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Gaitan playing hard for Pioneers

Tonny Gaitan is hitting .500 for the Pioneers in the early going. JOE MASON / TIMES PHOTO

Things are definitely looking up for Tonny Gaitan.

The Frankford High School junior has had some rough times in past seasons.

A talented baseball player, Gaitan missed the past two seasons. Two years ago, the Public League canceled its season due to the coronavirus pandemic, last year he was out with an injury.

But missing baseball wasn’t the worst thing that happened to him during that time.

Last year, his mother came down with COVID, got very sick and passed away.

“They told me she got it and she was very sick, I couldn’t really see her because she was sick,” said Gaitan, who lives in Juniata. “It’s been hard, I was very, very close with her. I’m doing all right, but it’s hard, you know, it’s hard losing your mom.”

It’s safe to say mom would be very proud of her son right now.

Gaitan, always a good athlete, plays football. The offensive and defensive tackle was known for big hits. But it’s nothing compared to what he’s doing in baseball.

Gaitan had hoped to catch on with the Pioneers, maybe as a bat off the bench. But after a great preseason, coach Juan Namnun called him in his office right before opening day and gave him some great news.

“He called us in, me and my friend, and told me that I was going to be starting at first base,” Gaitan said. “I was really excited. I would have been happy doing whatever he wanted me to do. I knew I could help, that’s what I wanted to do.

“But when he told me I was starting, it meant a lot to me, and I’m trying to keep playing well, you know? It means a lot to be out there, I just keep working.”

He’s working hard, and him in the lineup is working out very well for the young Pioneers team.

Frankford is in a situation it’s not used to, struggling to win games. A lot of that can be attributed to the youth on Namnun’s squad, and like always, he’s finding ways to get the most out of his lineup.

It’s working quite well with Gaitan, who has become a better hitter in baseball than he was in football when he helped Frankford advance to the 5A Public League championship game.

Gaitan is hitting .500 on the year, and he’s showing some power as well. He’s also doing a great job manning first base. And he’s trying to grow into a leader that the Pioneers need.

“I’m trying to do whatever I can to help, be a leader or whatever,” Gaitan said. “I’m trying hard. I’m working.”

The Pioneers are struggling this year. They started the season 0-3, and while there have been flashes of brilliance in all phases of the game, it’s an unusual spot for the Pioneers to be in. Over the years, Frankford has been among the best teams in the area, and Namnun and his troops are working hard to get back to where they usually are.

Gaitan is doing his part every way he can.

“We have a lot of good players so I think we’re going to start winning,” Gaitan said. “I think we can get better every game. We’re working on everything. It hasn’t gone our way yet, but I think we’re going to be good.”

Gaitan knows about playing on winning teams.

In the fall, Gaitan was a key member of the Pioneers football team that recorded 10 wins, including two in the postseason and seven shutouts overall. Their only loss came to Imhotep Charter in the championship game.

Gaitan is proud of the way the Pioneers played, and hopes the baseball team can start to pile up wins like the football team did.

“We had a really good year this year,” Gaitan said. “I love playing both. I’m an athlete. I’m a hitter. I like to hit in football and I like to hit in baseball. I’m an athlete. I try to go out and play well in whatever sport I’m playing. I can’t pick (which one I like better). I love playing both sports.”

Gaitan is working hard at improving in both.

He believes playing baseball will only help him once football season rolls around.

But he’s not just looking to improve in athletics.

Gaitan is a good student, but he’s striving to be better. He knows if he wants to stay on Namnun’s team, he has to work just as hard in the classroom as he does on the field. And that’s a challenge he’s happy to accept.

He knows it will only make him better for his senior year, when he’ll start to decide what his next move is.

“Coach expects us to do well in school, he’s big on that,” Gaitan said. “My dad is, too. I know I can do better in school, but I’d doing pretty well. I’m working on it, we all do.

“This year is going well, and I want it to be even better. I think we’re going to start winning soon, I want to keep getting better and we all work hard in school. We have to, coach stresses that. It’s only making us better.”

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