Coach Juan Namnun said every few years a team comes along that is special. This is one of those years.
Juan Namnun loves every team he coaches.
But sometimes a team comes along that is really special.
For Namnun, the Frankford High School baseball coach, the team he always thought of as “the team” was the 2008 squad.
That team enjoyed great success. It went undefeated in Public League play and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
Winning is always fun, but the other thing that made that squad stand out was the character of the players on it, according to Namnun. Two of the players on that team, Edwin “Tito” Rohena and Esteban “Shortie” Meletiche, are Frankford legends, and anyone who wears a Frankford baseball cap will hear story after story of those two from Namnun.
“I would use those guys as examples because that team just had everything you need,” said Namnun, who played for Frankford before graduating in 1995, and began coaching the team, first as an assistant under Bob Peffle in 2000 before taking over as head coach in 2008. “They had great players, but they had the will to win. They put everything into the game and they got a lot out of it. That team was special.”
And before this year, that was the team Namnun would talk about when he wanted to teach his players the proper way to act on and off the field.
Now there’s a second team Namnun can point to — the 2017 Pioneers.
Led by Namnun, the Pioneers not only won the Public League championship, they won the city championship — something the 2008 team was unable to do because the Catholic League hadn’t joined the PIAA yet, so the game wasn’t played — and like the 2008 team, advanced to the state quarterfinals.
Frankford’s season came to an end on Thursday after an 8–0 setback at the hands of Bethlehem Liberty. It finished 19–4.
The end result produced mixed emotions for the Pioneers. Few thought a Public League team could win two games against competition from outside the league, so for that, they were proud.
But they were sad because it marked the final time this group, which includes nine seniors who will graduate this week, will wear a Frankford uniform.
“I’m sad it’s over because this team was everything to all of us,” said catcher Josh Pagan, a four-year varsity player. “We weren’t sad because we lost, we just like playing together. We were close at the start of the year and winning what we won just made us that much closer.”
Like most coaches, Namnun plays every game to win, so he enjoyed himself this season. His favorite game of the year was when the Pioneers knocked off St. Joe’s Prep in the city championship because, traditionally, the Catholic League produces better teams.
He also enjoyed watching the Pioneers knock off Neshaminy because it showed everyone the Pioneers weren’t just a good Public League team, they were a good baseball team.
When Namnun tells stories about this year’s team, he’ll probably tout those victories, but that’s not going to be the first thing he mentions.
“I think what made this year so special was the players, their silliness, their outlook, they were just a group of guys who enjoyed playing baseball and enjoyed being together,” Namnun said. “It was like that the entire year. My office is right near the locker room, so sometimes they won’t think I’m listening, but I’ll hear everything, and every time they talk, I couldn’t be more proud. I’ve heard them say they want to represent the jersey. They took pride in playing for this school, and it was genuine.”
The players felt the same way about their coach.
Namnun is the definition of a players’ coach, according to Pagan.
“Coach is like a father to me,” Pagan said. “He treated us all like that. He brought us together. He loves us and we like him. This year was special for all of us.
“I think the biggest win we had was in the Public League semifinals when we beat Franklin Towne. They beat me every time we played them. Every year. They’re a good team, and when we beat them, that’s where the momentum started, and we just rode it all the way to today.”
Next year, Pagan will continue his baseball career at Penn State Abington, which is about a 25-minute ride from Frankford’s home field. When the Nittany Lions aren’t playing, Pagan will be back to watch. Both Pagan and Namnun expect big things.
“Every year, the motto at Frankford is to be better than the team before you,” Namnun said. “That will be tough for someone to do that much better than this team. They set a very high bar. But we had a lot of kids get experience this season, and they’ll be ready next year.”
“It’s going to be very weird being on the other side of the fence watching Frankford, but I’m going to be here,” Pagan said. “I want to support my friends, the younger kids who will still be here, and I want to support coach.”
And while he’s there, he’ll likely hear stories about a team he knows very well.
“Josh loved hearing stories about those guys and he asked me today if this team is as special as the one in 2008,” Namnun said with a laugh. “And I told him they may have surpassed that team. That team was so special, this team is so special. Winning makes things better, and all of my teams are special, but this group, just their silliness, makes them so fun to be around. Boy, are we going to miss these seniors.”