It wasn’t hard for Nevada head baseball coach Patrek Tufts to find a senior leader capable of getting his team ready to go after high school baseball was allowed to take place in Iowa May 20.
Catcher Keaton Fry immediately set a great example, on and off the field, for his teammates to follow when they began practice last Monday. The Cubs only have two weeks to get ready for their first game at Gilbert on June 15 and Fry has played a big role in getting them quickly up to speed during the first few days of practice.
“I really didn’t choose him - he stands out with his demeanor and his play on the field,” Tufts said. “He plays a position of high importance and is going to be in an even bigger role this season. Teams without players like Keaton are not going to go far. He comes to practice, works hard, is level-headed and even when he struggles he doesn’t let it show. The biggest things I stress to my team is body language and energy and he does a great job of controlling and bringing those every day.”
Having to play a shortened season under several restrictions due to COVID-19 is going to create a lot of obstacles for coaches and athletes to overcome this summer. That makes Fry the perfect candidate to lead the team.
Last fall the Nevada football team lost record-setting passer Kody Kruschwitz to an elbow injury in the second game of the season. Fry had to step in at quarterback and he delivered in a big way, leading the Cubs to a 7-2 record and a share of a district championship.
“I think it’s made me realize how flexible I can be,” Fry said. “I think I have the athletic ability to be able to adapt and go through some adversity. I can help the team in any way, shape or form. If I have to step in at a different position this year I’ll give it my all and try my best.”
Fry has spent some time at second and third base and has even thrown a few pitches to prepare himself to do whatever it takes to help Nevada win ball games this summer.
“The football aspect helped him,” Fry’s senior teammate Carter Franzen said. “That helped him get ready for all this. He’s stepped up as a leader and has helped us all get where we need to be for the start of the season.”
Fry isn’t going on to play ball in college - he will attend Iowa State in the fall. But even during the COVID downtime he was putting in the work needed to be prepared for the season.
“To see the seniors also put in work really motivated us,” Nevada sophomore Cael Franzen said. “Some of them aren’t going to college to play baseball, but they still put in work just in case we did have a season.”
On the field Fry was able to throw out 15 runners in 48 stolen base attempts and he only had five errors in 230 total chances defensively. He provides a calming presence behind the plate for younger pitchers such as Cael Franzen, sophomore Colin Memmer and juniors Max Hoffman and Jack Chandler need.
“He plays a position that requires you to be a leader,” Tufts said. “He controls the run game, calls a great game behind the dish and is a calming presence in the dugout.”
Even the veteran pitchers on the team regularly rely on Fry’s abilities to get them through tough situations.
“He knows what’s going on with me,” Carter Franzen said. “With pitching he knows what I need to do - there’s the non-verbal communication where we kind of know what’s going on inside each other’s head most of the time. If I’m a little wild he knows how to correct it.”
At the plate Fry hit .278 as a junior with a .441 on-base percentage, six doubles, 10 runs and seven RBIs.
“Keaton had a great OBP for us last year and really worked deep into the count on a regular basis,” Tufts said. “He made pitchers work.”
But Fry admits he still has plenty to work on when it comes to swinging the bat.
“I was taking things a little too fast last year,” Fry said. “I need to slow down a little bit and work on hitting early in the count.”
Fry and Carter Franzen both said as a team Nevada has already made great strides from last year.
“One thing Coach was talking about the other day was that we’re already better than last year,” Carter Franzen said. “But the goal is to be better than the day before.”
Nevada’s main goal for the season is the same as a lot of teams - to reach the state tournament. But for now Fry and his teammates are just happy to be back out on the field.
“If you would’ve asked me a month ago if we’re going to have baseball I didn’t feel very confident in it,” Fry said. “When we got the news I was super stoked. I was really missing being around the guys. It’s just fun to go out one last time.”