By Darren Nichols
While everyone across South Metro Atlanta is getting geared up for football, softball and volleyball season, Forest Park Panthers baseball coach Josh Froneberger was reflecting on what turned out to be one of the program’s best seasons in recent memory. With fourth year Froneberger at the helm, the Panthers finished the partially pandemic shortened 2021 season with a 13-8 record, but their 10-4 mark in Region 3-AAAAA was good enough for runners-up status behind region champ, Woodward Academy.
That’s huge, considering the fact that just a couple of seasons ago, Forest Park was 4-18 overall and winless in its region. Froneberger credits the swift improvement to a lot of hard work. But having the players on his roster develop dramatically this past season was a huge help. Forest Park’s Michael Storey took home region Pitcher of the Year honors while Larry Pippins was named first-team all region while Storey, Jaquez Akins, Matthew Nettles and Montrell Christian were selected to the second-team (Christian made honorable mention).
Southern Crescent Buzz writer, Darren Nichols had a chance to catch up with the coach to talk with him about his accolades, the team’s success and what’s to come in the future.
Darren Nichols: Did you have expectations on winning coach of the year last season, and when you did, what was your reaction?
Josh Froneberger: I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I did expect to at least be in the top 3 for coaches of the year. I do think I deserved it this year because of the team’s success and how much work me and the team put into this season. This isn’t my first time winning the award, so I know I have the ability to coach at a high level.
Nichols: What are the differences in you as a coach and the teams you coached from this Coach of the Year honor and the previous one?
Froneberger: It was an adjustment. We were a better team this time around. So because of that, I didn’t emphasize baseball drills but more so team-oriented drills to help with chemistry. Like hanging out and just having fun or barbecuing as a group. But this year, different teams (we played) would say how impressed they were with us and how we came off as a surprise, instead of them knowing we were the team to beat, so that was different.
Nichols: So according to multiple people, you have done a great job in changing the culture of Forest Park baseball. Can you speak to what you did to change the culture?
Froneberger: Changing the culture is something I wanted to do from the get go. I was a graduate of Forest Park High School, and it was just so fun growing up and playing baseball. Things were competitive and fun in a time where Atlanta hosted the World Series, and it was just a great atmosphere. So growing up in that and living it, I wanted to bring that atmosphere back to Forest Park. So as you can see, we are progressing in changing the culture, and I am just glad to be a part of it. I think some of the main things in changing the culture is not dumbing down practices, not giving into the needs of the few but the many, and holding everyone accountable. I preach working hard in the pre-season, working hard in practice so when the game comes it isn’t too much to focus on but to just go out and have fun. Letting the kids have fun and not a lot of yelling and screaming and to just let them do what they do. I am just doing God’s work. I want to see these kids succeed because I know what baseball can do for them. It is a vehicle to success.
Nichols: I know it’s really early, but what are your expectations for next year’s team?
Froneberger: We are going to raise the bar even higher, try to break that first round and try to get into the second round of the playoffs. This year’s goal was to try to make it to the playoffs, and we ended up being region runner ups. So if we can match that, but preferably best that, then that is what we are trying to do. Being region champs is our goal because it is something we haven’t done since 2007. I feel like this team can go even further if we just take care of business. One of my quotes I love to say is, ‘No excuse. Just produce.’ So if we do that then we will be fine and reach our goals.
Nichols: Based on the trajectory of your success over the past couple of seasons, where do you see yourself in five years?
Froneberger: “I see myself coaching baseball in college somewhere. As maybe a head coach or even a pitching coach or assistant coach. But that would only happen if I am not still coaching at Forest Park, and that would mean that we have a state championship under our belt because this team has the potential for it. I also have potential plans to do some recruiting or scouting for the majors on the side.”
Nichols: What exactly is it that you think makes you a great coach, if indeed you think you are a great coach?
Froneberger: “I don’t like to toot my own horn and say I am a great coach, I am an ok coach, but I do think my overall joy for the game, the teaching aspect of the game and my work ethic are what make me stand out. I think it is because of the communication and relationships I’ve built. I have rules and regulations and I stand on that. Things like playing time, I don’t stress over that because that takes care of itself. I believe that I create good relationships with parents, players and the community that I’m from and I take joy to it. I don’t look at this as a job, this is something that I love, that I do for fun and just glad I get paid for it. I think also, the fact that I don’t worry about things like money and outside noise. I come to coach baseball.”