RIPLEY — For Johnathan Frebis, baseball has always been in his blood.
Born and raised in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Frebis was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, following his senior season at Middle Tennessee State University, also located in Murfreesboro. But his baseball past has roots here in Brown County, specifically in Ripley, where four generations of his family lived.
His great-grandfather was an amateur baseball player, his grandfather had a shot at trying out for the Cincinnati Reds one spring, and his dad and uncles grew up splitting time between baseball, basketball, and golf growing up in Ripley.
“We pretty well lived sports with the boys,” Ron Frebis Sr., Johnathan Frebis’ grandfather said of his sons, Ronnie Jr., Chris, and Johnathan’s father Ray.
The Frebis’ emigrated to the United States from Germany in the early 20th century, and from the first native generation on, baseball became a key sport in the house.
According to Frebis Sr., his father played in a league called the K-I-O league, with teams from Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Later, after Frebis Sr. graduated from Ripley High School in 1954 – his class picture still hangs in the school hallways – he was offered by a scout a ticket take part in Reds spring training.
But Frebis Sr. turned it down.
“(The scout said) ‘I hear you’re a pretty good ballplayer so I’ll buy you a ticket to go to Florida and see if you can make it or not’,” Frebis Sr. said. “But didn’t have anything. I had never been away from home and I didn’t have money to go any place. I didn’t know how I would have lived if I had went there.”
Frebis Sr.’s three sons never played sports collegiate, but all three were high school athletes in baseball and basketball for Ripley back in the mid-70s. According to Ray, they picked up their baseball knowledge from their father.
“When I played there, whatever I learned was from my dad,” Ray Frebis said.
Ray then passed those skills and love for the game down to his son Johnathan.
“He developed his love for the game back when he was three or four years old,” Ray Frebis said. “Every time I’d come home from work, he’d be watching baseball games. If he wasn’t playing baseball he was watching baseball.”
Even while he was playing baseball, Johnathan Frebis used to come back to at least a couple of times a year to Ripley to visit his family. Since coming to college though, he’s become busier with a heavy baseball workload.
“(He used to come) three or four times a year, usually,” Frebis Sr. said, later mentioning that he, Ray Frebis, and Johnathan used to play golf together at Friendly Meadows Golf Course when Johnathan would visit.
The 6-foot 2-inch 220 lb. southpaw developed into a talented pitcher in high school, earning a full scholarship to attend his hometown college, MTSU. Playing for the Blue Raiders, Frebis owns the school record for most career starts, with 59, and in 60 games total, he compiled a 20-23 record with a 4.56 ERA in 310 innings pitched. He struck out 230 batters, walked 141 batters, and had opponents hitting .279 off of him.
Perhaps more importantly, Frebis was afforded the opportunity to play two years in the Cape Cod League, one of the most historic and prestigious summer college baseball leagues.
In modern times, nearly all players who are invited to play in the Cape Cod League are eventually drafted, and many make the major leagues.
Ray commended his son Johnathan for not putting his head down after missing out on the draft following his first summer on the Cape.
“After last year when he did not get drafted, he was a little bit crestfallen, because we thought he’d be drafted after his junior year,” Ray Frebis said. “But then he came back, turned around, and went back to the Cape the second time and had another good summer up there. I’m proud of the fact that he didn’t hang his head and pout or mope.”
Frebis picked himself up and had a strong 2014 season with the Cape Cod League Hartwich Mariners, going 2-0 with a 1.43 ERA in 11 games out of the bullpen. He also pitched twice out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League playoffs, and didn’t allow a run.
Following his senior season at MTSU, Frebis finally realized his dream of being drafted. His grandfather, Ron Frebis Sr., beamed with pride when talking about him.
“He’s thinking of making it big,” Ron said. “Hopefully. You never know.”
Johnathan Frebis’ step-grandmother Mary Frebis had just one request to Johnathan after he was drafted.
“I told him when he makes a lot of money, he has to buy me a hamburger,” Mary Frebis said while laughing. “Not a house, but a hamburger.”
After being drafted, Johnathan Frebis signed a contract with the White Sox and was assigned to the team’s Arizona League affiliate, which plays out of the White Sox’s spring training home in Glendale, Ariz.
He’s pitched twice for the AZL White Sox so far and according to Ray, could be promoted to the White Sox’s other rookie-ball team in Montana, the Great Falls Voyagers, depending on how he pitches.
Johnathan Frebis still has a long way to go before potentially making the big leagues, but for the time being, he’s made a his grandfather and others in Ripley proud.
“Johnathan’s a good kid,” Ron Frebis Sr. said with a smile.
Reach Daniel Karell at 937-378-6161. Follow him on Twitter @GNDKarell