Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, left, and Fred Frickie share stories when both were part of the Calhoun Community College baseball team in 1990-91. Posada played shortstop and third base for now-retired coach Frickie. The school honored both at a luncheon Saturday and retired their jersey numbers.
Posada’s Calhoun Days
Yankees catcher thanks Frickie, friends as school retires baseball jersey
By Mark Edwards
Years before Jorge Posada entrenched himself in the New York Yankees lineup as an All-Star catcher, he was an 18-year-old riding with his father, Jorge Posada Sr., to attend a college he never had seen and play for a coach he never had met.
Back in the summer of 1989, Calhoun Community College coach Fred Frickie had recruited Jorge Jr. to leave his home in Puerto Rico and play for the Warhawks. Jorge Sr., then a professional baseball scout for the Braves, took the responsibility of driving his son from Atlanta to North Alabama to begin the school year.
Jorge Jr. readily admits that he cried during the trip as he faced the reality of living away from his family.
“When we got to Calhoun, Coach Frickie was there, and he had this refrigerator in the back of his truck,” Posada, now 35, said at a luncheon honoring him and his former coach Saturday afternoon at Calhoun’s Aerospace Training Center.
“I thought, ‘OK, this is Alabama.’ ”
Frickie drove Posada to the place on campus where the athletes stayed, which they called the Cabanas.
As Posada got out of the truck, Frickie asked him where he was going.
“Help me with the refrigerator,” Frickie told him.
“It’s for you.”
Frickie wanted Posada to have more in his room than a bed, sink and shower. Also, because Posada had no transportation during his time at Calhoun, Frickie often drove him to church, to practice or to wherever he needed to go.
If Posada had nothing to eat, Frickie drove him to his home where his wife, Martha Frickie, would fix dinner.
Posada had no friends at first, so Frickie asked one of the other players, second baseman Steve Gongwer, to help him adjust.
Even though Posada left Calhoun after signing a contract with the Yankees on May 24, 1991, he still keeps in touch with Frickie.
Posada even returned to Calhoun in the winter of 2002 before having shoulder surgery in Birmingham. He toured the campus, noting with disappointment that the Cabanas no longer stood and neither did the baseball program, although it was resurrected last year.
Posada said he and Frickie speak at least twice a year.
So knowing all of that, you can see how appropriate it seems that the Alabama Community College Conference and Calhoun honored Posada and Frickie at the same time this weekend. The ACCC inducted both player and coach into its Hall of Fame on Friday night. Then on Saturday afternoon, Calhoun retired the No. 6 that Posada wore for the Warhawks and the No. 33 that Frickie wore.
Frickie, 70, coached at Calhoun from 1967 to ’95 and won 668 games and six state championships. Posada, a four-time All-Star as a Yankees catcher, still holds Calhoun records for most doubles in a season (21 in 1990) and in a career (33 in 1990-91).
On Saturday, they celebrated their careers with family and some of Frickie’s former Calhoun players, including nine who played on the same teams as Posada.
“It’s unbelievable what Jorge has done with his life,” Frickie said.
“I always say that getting him to come to Calhoun was the best recruiting job I ever did,” Frickie added.
Heading to Calhoun
So how exactly did Posada wind up at Calhoun?
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
From left, retired baseball coach Fred Frickie, New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and Frickie’s wife, Martha, visited Calhoun Community College on Saturday. The school honored the retired coach and Posada at a luncheon and retired their jersey numbers.
In the summer of 1989, Frickie needed a shortstop and asked an Atlanta-based scout he knew for suggestions. The scout said he couldn’t think of anybody. But Frickie knew how the game was played and didn’t give up.
He told the scout that he had the name and telephone number of a left-handed pitcher who might interest him. The scout magically remembered Posada and gave Frickie his number.
Posada originally wanted to attend a four-year school, and several recruited him, including some Southeastern Conference programs.
“I needed to make an 800 on my SAT to qualify, but I only made a 730,” Posada said. “My English was not too good back then.”
He looked for junior colleges and told his father that he wanted to attend Miami-Dade Community College. Jorge Sr. turned down that idea. He wanted his son to go to a place where he couldn’t speak Spanish all the time. Also, he wanted him to focus a little more on school and baseball than outside fun.
“There was too much to do in Miami,” Posada said.
Two days later, Frickie called. Posada couldn’t understand him that well but understood that he wanted him to come to Calhoun to play baseball.
“I had trouble understanding him with the Southern accent,” Posada said, laughing. “I didn’t even know where Alabama was. I had to look it up on a map to make sure it wasn’t too far north and wouldn’t be too cold.”
