Pitcher - Texas Rangers
It would be easy for one to think that Rangers pitching prospect Craig Frydendall would have been the big man on campus during his prep days at Elkhart High School. After all, the southwest Kansas town of just over 2000 has not historically been a hotbed for major league baseball prospects. However, Frydendall did not receive the star treatment bestowed upon many small town high school athletes, in fact he didn't see the field until his senior year when his coaches were forced by rule to play him as a senior.
"It's basically one of those towns where if weren't from there, and your parents weren't from there, you weren't well liked," said Frydendall. If your parents didn't play high school sports there, then you probably weren't going to get a whole lot of playing time, and that was just the way it was. I didn't have any backing from high school coaches. They didn't want to see me succeed."
Despite falling victim to the politics of small town, high school athletics, Frydendall persevered, and became stronger because of the experience.
"It was tough growing up there because I wanted to be playing the whole time. You had kids way below your talent level that were starting as freshman, and it was discouraging, but at the same time it made me so tough and so strong on the inside. I can't thank my family enough. I sit and wonder some nights where I'd be in this whole baseball dream without them. It's unbelievable how hard they pushed me and made me believe I could do it. Even though they knew I wasn't getting a fair shot, they told me to stick with it, they never let me quit even though sometimes I wanted to. I wish I could go back and see all my former coaches and shake their hands and thank them for doing what they did to me because they just made me that much stronger and made me work that much harder to get where I am today."
Today, Frydendall is still persevering, and is entering his fourth year in the Texas Rangers organization. He has advanced a professional level every season since being drafted by the Rangers in the 19th round of the 2002 draft and completed the 2004 season with a 5-3 record while playing for the Clinton Lumberkings of the Midwest League. Many of the players he was drafted with are out of professional baseball.
"I'm just trying to stick it out. A lot of the guys I came in with are already gone. Especially last spring training a lot of the guys who came in with me were released. To see the guys who have just as much experience as I do go down, is an eye opener. But at the same time, it makes yourself realize you worked hard to get here, and you need to work even harder to be there the next year."
After pitching in the short season rookie league for Pulaski in 2002 and at short season Single-A Spokane in 2003, Frydendall's stint in Clinton last season was his first taste of full season professional baseball.
"In the Northwest League there were a ton of first rounders. I faced guys like Fernando Valenzuela (Jr.), Conor Jackson, and Omar Quintanilla. There were great hitters through the lineup 2-6 on most teams. It was fun to pitch in that league because you did get to face a lot of those guys that you heard of, and I pitched pretty well in Spokane. In Clinton, the hitting we faced didn't change a whole lot, but if anything the hitters were more disciplined at the plate and laid off pitches that they couldn't lay off in their first year."
Frydendall also had to make the adjustment to the length of the 136 game full season schedule.
"It makes for a long season. Short season seemed to go by too quick. In Spokane the atmosphere was there, it was a great stadium, great fans, great city, everything was there and we were so good you wanted to go out an play every day. But when you get the long season (in Clinton) and we didn't have the great stadium, didn't have the great fans, and it was a so-so town, it was tough to win at home. As a team we didn't always have the enthusiasm to go out there, so that made it seem long more than anything."
Playing in the not so friendly confines of the aging Allient Energy Field which was originally built as Riverview Stadium in 1937 also made things tougher on Frydendall and his teammates.
"You've got teams like Cedar Rapids and Dayton coming in, where they have Double-A and Triple-A caliber ballparks saying, 'What is this place?' I'm sure those kids played on better high school fields than what we played on. Being from southwest Kansas, I didn't, so it would have been a great ballpark for where I'm from, but some of those guys, they'd never seen anything like it. I've played in worse but it wasn't a good playing surface. It was tough on our infielders as well as our outfielders. They got a lot of bad hops, and being a pitcher it's tough on you too. The more errors they make the more pitches you've got to throw. But all and all we got through it as a team."
During his professional career, Frydendall has made a living both as a starter as well as a middle reliever while the Rangers decide what direction they want to go with their durable 22 year old lefty.
