By Chris Chaney
After three years of keeping the bats and balls in storage, the Felicity-Franklin Cardinals are back on the diamond, building a program that head coach Chris Gibson hopes to take to the top of the Southern Buckeye Conference.
Despite a common misconception that the baseball program was cut, the school actually tried to field teams, but did not draw enough interest. After a few years of no Cardinal baseball, Gibson took it upon himself to try to resurrect the program.
“I went to the school board and asked what exactly was the problem and they informed me that it was lack of interest,” Gibson explained. “I said ‘how about trying it again?’ and they okayed it. I told them if they needed a coach, I’d be glad to help out any way I can and the rest is pretty much history.”
With baseball reinstated at the school, Gibson took on the unenviable task of fielding a team, getting the necessary equipment and gauging interest among prospective student-athletes.
“I basically had to start from scratch,” Gibson said. “Some of the boys hadn’t played since fourth or fifth grade. I had to find out who was who, what was what and who could play where.”
The team was reinstated last season, but behind in scheduling and numbers, Gibson used the 2012 season as a feeler. He contacted interested parties and built up a core for a program that took to the field for the first full-season schedule since 2007.
Perhaps the most important part of building a successful program is the foundation on which it is built. For the Cardinals, that foundation is made up of a good mix of talent from all grade levels.
“The team has responded well, we’ve got a lot of talent, but our record doesn’t show that,” Gibson said. “Being away from baseball for six years and the school not having a team for three years, some of the boys haven’t really gotten back into the swing of things. There’s a ton of talent there.
“Right now, I’m just getting the freshman up (on varsity) that have played together somewhat in the past. Playing together and swinging the bats constantly is a big key, which they haven’t done. I wouldn’t trade our talent for anyone else in the league, we’re just really raw.”
Much of the Cardinals’ talent comes from athletes that are familiar to Clermont County sports fans. Senior Brad Prather, a three-sport varsity athlete, is one of three seniors on Gibson’s inaugural roster. Along with juniors Jesse Miles and Zach Campbell, Coach Gibson gives the trio a lot of credit as being his assistant coaches on the field. Given the Cardinals’ situation, Gibson does not have an assistant coach, so the help those three have provided, along with the rest of the team, has been a big relief to Gibson.
Going forward, Gibson has a solid core of young talent that he hopes will continue to mature and lead the Felicity program into the coming years. Freshman Dakota Gibson heads up that class, starting at shortstop and left field. Dylan Pemberton, another freshman, is chipping in from the pitcher’s mound.
In the meantime, some of the growing pains that come with kick-starting a program is a relatively rough couple of years to start. The Cardinals had to play a JV schedule last year, only competing in eight games.
This season, however, Felicity is slated for a full 27-game schedule. Unfortunately, the Cardinals have dropped their first 11 games, which Gibson says has been frustrating for the team. Yet, the talent is present and Gibson believes with the first win will come a bundle of others quickly thereafter.
“We need to cut down on errors,” Gibson said of his goals for the second-half of the season. “Errors have cost us quite a few games. My expectations are really high because we play any body and everybody, from Division I down to Division IV, where we are. Getting that first win underneath our belt will be a big relief.
“I think by this time next year, we’re really going to be a team to watch out for.”
Felicity has a pair of games on Saturday, April 19 and 20 at the Prasco Park Invitational before a packed week that features five games in six days, beginning with a Monday, April 22 matchup with Bethel-Tate.