The back of Steve Frey’s baseball card is a time warp.
The former William Tennent standout pitched his first three big league seasons with the Montreal Expos and his next two with the California Angels.
Neither team exists any more by those names.
Yet southpaw Frey is not a museum piece. Instead, Frey brings enthusiasm and energy every day to the students at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Frey has served as IMG’s varsity pitching coach and co-pitching coordinator since 2004.
“When I was playing in the big leagues and driving to the ballpark, I had those good butterflies in your stomach,” Frey shared. “It was the pure excitement of: I am going to a big league baseball field. I get those same feelings when I am driving out to IMG.”
Frey started his journey in Southampton. Bucks County highlights include a no-hitter in American Legion ball and striking out 20 batters in a 10-inning game for Tennent. “I had great memories of growing up,” Frey recalled. “My father was my coach all the way through high school, with Coach Garrison helping me to develop while at Tennent. My older brother Rick also had a huge influence. I came up through the Southampton Sports Club playing basketball, baseball and football. Football and basketball faded out because 5’8” ain’t working in those sports! Then it became all baseball obviously moving forward into college.
“My father passed in November but my memories, when I think about the great times I had with my dad, are just priceless,” Frey continued. “He was always there through everything I’ve been through with sports and life.”
Frey still holds Bucks County Community College’s career strikeout record and still holds a tremendous amount of respect for then-Centurion coach Lou Pacchioli. BCCC is where Frey met his wife of 36 years. Bucks is also where the Yankees selected Frey in the 15th round of the 1983 draft.
Starting with short season rookie ball, where he won the Oneonta Yankees’ MVP Award, Frey progressed nicely through New York’s system- until getting hit hard in Triple-A in 1986.
“There were more experienced hitters in Triple-A so I had to return to Double-A to learn to be more of a pitcher,” Frey admitted. “This time was very influential in my development. My Double-A pitching coach, Bill Monbouquette, taught me a sinker, and that was a very instrumental pitch all the way through the big leagues.”
Frey had a 2.63 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 1987 and looked ready for a call-up to the Bronx. Two weeks before Christmas, Frey’s wife greeted him when he returned from the store.
“I just got off the phone with (Yankee manager) Lou Piniella,” she announced. “You’ve been traded to the Mets.”
The Expos acquired Frey from the Mets in Spring Training of 1989. Frey debuted against the Houston Astros on May 10. His Triple-A coaches told Frey of his call-up in the back of the plane during a post-game flight.
“My first time pitching in the big leagues was at the Astrodome in a Sunday getaway game,” he continued. “We were winning 10-1 in the eighth and a brawl broke out with the Astros. And it was a nasty one. (Manager) Buck Rodgers comes up to me as we’re clearing and says, ‘Hey Steve, you’re going to pitch the ninth.’ I remember that 1989 season because the guys around me were mature, veteran players and they really taught me the game.”
Frey pitched in eight major league seasons; 1990 was arguably his best when he went 8-2 with nine saves and a 2.10 ERA. Starting with his perfect ninth inning on June 26 to save a game at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, batters hit just .190 against Frey for the rest of the year.
“Tony Gwynn probably hit .500 off of me. I joke that he is another guy that I got to the Hall of Fame,” Frey smiled, although there were stretches where the Tennent Panther dominated his competition.
“I had found my niche with the short relief role,” Frey explained. “I was a super hard worker and always thought I had to be, because I wasn’t a 6’5” power pitcher. Everything 100% across the board, I had to earn. That was my mindset.”
The Herald’s conversation with Steve Frey will continue next week. Steve Hoffman contributed to this article.