"I think I perform much better in the rotation. For me its more of a mind set. I like knowing when I'm going out to throw. It's easier on me to know I've got a certain pitch count I can work with, and knowing that when I get close to my (limit) I need to really start bearing down and going after hitters. Being in the pen, especially in Clinton, none of us in the bullpen really had a set role. Sometimes maybe you'd go in for a hitter, and then the next outing you'd go out and throw three innings. That made it tough on us as a bullpen because sometimes when a starter wouldn't perform as we thought they would, and the bullpen would have to go six innings, we were kind of shot the next day. I hope that I can perform well in spring training and get back in the rotation next year."
Frydendall's work ethic has been a key component to his professional success and his tenacity played a large role in getting the attention of college and professional scouts.
"I didn't have a whole lot of D-I interest in me when I came out of high school. It's different in Kansas. We played 20 games in a high school season, and that's not enough. Especially in Southwest Kansas, there's not a whole lot of talent out there and coaches don't want to travel out that far to see a "maybe". They heard my name, so what, they didn't want to make that drive out there, so I had to go to them. I had to go to Wichita State camps, University of Kansas camps. I had to get my name out there because I knew if I counted on them coming out to southwest Kansas, it wasn't going to happen. I am so thankful my mom and dad were there with me to make those trips and help me make my dream a reality."
Family has always played an important role for Frydendall which made draft day all the more special.
"The Phillies and the Blue Jays were also after me and I was told they were going to try to take me in the early teens. So come draft day, as soon as draft came on, I was glued to the computer. I didn't leave. Every time the Phillies, the Rangers, or the Blue Jays came up I was waiting for my name. It was getting towards the end of the first day, the seventeenth and eighteenth rounds came by and nothing, so I was kind of getting discouraged a little bit, but then the nineteenth round came around and the Rangers took me. I was just happy my dad was there. He'd just got home from work and was there to listen to it too, so I was happy that it happened that way."
As a kid Frydendall was an avid baseball fan both as a spectator and as a collector.
"Dad's always been a big Royals fan, so every time we got the opportunity to make the trip to Kansas City we'd go to a game. The first one I really remember was a Twins and Royals game and I just remember seeing Kirby Puckett. I've got so many baseball cards, my mom keeps getting on my butt about getting home and getting them sorted into one corner of the room. I've got them all over, I've got a whole closet full, and boxes in the corner, they're just scattered all over the place. Me and my brother were constantly collecting. Every time we got a quarter, we'd try to throw all our money together so we could get a pack of Topps or whatever was available to us. I really got discouraged when they started jacking up the prices on a pack of cards. We were such avid collectors we wanted to get out hands on every card we could, and when they started going up, we just couldn't afford them. It's outrageous, back then you were able to get 15 or 20 cards in a pack, and now for five bucks you can maybe get six cards in a pack."
Frydendall was also an autograph collector as a kid which gives him a unique perspective now that he is on the other side of the pen.
"When I go home kids will always recognize my card and want an autograph, and that's always fun because I remember that was always me as a kid. We had a person from the high school in my home town that went to play basketball in JUCO and I was constantly at his front door when he was home getting autographs. I've never turned down an autograph and not signed something for somebody, simply because I know how it feels. Those little kids work so hard to get to the front of the line, and I know how it feels to get shot down, it was the worst feeling in the world, so I'll never be the one that's going to turn somebody down for an autograph."
However when it comes to the grown up autograph hounds, Frydendall becomes a little more perplexed.
"The most odd thing that I've seen in minor league baseball is these people that are the 50 year old men and women who show up to the ballpark and have a book full of your cards. You got to a four game series in a town, and you have the same people show up all four days having you sign 10 or 15 cards each time. I signed 60 cards for this one guy and your going where did he get all these. But it's fun."
Overall the future looks bright for Frydendall. He will likely begin the 2005 season with the Bakersfield Blaze, the Rangers' Single-A affiliate in the California League and with a successful first half of the season could earn a promotion to Double-A Frisco and continue on pace for a 2007 to 2008 debut in the major leagues.