickey, he really dominated last year throwing it hard. He throws mid-80s, so I decided to speed it up a little bit and it seems to be working nice that way. You never know what it’s going to do.”

Froats is part of a deep and talented rotation for the Tigers. Also returning are senior pitchers Ryan Fleming (1.58 ERA in 2012), Joey Shver (2.00 ERA) and John-Mark Weisman, who didn’t pitch last year but was successful in years past. The foursome will be the backbone of a team built on pitching and defense.

“Our four senior pitchers are going to do a lot of the leading this year,” Price said. “(Fleming) and Jake, they’ll probably pitch the most. Those are our two big horses. They’re going to pitch until their arms fall off.”

Fleming is another kid with plenty of intellect. A member of the National Honors Society, Price said Fleming “was near a 30 on his ACT.” Fleming intends on going to Marietta and majoring in petroleum engineering. Again, he’s not just brains. He throws in the mid 80s with a good curveball to back it up.

Yet it’s the overall knowledge that has Price excited about the Tigers.

“Sometimes (being smart) doesn’t help,” Price said. “Sometimes it makes it worse if you think too much, but these guys know the game. You don’t have to get on them all the time to do the little things. They know who to back up and what base to cover. It makes it easy as a coach.

“We’ll steal some wins that way. We did it today (Saturday against Solon).”

The result was two wins. The Tigers (4-0) hope there are more to come.