Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

The man with a plan

PLANT CITY — Stop, he's heard it before. Don't try telling Plant City's new head baseball coach how his first year is supposed to go.

"Everybody says the first year is when you get things established," Mike Fryrear begins. "Year two the wins start to come and then the third year is when everything blossoms. I'm tired of hearing that."

Clearly Fryrear wants to move up the time line.

The first part is most certainly getting taken care of. The former Durant standout has received plenty of attention for his structured approach. He's even set up a website (plantcitybase ball.com) that lays out his coaching philosophy, including expectations and codes for both players and parents.

No communication via text. No being a "my kid" fan . . . it's the "team" that is the focus. Be on time (practices start at 3:30, end at 6:30). Be a man. Family first, academics second, athletics third.

It's no wonder Plant City athletic director Traci Durrance hired Fryrear after approximately the first seven sentences she heard him speak.

"We have a real baseball coach," she said.

Fryrear's baseball knowledge is pretty good too. After a great career as a player at Durant (more on that later), Fryrear started four years at second base for the University of North Florida. His coach was Division 2 legend Dusty Rhodes, who he also worked with as a graduate assistant and then in 2007 as an official assistant. Fryrear even became director of baseball operations at UNF.

After that he went to Flagler College (2007-09) and realized managing would be his thing. In 2010, Fryrear learned from three-time state champion manager Gil Morales at Windermere Prep in Orlando, and then last year became an assistant at Wiregrass Ranch.

"Add up all of my coaches' philosophies and you have me," he said. "It's very detail oriented, very structured. The (Raider) players saw a little of it in fall ball, but now I can see, it's happening."

Last week's preseason action is when Fryrear got to see his plan start to progress — in the form of a 10-0 loss to rival Durant and a more competitive 4-1 loss to Bloomingdale.

The defeats didn't bother him a bit. Both the Cougars and Bulls are expected to be among the county's best.

"I wanted to go up against the best teams out there," said Fryrear. "If we just went out there and played a couple of average teams, I'm not doing my job."

The Raiders are loaded at the top of the batting order, and at the top of the pitching rotation, with senior Keven Long manning both spots.

Last year, Long sported a .438 batting average but was not called upon to pitch.

"He's our ace. I'm putting a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and he loves it," Fryrear said.

Mikey Wells will pitch and be a key offensive player. Last year's ERA leader, Nick Rodriguez, gives the Raiders another frontline senior.

Fryrear is not the only member of the new Raider staff who might be more easily recalled by Durant fans. Former Cougar ace Jeremy Gomer is his pitching coach.

Switching from the navy and gold to the orange and aqua has not rankled anyone. In fact, Durant head coach Butch Valdes, along with Eric Beattie from Strawberry Crest ("he taught me about all the paperwork") have turned into a personal support group.

He's found out that the baseball coaches on this side of the county are close knit.

Plant City gets its first taste of home-field advantage tonight against Armwood after opening with a 7-1 win at Strawberry Crest Tuesday night.

Long threw five innings, striking out six. Rodriguez and Sergio Garcia both had two hits and Conner Stagill drove in two.

"Our goal is to make the playoffs," said Fryrear. "We have the talent. Its just about getting the execution part down."

Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]

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