Frohwirth takes relief courtside


March 03, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Inside each of us there lurks someone we would want to be for at least a couple of minutes, a rock star or diva, or maybe a famous fat chef. Todd Frohwirth, the Orioles' unassuming relief pitcher, a Midwesterner so mild in temperament that he hasn't flinched since his first date, checks in with a stunner.

"Have you ever met Bobby Knight?" he asked yesterday before a morning workout at Twin Lakes Park.

Is it so, Froh? The calmest of all Orioles is a Gen. Bob wannabe?

"Kinda weird, huh?" he said, a bit sheepish.

Some background is required here. Baseball has put Frohwirth's face on a trading card and made him wealthy at age 30, but basketball is the sport that pumps his blood.

"I hardly ever thought about baseball growing up," he said. "I was a gym rat. My average afternoon consisted of getting on my bike and going to a playground or gym to find a game."

A skillful passer and ballhandler, he played in high school in Milwaukee and then as a 165-pound junior-college point guard. Only when he moved to a four-year college did he give up his favorite game for an obvious future in baseball.

He remains so enamored of the city game, though, that he wants to make it his calling after he throws his last submarine sinker. He wants to coach. He wants that T-O gig, bay-bee!

"I want something to do when I'm 40 years old," he said.

He started planning as soon as he signed a pro baseball contract nine years ago. Each winter, he has returned to Milwaukee and coached a grade-school team. Last year, he finally stepped up to the next level, a high school junior varsity team at one of the top Catholic league programs in Wisconsin.

The job kept him in the gym six days a week and three hours a day, running practices and coaching games. His sideline style emerged.

"I'm kind of loud in practice," he said. "I don't like anyone playing around in practice."

Sort of like Gen. Bob?

"I guess you could say so," he said.

He also installed a non-stop, man-to-man defense and a motion offense based on moving without the ball, and benched players if they didn't hustle.

Just like . . .

"Yeah, yeah," he said.

So, what gives? Frohwirth is in many ways the anti-Knight, as friendly and laconic as your neighbor trying to put off mowing his lawn. When he became enraged at a plate umpire's call one night last season and threw his cap and glove across the infield, it was as out of character as a February freeze in Florida.

Little did we know that Gen. Bob was lurking somewhere inside.

"I've never met him and don't know what he's like," Frohwirth said. "I just started following his teams in high school, and his kids all know how to play. They know how to move and get open, when to push the ball upcourt. They all know exactly what they're doing. It's beautiful."

Frohwirth doesn't plan to follow Knight into big-time college ball, mind you. Having found a place in the financial Disneyland that is the major leagues, he hopes to pitch long enough that he doesn't have to work when he retires, and can just volunteer as the coach at a high school or grade school or his old junior college, which has approached him about it.

In any case, he won't turn to baseball. "I don't think I'd be a very good baseball coach," he said. "I wouldn't know how to teach the kids what to do. I don't know how to hit or field. I just know what I do, which is lob the ball in there and hope Cal [Ripken] catches it."

In the end, he just might settle for coaching grade-schoolers, whom he enjoyed much more than the JV kids.

"I was shocked by the high school kids," he said. "I thought they would be motivated by trying to get better and get a scholarship, but I spent half my energy trying to get an effort out of them. It was very disappointing. Grade school kids are much more fun."

His JV team was successful, though, winning 19 of 21 games and the conference and city championships. In the conference championship game, his team was down eight with two minutes left, but rallied to within a basket in the final seconds. Coach Froh called a T-O, got down on one knee and designed a play, just like Gen. Bob. The kids ran it and got the ball down low to the center, who banked in a shot at the buzzer. Overtime was a breeze.

"No big deal," Frohwirth said.

Yeah, right.

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