Frickie called again later and had enlisted help from a Spanish teacher who attended his church. Frickie said he wanted to make sure Posada understood that he was offering a full scholarship to play baseball.
“I couldn’t understand her, either,” Posada said.
But the player and the coach still made a connection.
“He did tell me, ‘I’m coming to Alabama,’ ” Frickie said.
Frickie picked out Posada’s classes, too, including Spanish.
“I spoke better Spanish than the teacher did,” Posada said, laughing. “I think Coach wanted to give me at least one easy ‘A.’ ”
But Frickie added with a smile, “Jorge made an ‘A’ in everything. He was a very good student.”
Introducing Posada to Gongwer might have helped both players more than Frickie imagined.
“Knowing people like Steve helped me so much,” Posada said.
Gongwer helped immerse Posada into campus life. They played table tennis with other players at the Calhoun gym and joined in pick-up basketball games. They lived next door to each other at the Cabanas.
Many of Calhoun’s players went home on weekends, but because Gongwer came from Atlanta, where he couldn’t travel home and back easily, he stayed. So did Posada.
When Gongwer did go home, he often took Posada.
On Friday, when Posada traveled back to Alabama, it was Gongwer who drove him from the ACCC ceremony in Montgomery to Decatur.
During the ride, Gongwer called his mother and told her that he had Posada next to him. Posada took the phone and told her, “I miss your spaghetti.”
They also worked out together, and that’s when Gongwer found out exactly how much talent Posada had.
“I hit .286 my freshman year,” said Gongwer, who now lives in Birmingham, “and I always felt like I was a good player who worked hard. Others might have more talent, but nobody would outwork me.
“But here was this guy with all this God-given talent, and he worked three times as hard as I did.”
The experience of working out with Posada made Gongwer call home to tell his father that he wouldn’t focus too much on baseball and forget about his degree. When his father asked what brought this about, Gongwer said “because I have met a Major League player, and now I know what one looks like.”
Posada made Gongwer bat left-handed during workouts to help him strengthen that side of his body.
Posada’s father did the same with him as a boy, and now his ability to switch-hit makes him particularly valuable at the plate for the Yankees.
“All that hard work paid off,” Gongwer said. “I hit .419 my sophomore year and eventually went to Montevallo where I was an All-American.”
How to say Jorge
When Posada arrived at Calhoun, Frickie couldn’t pronounce his first name correctly. Instead of saying, HOR-hay, Frickie would say, HOR-tek.
One of the Calhoun players told Frickie that he should just call him George, giving his name the American pronunciation.
He has remained George to the Calhoun community ever since, although Frickie now can pronounce Posada’s first name correctly when asked to do so.
“To the world, he’s HOR-hay, but to us, he’s always George,” said Calhoun athletics director Nancy Keenum, who coached the women’s basketball team when Posada played for the Warhawks.
Posada said he still answers often to George. In fact, he said that his only manager with the New York Yankees, Joe Torre, calls him “Georgie.”
He said his teammates call him “Sado.”
That story goes back to Sept. 4, 1995, when the Seattle Mariners played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The club brought up two minor leaguers, Posada and shortstop Derek Jeter. Posada hadn’t appeared in a Major League game, but substituted at catcher late in a 13-3 win that day.
The Yankee Stadium announcer called him “Posado” with an “o” at the end rather than the correct “a.”
Jeter, who also entered the game in the late innings, thought that was funny and started calling him “Sado.”
“Now everybody on the team calls me that,” Posada said.
How much does Frickie mean to Posada?
Maybe the story that illustrates it best happened early in his minor league career with the Yankees.
Posada played shortstop and third base at Calhoun and began his career with the Yankees as a second baseman.
However, the Yankees’ management asked him if he would consider converting to catcher.
Posada said he asked Frickie for his advice.
“He was the first person I called,” Posada said. “He told me that I should give it a try.”
Frickie added that he might have a much easier time making it to the majors as a catcher than as an infielder.
After short September stints with the Yankees in 1995 and ’96, Posada stuck for good in 1997. By 1998, he had supplanted Joe Girardi as the Yankees’ top catcher. In 2000, he made his first All-Star Game and earned the first of four Silver Slugger awards as the American League’s best offensive player at his position.
In 2003, he finished third in AL most valuable player voting. That year, he also slugged 30 home runs to tie a record for the most by a Yankees catcher. Yogi Berra hit 30 in 1952 and ’56.
All of that might give particular weight to a conversation Frickie had with Keenum in May 1991.
Keenum entered Frickie’s office and saw Posada sitting on the couch.
“Keenum,” Frickie said, “get that boy’s autograph. He’s going to be on TV some day.”
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