St. Cloud Times: Father, son ready for ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’

Posted on July 6, 2015

Story courtesy of Tom Elliott, St. Cloud Times

Photo by Briana Sanchez, St. Cloud Times

WATKINS – After a Friday night game last month, T.J. Frericks awoke the next morning feeling awful.

Something wasn’t right. But he wasn’t sure what it was.

He pitched Sunday and won, feeling weak and sick the whole way.

He found out what the problem was Monday: leukemia.

“It’s been a struggle,” said Frericks, a 2013 St. Cloud Apollo graduate and a pitcher at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Illinois. “There have been a lot of ups and downs.”

The 20-year-old left-hander for the Watkins Clippers refuses to allow himself a pity party.

He’s planning to pitch Friday night when the Clippers host the St. Nicholas Nicks in a Central Valley League amateur baseball game.

The kicker? His father, 52-year-old Tom Frericks, is coming out of retirement to catch him.

“It’s something we wanted to do when he was a senior in high school and it never happened,” said Frericks, who retired from the Clippers seven years ago. “We thought this would be a good time to give him something to look forward to while he’s dealing with (leukemia).”

After having the worst day of his life June 6 when he found out he had leukemia, T.J. and Tom are hoping to make Friday one of their most memorable days.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” T.J. said.

Longest day of his life

T.J. has dropped 10 pounds since he learned of the diagnosis June 6. He has chronic myeloid leukemia, which spreads slowly, affecting the bone marrow and blood.

It begins in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and spreads to other areas of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic website. The survival rate is high, about 90 percent, though drugs treating this form of leukemia first became available only in 2001.

It’s also rare for someone T.J.’s age. It’s normally found in people much older. His doctor told him the youngest patient he had previously seen with it was 30.

When he went in to be tested, he had a white blood cell count of 80,000. The normal range is 8,000-10,000. Hitting that range in the next 12-16 months is the goal.

“It was just scary,” T.J. said, calling that Monday check-up “the longest day of my life.

“Both my parents were there, just crying and holding me. It just kind of hit me. I have leukemia.”

Treatment is through oral medication. He takes a chemotherapy pill daily called Sprycel.

“It’s very powerful,” T.J. said.

It also isn’t cheap. Thirty pills cost $10,000, though insurance covers most of it.

The pill makes him nauseous. He’s lost his hair. But it hasn’t stopped him from being active.

He runs regularly and lifts weights. He played golf over the weekend. And he’s aiming for his return on the mound Friday.

“I’m not somebody who’s just going to sit on the couch,” he said. “I believe I was meant to (overcome) this.”

He said he believes he can put his leukemia into remission and return to Wabash Valley, a two-year school not far from the Kentucky border in Southern Illinois.

The team was 31-19 last spring. Sixteen players from that squad have gone on to Division I four-year schools including two who are now in the Big Ten: Purdue’s Tanner Schumacher and Indiana’s Travis Herrin.

Coach Rob Fournier has enjoyed 18 straight winning seasons and is the seven-time Great River Athletic Conference coach of the year. He has 751 career wins and has seen 18 of his former players go on to professional baseball, including three in the major leagues.

“Coach Fournier has been really great, really supportive,” T.J. said. “He’s looking forward to me being back there in the fall.”

T.J., a redshirt freshman listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds, pitched in 11 games, throwing 24 innings. He was 2-0 with one save and a 1.13 earned-run average. He struck out 11, walked eight and allowed 23 hits, surrendering three earned runs.

It made him optimistic about the summer playing for the Clippers, one of the best teams in the Central Valley League and looking forward to being a host to the state tournament in August with Cold Spring.

Watkins has totally refurbished its baseball field, adding a covered grandstand with theater-style seating.

But T.J. hasn’t pitched in a month.

“It’s exciting,” T.J. said of pitching to his father. “It’s going to be fun.

“It’ll be hard. We’re both kind of rehabbing in a way.”

Baseball man

Tom Frericks is the former head baseball coach at Apollo High School. He was a longtime player/coach and manager for teams in Waite Park and Watkins.

He is owner of the Ultimate Sports Bar & Grill, which sponsored amateur teams for many years.

He’s trying to deal with the awful news of one of his children having leukemia.

“It’s real,” he said. “Dealing with the reality of it is the only way it is going to get better.”

Tom was a longtime catcher who was a starter on Watkins’ state championship team in 2001. He caught until he was 45, but bad ankles and knees made him give it up.

He’s up for one more night behind the plate. It’s reliving the father and son catches in the backyard, played out in a regulation league game.

Frericks said he has gotten approval from the Minnesota Baseball Association’s state board of directors for the one game against the Nicks.

“I’m fired up for it,” Tom said. “To be able to do this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“There’s not much stuff we’ve been excited about lately.”

Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.

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