FRA baseball team battling through loss of coach

FRA baseball team battling through loss of coach

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FRA baseball team battling through loss of coach

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The FRA baseball team lines up prior to Monday's home game against Ezell-Harding. The squad has battled through a tough situation after losing longtime coach George Weicker, who died prior to the season.

The FRA baseball team lines up prior to Monday’s home game against Ezell-Harding. The squad has battled through a tough situation after losing longtime coach George Weicker, who died prior to the season.

The last few months haven’t been easy for the Franklin Road Academy baseball team, but the squad is making the best of a difficult situation.

In addition to having virtually their entire starting lineup graduate after last season’s Division II-A runner-up finish, FRA also lost its longtime leader in former coach George Weicker, who died from pancreatic cancer in February, just weeks prior to the Panthers’ home opener.

“In a lot of ways it has been pretty tough,” said FRA senior Woody Weicker, who, in addition to serving as the Panthers’ catcher and cleanup hitter, is also the hall of fame coach’s son.

Former FRA baseball coach George Weicker

Former FRA baseball coach George Weicker

“It’s still the same game, of course, but it is different,” added senior center fielder and leadoff man Kenny Cooper. “(George Weicker) was always a great mentor to me and taught me a lot about the game. You know he played me as a freshman, and that meant a lot for me.

“It’s heartbreaking, but that’s why we come out here every day.”

In 30 years as FRA’s baseball coach (1986-2015), Weicker, a 2016 Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, piled up more than 600 wins while leading the Panthers to seven state tournament appearances, three runner-up finishes and a pair of Class A titles (1988, 2000).

Big shoes to fill

As one might expect, it’s never easy to replace a beloved coach, especially one who, in his three decades at the school, had reached legendary status.

First-year FRA baseball coach Jon Wilson

First-year FRA baseball coach Jon Wilson

“Obviously losing Coach Weicker before the season started was a huge blow to our program, our team and really just the whole FRA community,” said first-year FRA coach Jon Wilson, who served as the school’s middle school baseball coach for three seasons prior to taking over the varsity helm this season.

Weicker also played for the inaugural Nashville Sounds team in 1978 before serving as Vanderbilt’s hitting instructor from 1980-84. In football, he coached FRA to 150 wins, 17 playoff appearances and the 1991 Class A title.

“I would be lying if I said there’s not an expectation of success,” added Wilson, who was a 27th-round selection by the Texas Rangers in the 2005 draft. “There is an expectation of success here that Coach Weicker established, and I’m just trying to do my best.”

Remembering a legend

The day after Weicker’s funeral, the school hosted an on-campus gathering to celebrate his life.

“We invited all the baseball alumni, coaches and faculty and staff, and we literally had an open mic which went on for about three hours,” FRA athletic director Kris Palmerton said. “There were times where there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and there were times where there was lots of laughter. It was everything you’d expect for a man like Coach Weicker.”

FRA catcher Woody Weicker is the son of longtime coach George Weicker, who died prior to the season.

FRA catcher Woody Weicker is the son of longtime coach George Weicker, who died prior to the season.

“It was really cool just to see how many people my dad had impacted,” Woody Weicker added.

Between his picture being displayed in the team’s locker room, the No. 24 patches sewn onto the players’ uniforms or the No. 24 jersey that hangs in the Panthers’ dugout, George Weicker still has a place at W.T. Crockett Jr. Baseball Stadium.

If all goes according to plan, he always will.

“We have a fund for George which people have donated to, and we’re basically just holding on to those in hopes of renovating the baseball field in some areas,” Palmerton said. “That includes creating a ‘Weicker Wall’ in left field as sort of a green monster if you will.”

For now, though, playing the game is all the Panthers (6-5, 2-3 in DII-A District 2) can do.

“We’re trying our best to honor his memory, and I think the best way to do that is to continue to play hard,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of what the guys have accomplished so far, and I’m excited to see what they’ll accomplish in the future.”

Weicker, who died in February, was a member of the inaugural Nashville Sounds team in 1978.

Weicker, who died in February, was a member of the inaugural Nashville Sounds team in 1978.

Reach Michael Murphy at 615-269-8262 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports

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