April 6, 2010 10:11:00 AM
Gabe Franks never doubted himself.
Thanks to plenty of coaching from his father, Gary, and other age-group coaches, Franks always believed one day he would realize a goal to play baseball in college.
On Monday, Franks realized a dream that blossomed in Tee Ball when he signed a national letter of intent to play for East Mississippi Community College in Scooba in the fall.
"This is what I have always wanted to do," Franks said. "I grew up playing baseball since Tee Ball. All I wanted to do is play at the next level, and it feels good to know I will have the opportunity to play somewhere next season."
Franks credits his father for helping nurture his baseball skills in Tee Ball. He said his father is one of the hardest workers he knows, and that he always pushed him to be the best he could be.
Franks implemented those lessons on age-group teams in Columbus. He has honed his skills as a pitcher, infielder, and outfielder since he joined the New Hope High program in the seventh grade.
Franks hopes to get a chance to play his favorite position -- pitcher -- for the Lions.
"I throw a lot of strikes," Franks said. "It is all about not walking anybody. As long as you don''t walk people you''re going to win a lot of games."
Franks said his control has improved over the years. He said repetition has allowed him to hone his control and to make it one of his strengths.
Franks saw limited action at the varsity level last season, but he logged extensive time on the mound and on the field in the spring and in the summer with New Hope''s Dizzy Dean team.
This season, Franks is 2-1 with a 2.000 ERA. He has struck out 25 and walked nine in 21 innings. He also leads the Trojans (14-4) with a .417 batting average. He has one double, one triple, and 10 RBIs.
New Hope High coach Lee Boyd, who worked last season as pitching coach at Neshoba Central, said Franks'' mechanics and control have been solid. He said the lanky right-hander teams with Dillon Hawkins, Blake Roberts, Jake Smith, and Jake Upton to give the Trojans as deep a pitching rotation as there is in the state.
"Gabe has decent velocity and he throws his curveball for strikes most of the time," Boyd said. "He is mechanically sound as a pitcher, and is a hard worker. I think it is going to be a good pickup for East Mississippi."
Franks has performed in a dual pitching pitching role (starting and relieving) this season. He pitched a complete game Saturday in a victory against Houston. He should be on call at 7 tonight and Friday when New Hope plays district rival Saltillo.
Boyd said Franks has plenty of room physically to mature. He believes Franks has the potential to add several mph to his fastball, which should make him even more valuable to the Lions.
"He has one of the better curveballs we have and a good changeup to go with it," Boyd said. "As his velocity improves, it is going to make his curveball and changeup that much better. If he goes there and works hard, the sky is the limit for him."
EMCC assistant coach Josh Snider said the Lions like Franks'' presence on the mound, his competitiveness, and his control. He said Franks projects primarily as a pitcher but that he will get an opportunity to earn playing time in the field.
"He is a great kid," Snider said. "I have never heard anybody say he doesn''t work hard. On and off the field he is going to do everything he has to do to get better. He is a great student, and we''re not going to have any problems with him in the classroom.
"Everybody we talked to speaks very, very highly of Gabe."
Franks will join current teammates Philip Tice and Jake Upton and former teammate Hilton Gibson at EMCC. Tice and Upton signed in January with the Lions.
Snider said Franks'' desire to be the best pitcher he can be is his most impressive trait. He said that mentality is what teams need to win championships.
Franks hopes he can help EMCC realize those title aspirations. First, though, he has unfinished business at New Hope. One year after the team lost to West Lauderdale in game three of the best-of-three Class 4A North Half State title series, Franks said he will do whatever he can to help the Trojans take the next step and secure a Class 5A state title.
"I just want to be a big leader and motivator to help everybody know we can," Franks said. "If we are ever down, I want to help my teammates know we can come back because we have the talent and the ability. It is just putting it all together."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.