By Rob Duca
Boston Globe Correspondent
|Sophomore second baseman Dan
Fratus led the Skyhawks with a .353
The Stonehill College baseball team was one week into tryouts and 15-year coach Patrick Boen was watching the candidate from Plymouth and wondering what he had missed.
So he pulled aside sophomore Dan Fratus, whom he had cut last spring, and bluntly asked, "Was I wrong last year?"
One year ago, Fratus was hoping to make the Skyhawks as a shortstop. But he lost out to a fifth-year senior and an experienced sophomore backup.
But it quickly became clear this spring that he would not be denied a second time.
"I told him he had the opportunity to make me look really bad, and to please do that. Play with a chip on your shoulder," Boen said.
"He had definitely come a long way. It was obvious immediately. It was unbelievable that a kid we cut last year could turn out to be maybe the MVP of the Northeast-10 Conference. That's how good he looked."
What could have been a confidence-shattering punch in the gut for a freshman hopeful instead provided inspiration. Rather than quit on his dream, Fratus went to work.
"Most kids will say, OK, I didn't make it. I'll go do something else.' Dan didn't do that. He had it in his mind to get better," Boen said.
Fratus not only made the team, he started at second base, hit cleanup, and led the Skyhawks in batting average, hits and triples, and RBIs. He was named to the all-conference second team and landed a spot on the NE-10 All-Rookie squad.
"It probably angered him to be cut, but that was his motivation to prove he could make that team," said Plymouth North coach Dwayne Follette, who won a Division 2 state title in 2008 with Fratus as one of his leaders. "He's just a very special kid."
Fratus admits to a flash of anger last year when he he failed to make the Stonehill roster. But only for a moment. "And then I was determined to show everyone that I could play at this level," he said.
"A lot of guys will come in and ask what they did wrong or why they didn't make the team," Boen said. "Dan didn't ask that question. He wanted to know what he needed to do to get better to make the team."
|Fratus helped Stonehill turn 21 double plays on the season.|
Told he needed to be bigger and stronger, Fratus lifted weights during the college baseball season. He played for the Plymouth Legion team last summer. And twice a week he called his old coach for help. Follette spent countless hours working on Fratus's swing and his fielding.
"I got my swing back and worked on my mechanics," Fratus said. "I learned to get my hands lower and drive the ball."
Twenty pounds heavier at 185, the 6-foot Fratus produced increased bat speed and power and began driving the ball to gaps for doubles and triples during tryouts. Knowing he had to open up a spot in his lineup, Boen shifted Fratus to second base.
"Maybe I should have thought of doing that last year," Boen said.
"I wasn't feeling much pressure at that point. I was determined to do my best. I just wanted to go out and play the game I loved," Fratus said.
But pressure quickly mounted in the form of a early-season slump. Fratus managed only two hits in his first 13 at-bats. When an 0-for-12 skid followed, he was hitting a paltry .138 through 10 games.
"But I settled down," he said. "My dad told me to lower my hands and not to think, to just hit the baseball. It worked."
A one-week team winter trip to Florida appeared to help. "Everything clicked down there. I started seeing the ball really well," he said.
Fratus caught fire when he returned home, embarking on an 18-game hitting streak that raised his average to .330. He also started moving up in the batting order, from seventh to fourth. "We wanted him to get his feet wet so we batted him lower in the order at the beginning, but he moved up quickly," Boen said.
Fratus ended the season batting .353 with a .533 slugging percentage, two home runs, nine doubles, 32 RBIs, and a NE-10-leading nine triples as the Skyhawks qualified for the to NE-10 tourney at 30-18. Stonehill was shut out by Franklin Pierce, 6-0, in the first round, ending its season.
"He's a great worker, has a great makeup," Boen said. "He started off slow, but we knew it was just a matter of time. He's been our best hitter all year."
It all seems like a dream to Fratus. "I never imagined I'd be hitting cleanup, especially for a walk-on," he said.
His former high school coach isn't surprised. "What a story," Follette said. "His persistence paid off."